Looking at the video footage of the police assault on Ian Tomlinson, it seems pretty clear that he wasn’t just being moved along. The policeman who attacked him gave him a running, two-handed push in the small of the back. That exerts force downwards, and the only way you go after getting it is over.
That said, it’s obvious that the wider intent of the assault was to punish Mr Tomlinson for what must have looked, from the police point of view, as shocking disobedience. Here was this man, his back turned to them, hands in pockets, sauntering along at his own pace, acting for all the world as though he had the right to use the public highway, when the whole point of kettling is to make clear to those affected that their physical presence at one location or other is entirely at the discretion of the police. It’s not enough to do what the police want in a way that could be interpreted as vague or resentful. Compliance must be made openly and with enthusiasm: anything else is a provocation. The cop who actually did this was obviously a bit of a hothead, but he wasn’t a real outlier. His behaviour is implicit in this model of policing.
Then there’s the matter of the footage of the assault. The police now have the power to prevent photographs or videos being taken of them in action and to take away and destroy any pictures being taken. Quite a lot of pictures taken at the demo were wiped, at the insistence of the police, as the price for letting people go from their al fresco detention. The video of the assault on Ian Tomlinson was taken by a fund manager who happened to be in town on business. Perhaps he was allowed to keep his footage because he looked like “one of us” rather than “one of them.” This is not a mistake that will be made in the future.
Duncan Campbell says that the police have learned nothing from the De Menezes case. It seems to me that they have learned that they can get away with these things; that they can call on legions of apologists in the media and political worlds to justify and obfuscate their behaviour and that they can rely on the help of the government to avoid any consequences. There are already slurs circulating about Ian Tomlinson, but those are just small meat for the congenitally malicious. My guess is that the line will evolve so that the actions of the police will drop into a missing middle and that his death will be promoted as the direct consequence of the demonstrations themselves. How can we allow the police to be put under such pressure by gangs of anarchists? Why do we allow gangs of anarchists to roam the streets in the first place? What we need is a mature debate about rebalancing the conflict between the right to protest and the necessity of preserving public order…you know how it goes.