ACPO: police “may be required to commit crimes to achieve the aims of the government”

The Mark Kennedy/Stone case has been in the news, particularly the Guardian, a lot but the police statements have rather confused me.

I first heard about Mark back in October through a friend of a friend and, whilst I was a little stunned that it had been someone so involved, I was not surprised there was an undercover cop in the movement (in fact I earned the nickname “Paranoid Pete” in SFTUK for worrying about security and infiltration). Someone I consider a friend and committed activist in the US is an ex-informant, so I am well aware they exist.

Call me cynical but what did surprise me was the quickness that everyone, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, from George Monbiot to former undercover officers seemed to roundly condemn parts of, if not all of the operation. I was positively gobsmacked with the speed at which it was announced that the three baines of every protester in the UK; the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET) would be moved from the unaccountable and opaque Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and into the Met “as a direct result” of the Mark Kennedy case. Well, I was for a while, until I read that this had been on the cards since November last year. So what was pitched as a punishment for mismanagement is in fact a pre-planned merging of units conveniently timed. So no one wins here, except the police who escape with not so much a slap on the wrist but more of a tickle under the arm.

What I am really worried about now is what the new “…domestic extremism command…” in the Met will be. Police never give up a power once they have it, I find it hard to believe anything will really change.

Something caught my attention in an article on the Guardian’s website today; ACPO stated:

Historically, there appears to have been a reluctance for anybody else to take a role in the authorisation of undercover officers and informants in circumstances where they may be required to commit crimes in order to achieve the legitimate aims of the government.

It was the last part of that statement “they may be required to commit crimes in order to achieve the legitimate aims of the government”. This is interesting for two reasons: 1) it appears to be the police advisory body ACPO stating that the government can break the law to get its way and 2) it is remarkably similar to the definition of civil disobedienceA symbolic, non-violent violation of the law, done deliberately in protest against some form of perceived injustice.

It would appear, initially, that these are very similar ideas and that I am hypocritically justifying protesters breaking the law and castigating police and governments for it because I am sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. But there is a key difference in when a protester breaks the law and when a government does it.

It would be great if the law could apply to everyone, universally. But so often there are exceptions that have to be made for one reason or another. What differs between when activists break the law to prevent a greater crime or highlight injustice is that they do it clear in the knowledge of the legal repercussions they face and full willingness to accept them. That is where the power of non-violent civil disobedience comes from. When the police frame, beat or kill protesters, when MPs make fraudulent expense claims, when ministers, lords, businessmen and companies evade tax they use every excuse and every loophole to wriggle their way out of facing justice.

When governments and police break the law they do so to control, to abuse and to distort.

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