Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Exploitation and cheap answers

Last night I went down to Stockwell to take part in a demonstration against the police killing of the Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes. I got there about half an hour after it started. The street outside the station was packed and the front entrance closed so it didn't spill over inside the station.

There were speeches being made, but I and most others couldn't hear what was being said; the sound was awful and wasn't helped by the noise from the passing traffic. But it was probably just as well. Of the few speakers I tried to listen to, there was one who bellowed out his words. He was making a link between this killing and the government's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, the way it was presented you would think that if Blair removed the troops tomorrow we would see an end to tragedies like the one at Stockwell. Nothing was mentioned about the context which led to de Menezes's death, in particular the bombings on the tubes and buses. That made me angry.

There were plenty of people from various communities there - white British, Muslim, Brazilian, Trotskyists and other assorted socialists, human rights organisations - and nothing was said about the terrorist attacks. No doubt this was due in part to the demonstration having been organised by Lambeth's Stop the War coalition - who claim everything is due to our Government's actions in Iraq; that was their attitude after the tube and bus bombings and it's now the case after the Stockwell tragedy. But if that's the best we can come up with we risk coming up with platitudes of the worst kind as I witnessed yesterday.

But I was also angry for another reason: I was there because I was revolted about the way individual police officers held down and man and shot him at point blank range. That is the crux of the matter and what needs to be addressed. Yet instead what we got was a naked attempt to tie this killing to the political axes being ground by the organisers (e.g. people protesting that 'we express our solidarity with the Iraqi people', 'we want civil disobedience now', 'shoot to kill is the result of Israeli policy against the Palestinians' - cue loud cheers).

There was also a demand by the organisers for an end to the 'shoot-to-kill' policy. While that generated the response expected, I couldn't help but feel that once again a simplistic solution had been sought and found. What if the next time the police weren't in the wrong? I don't know. I can't decide how I feel about that.

Only later, after I had been to visit my brothers at their house nearby, did I come back to the station and find what I had come for. An impromptu memorial had been laid out, with posters, flags and flowers asking for peace and protesting against the killing. There were a few local people standing around, but unlike earlier, no-one out to exploit the situation for their own interest.

I spent a few moments there, reflecting on the injustice of de Menezes's death and the wider public indifference - almost acceptance - of the police's claims that the world has changed, that these things will happen in the future and that we had better get used to it.

But that's not something I either want to get used to or accept.

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