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Wednesday 8 April 2009

A Plonker like Rodney

The police are in the mire again. I’m not surprised.

Last week, a 47 year old newspaper seller called Ian Tomlinson died after suffering a heart attack. Since his death, it has been revealed that he had been, how shall I put it, in contact with the police a few minutes beforehand. The video – shot by a New York fund manager – doesn’t make for comfortable viewing. Once again, it is the Guardian that has the story, here.

Some will look for parallels with the de Menezes shooting, especially as the police did not initially admit that there had been contact between them and Mr Tomlinson. I recalled an incident rather further away, and some years ago.

Back in 1991, a man called Rodney King found himself on the end of a beating by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. What LAPD’s finest did not know at the time was that their beating was being filmed. This video also did not make for comfortable viewing.

In both cases, the police had had a hard time of it beforehand: King’s car had been chased for some time before his arrest (by several cars and even a helicopter), and the officers in London had no doubt had their fill of the awkward squad during the G20 protests.

But that doesn’t justify assault.

Assault which leads to the death of the person assaulted routinely results in a charge of manslaughter; this is what happened in the case of Tony Virasami, who was thus convicted after punching a 57 year old man in a south London supermarket, as reported by the BBC here.

So many justifiably concerned people are now watching this case, to see if there is a suitably even handed approach in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Not because of any wish to distrust the police – but of wanting to be able to show the opposite case.

Because if you can’t trust the police, then who can you trust?

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