Posts Tagged ‘violence’

This from the Guardian


The man who died during last week’s G20 protests was “assaulted” by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack, according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Investigators are examining a series of corroborative accounts that allege Ian Tomlinson, 47, was a victim of police violence in the moments before he collapsed near the Bank of England in the City of London last Wednesday evening. Three witnesses have told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson was attacked violently as he made his way home from work at a nearby newsagents. One claims he was struck on the head with a baton.

Photographer Anna Branthwaite said: “I can remember seeing Ian Tomlinson. He was rushed from behind by a riot officer with a helmet and shield two or three minutes before he collapsed.” Branthwaite, an experienced press photographer, has made a statement to the IPCC.

Another independent statement supports allegations of police violence. Amiri Howe, 24, recalled seeing Mr Tomlinson being hit “near the head” with a police baton. Howe took one of a sequence of photographs that show a clearly dazed Mr Tomlinson being helped by a bystander.

A female protester, who does not want to be named but has given her testimony to the IPCC, said she saw a man she later recognised as Tomlinson being pushed aggressively from behind by officers. “I saw a man violently propelled forward, as though he’d been flung by the arm, and fall forward on his head.

“He hit the top front area of his head on the pavement. I noticed his fall particularly because it struck me as a horrifically forceful push by a policeman and an especially hard fall; it made me wince.”

Mr Tomlinson, a married man who lived alone in a bail hostel, was not taking part in the protests. Initially, his death was attributed by a police post mortem to natural causes. A City of London police statement said: “[He] suffered a sudden heart attack while on his way home from work.”

But this version of events was challenged after witnesses recognised the dead man from photographs that were published on Friday.

An IPCC statement was due to be released the same day and is understood to have portrayed the death as a tragic accident. However, the statement’s release was postponed as the complaints body received information that police officers may have been more involved in events than previously thought. An IPCC spokesman said yesterday that in light of new statements it was “assessing” the information it had received before deciding whether to launch a full investigation.

Part of the commission’s inquiries will involve the examination of CCTV footage from the area.

Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth said: “Eventually there will have to be a full inquest with a jury. It is a possibility this death was at police hands.”

A police source told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson appears to have become caught between police lines and protesters, with officers chasing back demonstrators during skirmishes. He was seen stumbling before he collapsed and died on Cornhill Street, opposite St Michael’s Alley, around 7.25pm.

At around 7.10pm, protesters had gathered outside the police cordon to call for those contained inside – some for hours – to be let out. Officers with batons and shields attempted to clear them from the road.

Around 7.20pm, five riot police, and a line of officers with dogs, emerged from Royal Exchange Square, a pedestrian side street. Three images taken around this time show Mr Tomlinson on the pavement, in front of five riot police, and in apparent distress. He had one arm in the air, and appeared to be in discussion with the officers.

Mr Tomlinson then appears to have been lifted to his feet by a bystander. Minutes later he fell to the ground. “We saw this guy staggering around,” said Natalie Langford, 21, a student. “He looked disorientated. About five seconds later he fell, and I grabbed my friends to help him.”

Police have claimed that when paramedics tried to move Mr Tomlinson away for urgent treatment, bottles were thrown at them by protesters. He was later pronounced dead at hospital.

Branthwaite added: “He [Mr Tomlinson] was not a mouthy kid or causing problems, but the police seemed to have lost control and were trying to push protesters back. The police had started to filter people into a side street off Cornhill. There were a few stragglers who were just walking through between the police and protesters. Mr Tomlinson was one of those.”

The police tactics during the G20 protests were condemned in the aftermath of the demonstrations. The clearance of a climate camp along Bishopsgate by riot police with batons and dogs after nightfall on Wednesday came in for particular criticism.

Protesters marched to Bethnal Green police station in east London yesterday to demand a public inquiry into Mr Tomlinson’s death.

Despite the hideous coverage of the G20 protests in London this week which largely depicted the protesters as violent thoughtless thugs who were complicit in the death of one of their own, it would seem that fairly rapidly the truth is beginning to eke out into the public arena. As with the infamous murder of Jean Charles de Menezes it appears that the initial statement handed out by the police is full of outright lies designed to vindicate the violent actions of the police.

Merely describing the police actions this week as heavy handed is an understatement of the highest order. The state sponsored violence which was unleashed on the protesters was in no way proportionate to the behaviour of those on the streets. There is an immense difference between smashing a few windows at a Bank which symbolises the financial violence wrought on people living through the credit crunch and beating a passer by to death. There is no justification in riot police attacking sit down protests or peaceful climate campers whose arms are raised as they chant peace not riot.

A brutal case of state sanctioned violence was perpetrated this past week against the people who sought to articulate their displeasure with the current government for their economic, ecological and militaristic strategies.


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Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek’s latest offering is a look at the way in which western societies understand, and importantly misunderstand violence.

Zizek’s central thesis is that the liberal conception of violence is limited to subjective forms of violence, violence which is performed by a clearly identifiable human agent. Zizek claims that what is required to understand the logic and motives behind contemporary acts of subjective violence is to step back from the visible violence which often appears spontaneous and inexplicable, allowing us to ‘perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts.’ (p1) What lurks behind the easily perceptible forms of subjective violence according to Zizick are forms of objective or systemic violence.

