Second only to the lack of concrete reason for the senseless violence, what was most striking about the riots in Britain was the extreme restraint the police used with the rioters and looters. Even myself, a strong believer in civil liberties and a hardliner against police brutality felt like screaming “what the hell are you doing, protect the people, they’re burning everything down and all you do is just watch

 

The lack of action by the police has also lead to the formation of vigilante groups of people trying to protect their areas. Once again, I’m generally against vigilantism, but how could I not approve otherwise peaceful people protecting their locality from burning?

This is all very strange, since the British police aren’t usually known for their softness. The most notorious tactic used by Britain’s police is known as kettling, used for the first time against people with a disability fighting for their rights in 1995.

Kettling involves a large number of police officers forming a cordon among the protesters and then tightening them up, many times for long hours without access for food, water, and fresh air.

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This tactic, which has become closely associated with Britain’s police is a serious violation of Human Rights for many reasons. It is a type of collective punishment because if only a small section of the protesters are turning rowdy, all the rest have to suffer being in the cordon. There have also been many cases of passer bys being caught inside the kettle.

 

It has also been criticized for the fact that it is sometimes used pre-emptively with peaceful protesters and that rather than contain violence, the intention is mainly to deter people from going out to protest in the first place.

 

Some high profile cases where this was used in the UK, include the Mayday protests of 2001, the G8 summit of 2005, G20 of 2009 as well as last March during the anti-austerity protests.

 

While none of these protests was a full blown riot – at times there was no violence at all – by the time of writing (5th day of the London riots) not only kettling has not been used, but as everyone can see the rioters and looters are many times being allowed to do what they want.

 

Why have Britain’s police moved from excessive brutality practiced for the last 15 years, to this soft handedness in a matter of months? I don’t want to get into some conspiracy theory, but in face of such contradictions one starts thinking the absurd.

 

Is it possible that kettling and brutality have been used because all the other occasions, involved organized people demanding rights, while in this case this is just senseless violence? Since kettling usually provokes a backlash, is it possible that the police were instructed to turn non-violent people violent deliberately so that people justifiably demanding their rights come to be seen as violent thugs in front of the media?

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1,2,3
Arriva Pinochet
4,5,6
A morte gli Ebrei
789
Il negro non commuove
Seig Heil
Apartheid

What makes this ‘slogan’ worrying is the fact that it wasn’t sung by a couple of disoriented teenagers. It was sung by police, the ‘forze del ordine’ of what many consider a democratic country – Italy. These words were chanted while the Police were beating people (the absolute majority of whom were non-violent) who protested against the G8 summit in Italy, July 2001.

More than 300,000 people turned up to protest against the way eight countries were deciding the fate of the world between the 20th and 22nh July 2001 in Genova. They came from various groups and organisations, Catholics, Greens, pacifists, leftists and human rights activists. None of them had any violent intentions except for a small group of 500, the black bloc. With whom the latter were affiliated is still a mistery. The reason for this is chilling in itself, since after the riots, after the police brutality and murder of Carlo Guiliani, out of the 250 people arrested there was not a single ‘black bloc’ member.

Different movements demonstrated in different streets. The 500 black bloc divided themselves and infiltrated all the groups. They went, created a riot and vanished in a couple of minutes. Yet, after they left the violence continued, In many circumstances, especially regarding Catholic movements, the protestors did not offer any resistance, yet they were savagely beaten by the Italian police.

Some other movements retaliated to this abuse. One of them was Carlo Giuliani’s movement, Carlo being the only fatality in the whole episode (towards which two police officers were intercepted saying ‘uno a zero per noi’). Giuliani’s group believed in passive resistance. They were considered as ‘disobedient’ but not violent. At least not before the police started assaulting them with tear gas, beating them and chanting slogans like the one mentioned above.

Yet, there was more to come. Groups of demonstrators rested (with permission) in schools, most notably Scuola Diaz. The police infiltrated the schools and beat the shit out of them, not only the demonstrators but also journalists and medics who happened to be there. Not a single person of them was black bloc.

There is still speculation who the black bloc really were. Some think they were infiltrated within the police, others claim they are neo-fascists with the deliberate intention of disrupting the protests. Others believe they were just hooligans. Whoever they were is not really important now. What is very significant though, is the fact, that when these people committed illegalities, even before the riots started (including destroying the pavement and collecting large stones as ammunition) the ‘forze dell ordine’ did absolutely nothing.

Such repression is expected (though never justified) in countries where there is a dictatorship or a brutal regime in power such as Iran, China or Myanmar. However it is extremely disturbing that all this happened in a so called democratic European country only nine years ago. It is also worth mentioning that Italy is under the same Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in the present day.

The attacks on democracy on July 2001 should never be forgotten, definitely not in the near future. They are a reminder that even in a European democracy a government can use an iron fist on civilians just exercising their fundamental rights of assembly and expression.

The only good thing that could come out of this tragedy is learning from it.