Wednesday 15 April 2009

G20 protest police brutality - the ongoing fallout

Where did this idea of a 'protester' come from? Perhaps it should now be written as 'Protester'. When did a person protesting become this definite category with separate legal identity and restricted rights? A person communicating with other people in a public place - it all seemed so innocent.

When the death of a man is defended on the basis that it is difficult to tell who is a Protestor and who isn't we know that a separate category of person has taken shape, a category that is 'kettled' not just within the streets of (the City of) London but in the eyes, fists and truncheons of power. The message is that you are welcome to become a Protestor as long as you don't become a protestor. Be quiet, well behaved and content with standing in a confined space for an indefinite amount of time and say thankyou for the privilege. Shout too much and you'll be slapped with the back of an armoured hand, swatted as if you were a fly. Dead eyed politicians and sweat beaded police chiefs will spout platitudes and promise to 'get to the bottom of things' but the bottom is never in sight - their rhetoric is in so many ways bottomless. They are seeking to discover how one of their children could have swatted the wrong sort of fly - they want to know how their all seeing eyes could have mistaken one face amongst the masses for evil when it was never a Protestor at all. Their investigation may ask why this particular gnarled lump of fluorescence, kevlar and hostility did what they did, why they beat a guy in the wrong way (a failure of technique, surely). They will wonder how a passer-by could be mistaken for a Protestor and think up ways for such a thing to not happen again.

For all the media's mediation no significant heads will fall; the heads aren't even where this beast lives - it lives in The Law.

Protest cannot be in contradiction to the law. Protest is an act which forms the very basis upon which the rule (in both senses of that word - as in edict and as in government) of law can exist. The rule of law in a democracy is not the police, the parliament or the judiciary. It is the will of the people to accept that which is done in their name (and by the names that they are given). The people cannot be outside the law; sometimes The Law is outside the law. Only once the right is given up can the institutions that lay claim to the law truly own it.

Now, it is a mistake to equate mass protests with 'the people' yet protesters are only individuated by police surveillance. In their capacity as protester they are faceless (sometimes literally) and their treatment reflects this. A protestor is The People in the singular and should be treated as such. The police take this facelessness as a threat to be normalised, be it through force or the threat of force (and as we have seen there is very little differential, spatial or temporal gap between these two things in the milieu of contemporary protests - one can turn to the other and back again in a moment).

The facelessness of a protester is taken to be an admission of their threat, their danger when it should be recognised to be the opposite; their facelessness makes them The People, only in the singular.