Reconstructing events by using any number of restricted viewpoints is no replacement for vital missing facts. If I present you with a black box that contains a photo I made of a scene, I’ll happily let you make as many pin holes as you like – you will still struggle to make out whats going on. Especially if I choose the image.
Different circumstances, but I felt this way after Saddam Hussein was executed. There is a real danger in allowing snippets of grainy amateur footage to act as the definitive account of an event. The result in this case has been yet another trial by media, only this time the police seem to be on the receiving end. In reality, we have no way of knowing precisely what killed Ian Tomlinson, and the account of the Nicky Fisher assault makes me uneasy (although admittedly this feeling is entirely based on her sightly spaced-out media interviews).
Was it inevitable that the police would lose this PR war? Or is that some kind of optical illusion brought about by 20:20 hindsight? My feeling is that these stories, which trickle out over a few days, played to our preconceptions, feeding into an easily understood narrative. Clearly, the public have lost trust in the police.
This is a desperately dangerous state of affairs, of course. However, I think the vilification that the police now receive is a delayed punishment for earlier and more egregious clusterfucks. Despite the fact that no-one in authority was punished for the Jean-Charles De Menezes killing, it is not unreasonable to draw a line between that incident, and the current debate. Although neither Sir Ian Blair or Cressida Dick (or for that matter Tony Blair or his Home Secretary Charles Clarke) lost their jobs over the incident, the security services certainly lost credibility as a result. They were ‘punished’ in the sense that they lost the public’s trust, a vital form of political capital.
There should be a bittersweet satisfaction to this: we’ve learnt that institutions simply cannot maladministrate, or violate our civil liberties, with total impunity. We’ve learnt how to ‘police the police’, and some thuggish elements will be brought to prosecution through evidence collected by citizen photographer. However, its also true that the men and women currently tasked with policing our capital city were not the ones who ordered a policy of violence upon us. Those people who made such decisions still walk free, and unaccountable. This latest success for citizen journalism is a Pyrrhic victory.
I will just note in passing a couple of other points:
- The footage of Ian Tomlinson being pushed is being touted around by the Guardian – not a campaigning group, or indeed a lower market tabloid.
- Those arrested during a counter-terrorism operation on 8th April (following Bob Quick’s paperwork malfunction) have been released without charge. That was 14 days in prison, well below the current 28 day limit. Another chap was released earlier, after only a few days detention.