Objective violence is precisely the violence inherent to the ‘normal’ state of things. Objective violence is invisible since is sustains the very zero level standard against which we perceive things as subjectively violent. Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious dark matter of physics, the counterpart to an all to visible subjective violence. It may be invisible, but it has to be taken into account if one is to make sense of what otherwise seem to be ‘irrational’ explosions of subjective violence (p2)

Thus Zizek urges reader to reject the fascination shown by the western media for various forms of subjective violence and instead to analyse the systemic violence which creates the social conditions and actors required for the outbursts of subjective violence. To this end Zizek examines a number of prominent exemplars of recent subjective violence; the reactions to the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed, the Parisian riots of 2005, the violence involved on both sides of the War on Terror and the violence in the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and explores the ways in which material inequalities, poverty, cultural imperialism and liguistic/symbolic violence can be understood as the underlying causes of the subjective violence which dominates media discourse on the topics.

Applying such thought to a local level, how do we make sense of the recent attacks along the Easton cyclepath or the near daily outbursts of road rage on our heavily congested streets? Do we demonise the people who committed this violence, treating it as evidence of their wrongheadedness and ‘evil’ as subjects, or do we examine and act to change the structures surrounding those people and the systemic violence they suffer; coming from disadvantaged backgrounds in a society whose rich are growing rapidly richer while the poor go nowhere, where class mobility is far less than a generation ago, living in a community that lacks youth centres and other activities for young people to enjoy, questioning Bristol City Council’s bizarre urge to fill the inadequate roads with ever increasing volumes of traffic (see the new Cabot Circus Car Park) and the lack of affordable and reliable public transport (its current guise of First Great Western providing private profits allied with extortionate prices and atrocious service)? Do we seek ways to effect and change the ideology of competitive individualism which sees young people growing up in a society which urges them to look out for themselves and no one else or do we simply label them little bastards, wrongful creatures who have exercised their free will to be irrationally evil?

Critiquing the liberal concept of pacifism as the rejection of all forms of subjective violence, Zizek instead implores the endorsement of forms of emancipatory violence, as ‘To chastise violence outright, to condemn it as ‘bad’ is an ideological operation par excellence, a mystification which collaborates in rendering invisible the fundamental forms of social violence.’ (p174) The argument here is that by colluding with the social, economic and political conditions of massive inequality and extreme poverty, people are perpetrating forms of systemic violence which breeds the necessary qualities of resentment and anger which cause the subjective violence abhorred by pacifists. What Zizek claims is necessary then, is a systemic transformation to eliminate or at least minimise the systemic violence endemic to globalised capitalism.

Consequently, Zizek argues that ‘Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.’ (p183) In situations where everyday life perpetuates a cycle of poverty and misery for others – often those who have laboured to produce goods consumed in the first world, but also marginalised groups within western nations – the most violent thing a person can do is to simply ignore this systemic violence and lead an uneventful life, claiming to hate violence while creating the conditions of a society which produce it.

Where I feel Zizek falls down somewhat is his lack of meaningful discussion as to what activities he feels are necessary for a massive reduction of systemic violence. Drawing on Che Guevara, Zizek argues that love is an essential component of revolutionary thought and action, as out of love for others alongside solidarity, the desire for the overthrow of repressive socio-economic systemic machinery is born. This emphasis on love as an essential component of opposition to global capitalism is something Zizek shares with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the authors of Emprire and Multitude, whose writings maintain that the information revolution is in the process of creating radical social formations capable of challenging the system of global capitalism. Zizek however critiqes Hardt and Negri, somewhat unfairly contending that ‘Negri himself, the guru of the postmodern left, praises digital capitalism as containing in nuce all the elements of communism – one only has to drop the capitalist form and the revolutionary goal is acheived.’ (p14) Such a grossly oversimplified account of Negri’s search for revolutionary potentiality within emergent technologies and contemporary activism sees Zizek align Negri with the likes of Bill Gates and the CEO’s of Shell Intel and Google, allowing him to ridicule them all as the faces of liberal communism; those who fight subjective violence while perpetrating acts of systemic violence.

While Hardt and Negri stress their support for new activist movements such as the Zapatistas, Indymedia and the anti- War G8 and WTO protests, Zizek is somewhat less forthcoming about where he sees hope and potential in contemporary activism. While his elaboration of systemic violence and how this effects subjective violence is a practically useful one for activist movements and critical thought, his claims that the Porto Alegre movement has failed, and furthermore that while ‘Leftist political movements are like banks of rage. They collect rage investments from people and and promise them large-scale revenge, the re-establishment of global justice,’ (p158 ) the current situation according to Zizek sees a reality in which ‘There is no longer a global rage potential.’ (p159 ) If there no longer exists the potential for the coming together of the worlds people to fight for global justice, freedom and democracy, then how does one go about effecting large scale changes to the systems which inflict violence on so many peoples and their environments? Zizek offers no real answer here beyond the adoption of emancipatory violence, another concept he shares with Hardt and Negri.

Such sentiments appear to offer little hope in the way of emerging movements to challenge the systemic violence present in the current global order, and so in my estimation take the sheen of what otherwise is an excellent exposition of the violence which often appears invisible but thoroughly permeates the fabric of neoliberal culture.

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