I have been watching events in the US and noticing two trends that seems to be becoming more common in both the US and UK.
The death of a young man at the hands of the police in Ferguson was a tragic event, a life lost. A small part of that protest group formed a mob and set fire to a shop, hardly warranted and something that marks the demonstrators as no better than rioters and mindless thugs. Something which does their cause no good whatsoever.
But in response to this and in order to maintain control the police deployed in numbers, an unfortunate scheme that could have been out of the 60s as a line of white faces with helmets and clubs faced down a group of black faces who were chanting and waving placards.
The police response was interesting and something that is part of a general pattern.
Well armed SWAT team members, snipers, armoured vehicles. About the only thing missing was a water cannon but then the US goes more for tear gas and rubber bullets than we do on the mainland. Still the new Boris toys have been ordered and will be delivered soon.
But more than just the disproportionate response and the level of intimidation involved was something else, something more sinister and the point of my ramble today.
The police in Ferguson went after the reporters first. Two who were tweeting from a fast food restaurant were arrested; one was physically assaulted and according to reports slammed into a drinks machine by the police. The other was pushed into a window.
One of the reporters tweeted he was told his arrest was for trespassing, in a MacDonald’s restaurant, but in the end no charges were leveled, they were simply harassed and intimidated to stop them reporting.
Another film crew seem to have been the deliberate target of a tear gas attack by the police, forcing them to flee leaving their camera and tripod behind.
There were no demonstrators anywhere near this film crew, no one apart from the reporter and the film crew, yet they had a tear gas grenade fired at them.
Also once they had fled the police arrived and took down their cameras, notice the office at the back, taking aim at the fleeing reporters. He is deliberately taking aim at accredited and identified reporters and film crew who are running away from a tear gas cloud.
We see this in many nations, we saw this in Gezi park and in Independence Square and in Tahrir Square, we see this in Russia and Syrria and China and in a score of other nations that are rightly condemned as having appalling human rights, limited freedoms and being police states.
Watching it in the US, well you have to wonder where things changed.
Now here in the UK we are no strangers to ‘Official’ attempts to shut down free speech and to prevent the reporting of news. As much as we like to think our press is free we still have incidents of security forces using warrants to enter a newspapers offices and destroy data, we have Hacked Off and the ‘Official’ inquires trying hard to restrict what the press can say, we have the Coalitions ever ongoing censorship efforts and we have the recent ruling on Google and digital access to information by search engines (how is that working out by the way).
But this is the big picture, not the local situation.
People are fascinating, we are complex, both cooperative and isolationist, we know right from wrong but then in many cases deliberately destroy our own ability to recognise it, we are inherently peaceful and violent, loving and hating, we are different every day and in every situation.
But something that never seems to change, something that is perhaps a holdover from our childhoods, we don’t like being caught misbehaving. The child with cookie crumbs on his tee shirt denies eating the last cookie, the little boy standing by the paddling pool denying he just pushed his sister in, did you do this, did you do that. No Dad, wasn’t me.
As Adults we all seem to retain this same instinct to be evasive, to hide what we do if we feel that others will object. Even when we may think what we are doing is right we may seek to hide what we do if we know others will not like it.
I don’t see this as being a logical and considered action; it seems far more an instinctive, knee jerk sort of thing.
We live in the 21st century, yes I know I keep saying this but so very many people don’t seem to have noticed. We live in the information age. 75% and more of our population from two year olds to centenarians have mobile phones that can take pictures and video.
The selfie has apparently become an addiction, from the people in the streets to world leaders, it’s a selfie here and a selfie there. Smart phone photo albums, pictures of everything from food to going to the toilet.
Even taking a selfie of that blonde you were sitting next to with your mate Dave. Though the wife wasn't happy with that one.
People take pictures of everything they see that is interesting or unusual. Which invariably includes the police doing something. A crash, a raid, a few officers standing around looking intimidating. The riot squad forming up, police cars racing by with sirens on. Something interesting, something worth taking a picture of.
Yet many of our police react negatively to this, we have had many many reports of people standing in their own homes or gardens ordered to stop filming the police doing something.
Take a picture in the streets of London and you may get stopped by the police because you are breaking some security regulation.
We are surrounded by CCTVs and security cameras, we have no control what so ever about our actions in public being watched and recorded. There is a growing use by the police of body cams, go pro type cameras that can record the activities of the public who are facing the police, this is apparently having a positive effect.
But why are so many of our police still unhappy with us filming them?
In Ferguson the police went after the reporters, they dropped tear gas on a film crew who were standing alone, nowhere near the demonstrators. They ordered others to turn off their cameras. Reporters were (and still maybe) harassed, arrested then released later without charges, they were intimidated and prevented from reporting events.
In the UK it is not this bad, with official reporters and journalists anyway. Though often they are provided with allocated areas to which they must adhere, ‘For their own safety’ or some other such reason. But the public, that is a different case.
An official policy statement by the Metropolitan police on the subject:
"Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel"
Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 states that says police officers can stop you filming them if they believe the video will be used for the purposes of terrorism. Hardly applicable to a car crash or an arrest or the police knocking on your door or even a riot.
Yet Police and security guards still continue to order the public or reports to stop filming or to leave the area, I can see keeping a crime scene clear but shouting at people on the other side of the road to stop filming is clearly unwarranted.
So why do our police, so frequently, try to stop people filming them. Why do so many of our police object to being filmed, object to having their actions recorded?
I don’t think it’s an official policy, though with this government it’s a bit hard to tell. Our democratic oversight with regard to the security services and police is often slow and lacking but it does still exist (in theory).
So why do our police not like being filmed?
Personally I think it goes back to those children misbehaving. They know it’s something people don’t like so they deny doing it.
As adults, in uniform, they have considerable power. They may not consider what they are doing to be wrong but inside, deep down, they seem to know that what they are doing is considered wrong by society at large.
Like those little children they need to deny doing anything bad, but in the adult word, in the 21st century, that means not being filmed doing it. So instead of little children telling fibs we have adults trying to stop the cameras.
So avoid the reporters, take away the mobiles that are filming them, stop the crowd from taking pictures, order them to move away or leave the area. Harass the picture takers. If there are no pictures there is no evidence and if there is no evidence it didn’t happen. Stop the pictures and you can do what you will, no evidence, no repercussions.
In short, they are acting guilty and trying to cover up that fact by not being filmed. It doesn’t matter what they think they are, or are not, guilty of. The simple fact that they don’t want to be recording doing it gives them away.
When you combine this deliberate attempt to prevent any recording of the situation with the general level of military armament and equipment being displayed you have to start wondering what is going to happen next.
When the police, who are supposed to protect us, start feeling the need to hide what they are doing then are they crossing the line between protecting us and controlling us?
When those who watch over us, will not permit us to watch over them it is natural to be suspicious or fearful and it is natural to avoid or hide from that which we fear.
When our police become an object of fear they cease to be our protectors and instead become just another tool of repression and control.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Smile officer, you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.