Let me begin by stating, to be clear, that I deplore violence, especially when it comes in the context of what was meant to be a peaceful protest. To that end, the news that Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall had their car attacked in the aftermath of the student protests last night is deeply disturbing.
David Cameron has of course condemned the violence, saying that he wants to see the perpetrators of the attack “arrested and punished in the correct way.”
But at the same time, the Prime Minister has said nothing about the injuries sustained by demonstrators yesterday, apparently at the hands of police. One student suffered bleeding to the brain and had to undergo surgery, apparently after being struck by a police truncheon.
In case anyone was wondering whether this was an isolated incident, the Guardian website has been carrying updates today containing the stories of those who witnessed similar scenes. One such report comes from a reader identified as “Tom”:
Three things I saw:
One, a guy running away from police along Whitehall getting being unable to run further because of a stray barrier. Before he could jump over, two police charged into him with their shields and repeatedly hit him with their shields, against the barrier.
Two, other people have mentioned it, but still: a V-shaped wedge of mounted police charging into a crowd of teenagers – whose only objective at the time was to leave Parliament Square.
Three, someone trapped behind police lines with two policemen standing over them, repeatedly bringing their batons down, while the rest of us were pushed back.
There were people seriously hurt. I saw a couple of people prone being tended by police medics.
Since Tom’s story was posted a little before midday, numerous other reports have surfaced of similar police violence. The University of Brighton’s Bob Becher, who is a professor of moral philosophy, also contacted the Guardian to suggest that the violence was a deliberate strategy on the part of the police, to frighten people into not protesting again:
The “violence” that occurred — and the disproportionality of physical violence against the person used by the police as against that used by demonstrators is significant — was deliberately engineered. The twofold intention was to ensure that the demonstration received “a bad press”; and to dissuade future protesters.
Whether Prof Becher’s interpretation is correct or otherwise, the fact remains that multiple reports now exist of students being injured by police tactics. Each one of these should be properly investigated and, if it is found that violence did occur, the people responsible – whether they are a protestor or a police officer – should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
This position is not an attempt to excuse the violence committed by protestors, as Cameron has attempted to claim, saying: “It is an excuse people are hiding behind … People need to be responsible for their own behaviour.” Nor is it an attempt to trivialise the attack on Charles and Camilla – that has rightly been condemned as deplorable, and in any case I wouldn’t want to stand accused of republican thoughtcrimes.
The Prime Minister has already stated that he wants prosecution for the unacceptable violence of the protestors. But he has failed to call for investigations into the equally disturbing reports of violence against protestors committed by police. The Coalition’s commitment to civil liberties appears to have already worn thin; in any case, the phrase “We’re all in this together” now seems further removed from reality than ever before.