Wednesday, 8 April 2009

857 - Sticks and Stones

In the struggle to achieve full civil rights of identity, the lead-up to the death of Ian Tomlinson is worth taking note of.

It occurs to me that in the tradition of the civil rights movement, the next civil rights battle to be won can always be predicted by analysing the identity of those who the public notices are deemed by the police to be acceptable collateral damage in their mission to maintain perceived public order.

This for two reasons. First, in terms of policing, a target group for a given operation is defined apart from the general public, but the definition will have always have blurred edges. In the protests last week, the protesters were the targets. What defined them as separate from the non-protester Ian Tomlinson? This was not an issue of colour, gender or behaviour - all visible signifiers. In terms of the police operation, a white, middle-aged, male, retreating non-protester was deemed worthy by white, middle-aged, male, police, using proportionate force, of beating and shoving to the ground, and seemingly, of obfuscating about afterwards. No doubt, the degree of obfuscation is also an indicator of the sensitivity of the act.

Second, perhaps more importantly, the act of noticing is itself one of consciousness-raising. The very fact that the death of Ian Tomlinson is being analysed publicly indicates that, in the eyes of the public, something noteworthy has occurred.

It wasn't until violence against blacks was scrutinised that you could be sure that the struggle for racial equality was making headway. It wasn't until violence against women was taken seriously that sexual equality was on the agenda. More to the point, perhaps, it wasn't until it became clear that violence was perpetrated not just against suffragette or abolitionist protesters, but against those caught up in the figurative, or actual, melee, who happened to share a common identity with the protesters, that change had arrived. And the 'becoming clear' is what I'm interested in, not, in this instance, the righteousness of the cause.

Now that violence against Mr, Mrs, Ms and Miss Majority Britain is news, perhaps Majority Britain is waking up to the fact that it doesn't matter what colour, gender, creed, class you are, it is possible for you to be deprived of your rights by an arm of the state in the name of order.

Good news. Because traditionally this is the harbinger of success in the non-violent fight for greater freedom.

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