Tuesday, 1 February 2011

'Criminal Damage' and Direct Over-reaction

On Sunday, Jed, a friend of mine, had to go to hospital for treatment after getting a faceful of CS spray, courtesy of a Metropolitan police officer. I am resisting the temptation to indulge in schadenfreude, given that the officer also managed to spray himself in the face, which underlines the rather indiscriminate effects of a spray weapon in a crowded area. In any case, there was no justification whatsoever for such an aggressive action against a totally peaceful group of protesters. I would have been among them myself  were it not for other commitments, so I cannot give a first hand account, but one can be found here and another here. There are also numerous newspaper reports, such as this, as well as video footage.

Having been on other UK Uncut protests against corporate tax avoidance in the past two months, I can vouch that we are a pretty mild-mannered bunch of people. I'm sure that even Jed would not object if I told you that in a fight between Jed and a baby possum, my money would be on the possum. (Sorry, Jed). Not that Jed would want to fight a baby possum, mind you; he'd more likely make friends with it and gently convince it of the adverse effects of Tory education policy on the social mobility of possums (among other creatures). 

No one seems to understand exactly why officer cw2440 felt it necessary to use CS spray on people who were clearly no threat to anyone and who were not committing any offence, since none of those admitted to hospital were arrested or accused of any crime. The incident seems to have been sparked by the arrest of a female protester - who was not sprayed - supposedly on suspicion of 'criminal damage'. She was pushing leaflets through the door of a Boots store, to highlight the fact that Boots have reduced their UK tax liability to only 3% by moving their HQ to Switzerland. You can judge for yourself the extent of any damage caused by the protester and compare it to the damage caused by public spending cuts, necessitated by the avoidance of tax by massive corporations like Boots:

A rubber seal has been slightly dislodged, clearly by accident. I don't know how long it might take to repair this damage and at what cost, but I'm guessing 'not long' and 'not much compared to the amount of tax avoided by Boots'. So perhaps I would suggest that 'criminal damage' is a slight exaggeration. Whatever you may think about this, there is still no justification for the use of CS spray against peaceful protesters, even if they were attempting to support a colleague who had been arrested.

I had already mentioned
the tendency of one or two officers towards over-zealous policing in my blog report on the previous UK Uncut action in Oxford Street on 15th January. It is difficult to be sure, but having seen photos of officer cw2440, he does look very like the officer who started pushing me and others on that day. We should not be surprised that a few police officers do seem to want to respond with violence and treat decent people with contempt, when one of their chief officers, Sir Hugh Orde, says things like this:
"It is not good enough to throw our hands up in the air and say 'Oh, we can't negotiate because there is no one to negotiate with,'" he told Prospect magazine in an interview published today. "There are lots of people we can talk to, but they need to stand up and lead their people too. If they don't, we must be clear that the people who wish to demonstrate won't engage, communicate or share what they intend to do with us, and so our policing tactics will have to be different ... slightly more extreme."
I find these remarks puzzling, since the activities of UK Uncut are entirely open for all to see, unlike the tax affairs of large corporations. That's because we have nothing to hide. Sir Hugh could simply join our Facebook group, follow our Twitter feed or look at the website, if he wants to know what we're up to. Alternatively, if he feels like wasting a lot of public money, he could send undercover officers to infiltrate us. In contrast, ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers), of which Sir Hugh is President, is a private company and not subject to Freedom of Information legislation. They are literally the UK's secret policemen; an affront to democracy.

Secrecy lies at the heart of the issue of tax justice too. It is the secrecy of tax havens and Swiss bank accounts, among other things, which allows Boots to get away with paying only 3% on profits made in the UK. That's what I would call 'criminal damage', especially when you realise that a small independent pharmacy would have no way of escaping the 20% small business tax rate. Even George Osborne should be concerned, as small businesses are driven to the wall by the tax avoidance antics of their transnational competitors.

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