G20 protests London April 2009
The G20 protests in London in April 2009 have now become a modern case study on police-protester interaction and the role of the police. The Guardian newspaper has been the main media outlet for collecting material on police misbehavior. In many ways, the protest was not unusual, except for the death of Ian Tomlinson following an assault by police, which focused attention on the initial media spin that police denied any earlier “contact” with the victim. The protest also showed the important role of new technology in the form of mobile phone cameras.
Important video clips taken at the protest include
- the police attack on Tomlinson just prior to his death
- the attempted resuscitation of Ian Tomlinson showing as false earlier police claims that officers were attacked
while were trying to save Tomlinson's life.
- the police baton charge against press photographers
- a plain clothes officer using a baton
- police threatening photographers with arrest
For background reading on the G20 protests, see the article on the use of anti-terrorism laws against protesters and police media spin
Under the law, police can use "reasonable" violence in some circumstances. "Unreasonable" violence is illegal. Is it "reasonable" to kneel on a protester's head, as this photo of a police officer at a Melbourne protest shows?
The laws of defamation and other laws exist which prevent Copwatch from showing some photos and publishing some information. As the police are known to conduct surveillance operations of peaceful activists, some of us fear that the police know our identities and fear legal action or other retaliation if we make certain information public. We hope for future, happier times, when such restrictions do not exist.
The following links are to publicly known examples of the police using force and where that has become a subject of public comment. Copwatch makes no comment on whether the force or violence used is unreasonable. We are always happy to speak to journalists in confidence.
Fears about the militarisation of the police force has been expressed by the federal police union. AFP union attacks Afghanistan role by Paul Maley The Australian 7 December 2009.
Police slammed on "going in hard" by Milanda Rout and Julie-Anne Davies The Australian 31 July 2009 (no apparent web link). A copy of this Victorian report can be found at the Victorian Office of Police Integrity.
For an Australian 60 minutes report on the Sydney-based Public Order and Riot Squad.
Police tactics under fire at Hazelwood by Peter Ker, The Age, 14 September 2009.
Police violence at G20 Pittsborgh.
Ian Tomlinson was the bystander during a G20 protest in London who died following a police assault on 1 April 2009 in the UK. No police officer has been charged in relation to his assault and subsequent death.
The footage of Ian Tomlinson's assault spread shock around the world and initial police claims that he was not assaulted was contrasted with the police when a dog dies (comment by George Monbiot). The official report into G20 police violence in London received extensive press coverage (Guardian newspaper podcast (30 minutes)).
The story was initially aired by the Guardian newspaper and the Guardian played a major role in keeping the story alive.
No police officer has been charged in relation to the assault and death of Ian Tomlinson.
Another example of police aggression is the use of overly strict interpretations of the law to arrest protesters. In this video Office 'Bubbles' from Toronto arrests a woman who assaulted him with a bubble.
Tasers are hand-held weapons which can deliver a shock of 50,000 volts. The shock normally results in a person collapsing suddenly to the ground and urinating themselves. As the victim is unable to put out his or her arms to break the fall, the collapse itself often results in injuries to the head, some of them fatal.
Described as a “less-than-lethal” weapon by the police, the argument in favour of their use is that it allows police to use Tasers in situations where shooting may kill a person, arguing that “it is better to be Tasered than to be shot.” However, after Tasers are introduced, the number of police shootings stay about the same. Tasers are thus an additional form of violence, and not a substitute for police use of handguns. In the first two weeks of Tasers being introduced in NSW, 5 people were Tasered. The argument that Tasers are not used instead of guns is also supported by evidence produced by Amnesty International, showing that over 90% of those Tasered in the USA were not carrying weapons at the time of the Taser being used against them.
The first death following a Tasering in Australia underlines the lack of accountability. They don’t leave a bullet wound, and their use carries a lot less publicity. The police officers at the seen were reported as having omitted the use of their Taser from any official records. Gary Peace died in November 2002.
The second death in Australia in April 2009 followed the use of a Taser in Alice Springs.
The third death in June 2009 received widespread publicity following the allegation that the man was shot 28 times with the Taser (this is disputed by the police officers involved).
The latest major coverage of the use of Tasers was by the Sydney Morning Herald in July 2010. By a strange cooincidence, NSW police announced the next day that it was seeking the State's first ever order to ban a 'bikie' gang, thus pushing the issue off the front pages.
