Police violence and horses

Laurie Penny’s blogpost on yesterday’s police kettling in Whitehall, and even more the video of a moment when police horses advanced on peaceful crowds who showed no visible signs of being about to riot, focus the issue of police violence, the obscene complement of our politics. The violence of the police, horrible as it is, is nothing more than the hidden, disavowed obverse of government by the band of self-supporting cutthroats we elected in May.

The natural response in the light of this police violence, voiced by many people on Twitter, in blogs, and elsewhere, is shock and revulsion. The tactic of moving huge, powerful, and forbidding animals at crowds of kettled civilians, is an outrage. Griping comments like the following, posted on the Liberal Conspiracy webpage that is hosting the video, utterly miss the point:

Have you never been to a football match ? This isn’t shocking – that’s what police horses do, and it certainly wasn’t a charge, they didn’t even break into a trot.

The speed of advance of the horses seems immaterial. A horse may knock over and trample a pedestrian at any speed beyond a standstill, such is their relative strength. Subtract the masculine posturing of the supermen commentators who want us to know that they can sturdily face down any monster here, and what you’re left with is quivering civilians being subjected to threatening behaviour.

Equally irrelevant is the broader context for this use of horses – except as a redoubling of the obscenity of the situation. No, I don’t attend football matches, and I don’t normally encounter terrifying behaviour of this sort from the police. But rather than adducing evidence of threatening behaviour with horses at football matches as a mollifying context, we should increase our rage and bewilderment: ‘What, this sort of thing happens every week at football grounds around the country? Even worse!’ (Protests against cuts that will materially disadvantage tens of millions of people are, of course, incommensurable with the ultimately very petty stakes involved in the losing or winning of a football match, and the fact that police patrol a place that should be reserved for simple entertainment carries its own message. But let’s not pursue that here.)

For many people, not least for the schoolchildren at this week’s protest in Whitehall, the reality of kettling and of charging, trotting, curveting, galloping – the verb is really utterly immaterial: it’s the accusative case that matters – of horses towards defenceless civilians who appear to have been causing no trouble is a stark, disgusting, and frightening moment of heightened awareness of the violence that sustains the ‘peace’ of our parliamentary democracy. Such people may be slow on the uptake if this is indeed normal and well-established policing activity, but the anger should not be diminished.

Police scare people with animals many times the size and physical power of civilians. They also, as video on the Guardian website and elsewhere shows, strike people with batons for having the temerity to speak. This is an enormous problem. It will not go away. Indeed, in the coming, growing national struggle against the ConDem cuts, it could escalate very horribly. Note Sir Paul Stephenson’s latest pronouncement (‘the game has changed‘), and beware.



  1. Are these the same 'quivering civilians' that broke that police woman's arm? Or the ones that decimated a police van? The police were keeping a distance until the vandalism started, weren't they? And I have to say that I'm not surprised that they were a little more heavy-handed, given what happened at Millbank two weeks ago.

  2. Christopher – I see you have adopted the Zionist line of argument, which is, in essence, the justification of state-terrorism resulting from public protest. Here we have a 'chicken or the egg?' type situation – it is not hard to see, in both Israel and the current topic of discussion, which happened first.Of course, you will answer that the student violence occurred before any police violence. But what about the violence (violence is not merely a physical phenomenon) that is perpetrated daily by the state against its citizens? Violence hidden under the veil of authority and (illusory) public accountability is, in my opinion, far more abhorrent than students reacting to a government bent on erasing anything but their own neo-liberal agenda from the fabric of society.

  3. Just want to throw it out there that ‘we’ didn’t elect this government. Nobody asked for this particular political situation, and the majority of people who actually bothered to vote voted for supposedly ‘left-wing’ or at least centre-left candidates.

    …To make it all taste slightly more bitter. (Not that it would have been all that much different under Labour, I imagine.)

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