Sunday, 12 April 2009

a question of statistics

Ian Tomlinson: three-year wait for G20 death verdict (The Observer, Sunday 12 April 2009)

Proposed exercise for statistics class:

If we suppose that police have to violently assault 500 unworthy civilians, of different ages and in different states of health, before one yokel finally has the decency to roll over and die, then what is the expected number of such assaults that we never hear about, either because no cameras were present, or because the inflicted harm was not fatal? There are some unknowns left in the equation, but you get the idea.

In what seems a concerted effort by government, police and judiciary, demonstrations are being pushed to the margins of the political arena. Techniques such as kettling, excessive violence by police, and their routinely taking pictures and personal details of people entering and leaving demonstrations, these are discouraging all but the most determined citizens to take part in future political events. Among the group that remains, there will be a relatively high percentage of trouble makers, whose vandalism will undoubtedly be used as an argument to crack down on demonstrations even more.

Kudos to the Labour government for finding a smart way to prevent major demonstrations without formally banning them, which would surely have led to a rebuke from the European Court of Human Rights (not that this government would care). Unless one suffers from the delusion that democracy equates to putting a pencil mark on a ballot paper every few years, the recent developments are added cause for concern, next to all the other recent assaults on civil liberties.

A good illustration of such warped views towards democracy is offered in a toe-curling CiF article by Jack Straw (Our record isn't perfect. But talk of a police state is daft; The Guardian, Friday 27 February 2009), which abounds in hollow rhetoric and escapism. Among its tenets are that we shouldn't complain because the situation in Britain is not yet as bad as it is in some dictatorships in the Middle East or South Asia, and if we don't like the present government, we should just keep our traps shut until we finally get a chance to not re-elect them, which might not be until June 2010. That is supposed to make us feel better?!


Police 'kettle' tactic feels the heat (BBC News, Thursday, 16 April 2009)
Despite the two instances of alleged police assault, [...]

Excuse me?! Two? Again we see why BBC News has very little to do with serious journalism. There are two incidents that reached the front pages because either someone died or cameras managed to catch a police officer in flagrante. Far more incidents of gratuitous police violence were reported, and it is likely many more took place. See:

G20 police officers may face multiple claims over brutality allegations (The Guardian, Saturday 11 April 2009)
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it had received 120 complaints relating to police actions at the demonstrations.