The abuse of Tasers by police officers is a high-rating search on youtube. In the main, police officers do not use Tasers as a self-defence weapon to protect themselves or others, but as a punishment for non-compliance. In one Queensland case, a child refused to move away from a friend who waiting for an ambulance. The 16 year-old girl was Tasered. They have also been abused in bizarre police initiation rituals.
The October 2008 extension of Tasers in NSW occurred a few weeks before an Ombudsman’s report was made public, calling for the roll-out of Tasers to general duties’ officers to be put on hold for two years as a result of safety concerns.
There have been no reports of Tasers being used at protests. Such use would be reckless, given the difficulty in aiming Tasers accurately and not hitting bystanders. Their use at political protests has not been ruled out by the State government or NSW police.
The obvious expert in this area in Australia is Dylan Welch of the Sydney Morning Herald. A search under that name will bring up a host of stories. Some of the more interesting ones are listed below.
Video / TV
Lethal Force - ABC 4 Corners special on mentally ill persons being shot or Tasersed by the police. Reporter: Quentin McDermott broadcast 26/10/2009.
Youtube video: 14 year old gets Tasered by cop (USA) - showing damage done by the metal probes entering the person's body.
Youtube video: Taser shooting in Nottingham, UK.
The articles below are selective, so people in a hurry can do background research. A full search of related articles can, of course, be done through google or other search engines.
Taser abuse coved up by police by Dylan Welch SMH 6 July 2010
Sergeant slammed for stun gun assault by Belinda Kontominas SMH 20 December 2009.
Tasers -developments, findings and recommendations by Gareth Griffith: NSW Parliamentary Library Research Service, August 2009.
Tests on Taser after man critically burnt by Debbie Guest The Australian 22 July 2009.
From the USA, Taser gun used on a 10 year old who refused to have a shower.
Vic police watchdog warns against Tasers by Greg Roberts The Age 13 July 2009.
Shock to the system by Natasha Bita The Australia 12 August 2008.
Tasers "are being introduced to Australia's police forces by stealth, without parliamentary scrutiny or even public debate over their safety or suitability."
Taser trial find flaw in use by AAP 2 July 2009 printed in the Australian.
Shocked to the core by Michael McKenna The Australian 23 June 2009.
Feature article on Tasers.
'Sparky' the sheep gets Tasered in the UK
Police admit man had been shot 28 times with Taser by Michael McKenna The Australian 18 June 2009.
Call for review of Taser use by AAP 18 June 2009.
Nathan's shock decision stunds public by Lawrence Gibbons (opinion piece in a Sydney local newspaper) 18 June 2009.
Stun gun roleout on hold by Michael McKenna The Australian 16 June 2009.
Taser death second in six months by Michael McKenna The Weekend Australian 13-14 June 2009.
Queensland police back Tasers despite fatality by AAP 12 June 2009.
Police aim for stun gun in every patrol car by Andrew Clennell Sydney Morning Herald 10 March 2009.
Pursuit of shock tactics by Michael McKenna The Australian 13 January 2009.
Ombudsman calls for freeze on Tasers by Belinda Merhab 20 November 2008.
"The NSW Ombudsman has recommended a two-year freeze on further roll-outs of Taser guns, saying police standards for their use are inadequate, and the health risks unknown."
Tighten police taser controls: lawyers by Michael McKenna The Australian 8 January 2009.
London police wary of Tasers by Richard Ford The Australian 26 November 2008.
"The authority overseeing Britain's largest police force has warned that a government decision to allow Taser stun guns to be used by non-specialist firearms officers threatens to cause fear among the public."
Police proceed with stun gun trial by Dylan Welch Sydney Morning Herald 21 November 2008.
"The government is refusing to commit to key recommendation's in a scathing Ombudsman's report into the use of Tasers."
Police slammed over Taser plan by Dylan Welch Sydney Morning Herald 19 November 2008.
Stun gun police use widened by Dylan Welch Sydney Morning Herald 2 October 2008.
Tasers will be in the hands of general duties police officers for the first time in the state's history from today.
Target unarmed most of the time Tasers used in controversial trial by Dylan Welch SMH 9 July 2010.
For extensive background reading, see the USA Amnesty site.
Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (Canada)
Truth Not Tasers Blogspot
Excited Delerium People get Tasers. People Die. Is there a connection?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wYEBd-Mpus (death of Robert Dziekanski)
Taser shockwave promotional video
Police shooting at Oscar Grant.