Tomlinson v Harwood

In the red-eyed corner, homeless alcoholic and occasional newspaper salesman Ian Tomlinson.  He comes into this fight with two failed marriages, nine children (four of his own and five step-children; proof that he loves them to bits is evidenced by their names crudely tattooed on his hands).  He’s wearing a blue Millwall football shirt with a grey Milwall t-shirt on top; it’s not a good look.  He’s not in great shape and looks older than his 47 years.  Homelessness can’t help and cirrhosis of the liver brought on by his alcoholism means that Harwood is a strong favourite to take the bout.  Tomlinson is drunk, meaning that his movement is impaired and his reactions are slow and unpredictable.

In the blue-flashing-light corner, territorial support officer Simon Harwood.  He comes into the fight in good shape physically, though he’s been up since 5am and this must count against him.  He’s limbered up for the fight by pushing and palm-striking protesters and has roughed up a BBC cameraman for good measure.  His chequered past means it’s tricky to predict the approach he’ll take.  He’s with the Met at the moment, though he’s already moved from the Met to Surrey police once as a result of a misconduct hearing.  This fight could define his future.  Tomlinson is the crowd favourite and Harwood has little support from the crowd.  

Before it’s started, it’s all over.

Tomlinson is down, the result of a smart baton strike to the leg and a simple push.  He’s down, up again and down again.  This time he stays down.  Police are pelted by protesters as they attempt to help Tomlinson.

Harwood barely notices the incident and certainly makes no note in his note book.  The whole bout has taken little more than a few seconds but it’s enough to remove Ian Tomlinson from the face of the planet and to send ripples of shock a long way out from the centre of the incident.

Tomlinson has been unlawfully killed, it is decided.  No-one is guilty of this unlawful killing though Harwood’s performance in court is so poor than it’s almost as though he’s trying to get himself sent down.  Further revelations about Harwood’s past and character are released.  He is released.  

The Tomlinson family sense reimbursement and state that they will sue unless an admission of guilt is forthcoming; their own guilt or greed may be driving factors.  13 years since Ian Tomlinson left to live his own life away from them, he’s now reinvented as a wonderful dad.  Look at the tattoos, they say…

There’s some good news of course; Paul Lewis of the Guardian is named reporter of the year for his investigative journalism concerning the case.  Meanwhile, Syria dominates one or two of the middle pages…

It’s the sound of the police

Much has been written in recent weeks about the alienation of young people from society. I’ve already explained why I think this is a parental issue far more than a societal one, but I’d also add that it’s actually quite difficult to bring young people into the (big) society fold. Young people (and by this I really mean teenagers) are not exposed to many of the important issues that are faced by adults. As a teenager, you are shielded by your parents, or at least you should be. You shouldn’t need to worry about getting a job, renting/buying a house etc, and the people that you deal with on a day to day basis (your friends) aren’t ready to contribute much to society either, and this is exactly as it should be. Teenagers are often by nature non-conformists; they’re keen to rebel, albeit usually in a harmless way, against their parents, teachers and polite society in general. Very few people dress like they did when they were a teenager, and listen to the same music; many of us take up, and then give up, smoking as teens. This is all part of growing up; it’s doesn’t suggest any fracture within society, but teenagers are always going to exist on the margins of society – there’s plenty of time for them to become their parents later on.

When one becomes an adult, it’s far easier to define yourself as a useful, upstanding member of society. But what does one have to do to achieve this? I think that most people would agree with that the following is key: be employed, and to earn one’s keep, ideally in a job where you are clearly performing a useful role in society, and not earning far more than perhaps your contribution would suggest is reasonable.

I think most people could suggest a job that fits this criteria (nursing, teaching), and could also suggest some that would not (banking). One job that clearly fulfils the above would be the police. It’s a job with difficult hours, the pay is reasonable but no more, it’s essential to society.

So why do we continually run down our police force? Why have the policemen and women become the target for such criticism and marginalisation from all angles?

To quote examples – lack of riot training/riot equipment for police to deal with the recent troubles, major Government cuts to the police, accusations of police brutality (Ian Tomlinson), accusations of police timidity (London riots), people spectating at the riots in London, the goading of the police by rioters more interested in capturing evidence on their phones than making a political point. Even the title of this piece is taken from a piece of music criticising police brutality, though the real meaning of the song has been lost amid the amusing siren sounds, and though none of us pay any real attention to them, the sentiments can become lodged. None of us are surprised to hear Dr Dre’s line of ‘so muthaf*ck the police’, and none of us are shocked as we would be were he criticising an ethnic minority, or women. There is an inherent need for young people to rebel, but should we still be doing the same thing against our police force as adults?

The most obvious contrast from the police would be the British Army. My brother was an officer in the cavalry for a decade, and has since joined the metropolitan police. I’ve never had the conversation with him, but I suspect that he’s quite surprised about the difference in public feeling towards the two (fairly comparable) roles. The British Army are often referred to as heroes, and the charity ‘Help for Heroes’ is now one of the richest in the UK. How about a similar charity for police officers wounded in the riots? Would there be a similar outpouring of national feeling (and cash)? Maybe it’s because the Army are sorting problems in foreign lands, where the local people there deserve all they get, and maybe here our natural inclination is an anti-authority standpoint where we regress to our teenage feelings of rebellion towards those that enforce polite society, but it seems like a confused message to give.

So who feels more alienated from society – the teenager, who has yet to have the chance to contribute, or the police officer, providing a vital role than many of us wouldn’t do for twice the money, and being pilloried by the very society that they protect?