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Disturbing reflections on Gardai
summit mobilisations |
Thursday May 13, 2004 11:26 by IT reader
Positive IT opinion piece
Ok - I know I' m probably breaking Indymedia policy by posting a full article but not everybody reads it or has pay per view.
Disturbing reflections on gardai
It was when they said they had cleared space in the city morgue that one really began to wonder about the sanity surrounding the authorities' response to the May Day events.
It is one thing to be prepared, but quite another to become so consumed with paranoia as to lose all touch with reality. During the May Day weekend, Ireland moved firmly through the looking glass.
On one level, it was absurd - the Army's chemical, biological and nuclear unit (whatever that is) on alert, the Navy patrolling Dublin Bay, the Air Force keeping our skies safe, gardaí questioning people about buying onions (aka dangerous projectiles) in Moore Street.
There are however aspects of the events leading up to the EU summit at Farmleigh which have more disturbing ramifications.
Bertie Ahern's identification before the event of protesters as "mindless hooligans" set the scene. Dublin appeared to perceive itself as the latest stage in a linear progression from Seattle to Genoa in terms of anti-globalisation protest.
Concrete evidence for this was scant. Anticipation of an invasion of thousands of diehard anarchists intent on causing mayhem on Dublin streets appeared to be based on little more than an inaccurate reading of the undoubtedly violent protests of Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa.
The truth of what actually happened on the streets of those cities took time to emerge, and never received the same coverage as the riots themselves. In Seattle, hundreds of thousands protested in 1999 at the World Trade Organisation summit. A city council investigation subsequently identified serious police inadequacy and brutality as being a major cause of the violence. The mayor and the police chief were singled out for blame, with the latter forced to take early retirement.
The Seattle City Council concluded that "gratuitous assaults" by police had "compromised the civil rights of citizens and often provoked further disturbance".
In Genoa, it was the G8 summit in 2001 which drew the protesters. The Italian media was full of alarmist accounts anticipating mayhem. The police listed the tactics to be used against them by demonstrators in the most lurid terms. Anarchists were supposed to be preparing bags of HIV-infected blood to hurl at them and at anyone else who got in their way.
With hundreds injured as a result of police brutality, the Italian police finally admitted that they had used excessive force and acted illegally. While there had certainly been a hard-line group of protesters intent on causing damage, the police had inexplicably ignored them and concentrated their aggression on the main body of peaceful protesters.
Hundreds were arrested, many not allowed bail or even a phone call. There is overwhelming evidence that many were beaten and degraded while in custody. Most were subsequently either released without charge, or faced only minor charges. A plethora of inquiries ensued; scores of police were investigated with the three most senior policemen in Genoa disciplined and transferred.
The protester who died was Carlo Giuliani (23), shot by a panicked 20-year-old officer, who like his colleagues was armed.
The Swedish police in Gothenburg, the scene of anti-globalisation protests in 2001, were also armed. They shot and seriously injured several unarmed demonstrators. Yet again, independent investigations blamed police overreaction and brutality for increasing the level of violence.
The lessons are clear. Heavy-handed armed response to protesters invariably leads to escalating violence. Yet when Dublin's turn came, the gardaí announced through their representative organisation they wanted guns to deal with the anticipated May Day protest.
This not only represents a dire failure to learn anything from the past, but also a denial of the experience of hundreds of gardaí who have been in and led UN civilian police operations in trouble spots around the world.
I had the good fortune to observe them in action in Namibia at the time of that country's difficult path to independence. Although one of the few unarmed police contingents in the international force, the Irish made and won the case for the UN police not to carry guns.
Through dialogue and compromise rather than physical force, the gardaí set a superb example of professional policing in Namibia, and later in Cambodia. They single-handedly convinced both the international community and fellow officers from around the world of the effectiveness and the virtues of an unarmed police force.
Given this remarkable international influence, it is appalling to hear gardaí now turn their backs on our highly successful tradition of an unarmed police force, and demand guns to fight what were really only the phantoms of their own paranoia.
No doubt these same gardaí would welcome the truly frightening proposal from the German and Italian governments to create a specialised, heavily-armed EU riot squad to be parachuted into any city with a summit and/or protest. If there was ever an area in which we should not follow the European model, this should certainly be it.