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Police nurture a unwise form of direct democracy

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, January 7th, 2009 - 27 comments
Categories: activism, interweb, police, scoundrels - Tags: ,

 The Economist has an fascinating article “Rioters of the world unite“. It is partially about the demonstrations, protests, and outright riots in Athens and other parts of Greece at the end of last year. It is also partially concerned with a rising trend in new ways to not organize, and still be politically effective.  The underlying issue is that the fund of goodwill between the police and certain politically active parts of society is drying up. In New Zealand there is a growing lack of respect for peaceful political activism amongst some elements of the police. To me that looks like heading towards France 2005, Budapest 2006, and now Greece 2008 with net assisted uncontrolled outbreaks of anger. We’ve had them before, but these days they can spread fast, especially when assisted by annoyed activists tired of being persecuted and spied on.

For those who didn’t bother with the news at the time, here is a description from an earlier Economist article about what triggered the unrest and how far it went.

This week’s violence was on an unprecedented scale. It erupted after Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old schoolboy, was shot dead by a policeman in Exarchia, a scruffy central district of Athens known as the anarchists’ home base, on the night of December 6th. Shouting insults at police in their patrol cars is a weekend sport for some Athenian youths. The police are meant to stay cool: the last time a policeman killed a teenager was in 1985.

This time protests over the shooting quickly spilled into the main streets of Athens, and thence across the country. Roving groups of anarchists torched cars, broke shop windows decorated for Christmas and tossed in petrol bombs. Beyond the capital, demonstrators attacked police stations and public offices in a dozen cities.

What triggered the events is not that interesting – anything could have. What was startling is the speed that people could get out on the streets to show their displeasure and being in the same places – that is new. It wasn’t just the people who were affected, knew the kid, or even were involved in similar groups. It was a lot of people and down to the individual level who decided to get involved.

In the world of the net, it is incredibly hard to confine information through the techniques of the past with the MSM. There are simply too many channels and outlets. You can’t censor or put injunctions on information that isn’t even in the same country. When activists who know how to put information on the net get involved, it spreads even faster, as these days they have widespread networks of loose contacts.

In Greece some of the political shenanigans are corrupt to say the least, and the police are viewed by sections of society as a sort of occupation force. There simply wasn’t enough goodwill towards the police or the authorities or the ‘system’. So people decided largely individually and without much organization to find out what was happening and where. Then they went to  participate.  The effect as the Economist commented is:-

By definition, anarchy is harder to propagate than rigid Leninism. Whatever is spreading from Athens, it is not a clear programme for a better world. The malcontents of Greece include ideological class warriors, nostalgists for the protests against the junta of 1967-74 and people (including drug dealers and bank robbers) with a grudge against the police. Relations between police and the counter-culture have worsened recently; the police are accused (rightly) of bullying migrants, the bohemians of dallying with terrorism. A messy scene, with no obvious message.

But the psychological impulse behind the Greek protests—a sense of rage against all authority, which came to a head after a 15-year-old boy was killed by a police bullet—can now be transmitted almost instantaneously, in ways that would make the Bolsheviks very jealous. These days, images (moving as well as still) spread faster than words; and images, of course, transcend language barriers.

The “bohemians” in this case are likely to be activists. Activists don’t join groups as much now, because it is safer to work on the net. You’re far less likely to have the paranoid police deciding that you are potentially a terrorist and then acting if you were one now. Activists now know where to go on the net and have even wider networks than if they were involved in groups. They don’t have (or want) leaders that can be targeted for special attention and they don’t want to have nebulous bogus conspiracy charges against them.

But that is overseas, what are the implications for here? That gets quite interesting.

Rioters of the world unite” points out that this isn’t a brand new trend – the techniques and trends are spreading via the net. Similar but less concentrated non-organization behavior happened in France in 2005, and in Budapest in 2006. The problem for the police and the authorities is that it can happen anywhere. All it requires is enough disaffected people in society that do not respect the “authoritah of Cartmans”. Most people under the of 30 have the skills to communicate on the net. All activists have access to it these days.police_officer_cartman

In NZ, imagine if the police were still as much of a pain as they were after the ’81 tour and Muldoon. Then they managed to trigger the 1984 Queen Street Riot with a serious testosterone burst of stupidity. That is the NZ analogy to Athens but other things could cause similar disruption.

If I’d heard about the rumpus in 1984 soon enough, I’d have gone down for a look, and probably got involved. In 1984, I was 24 and had little very respect for the police. They’d assaulted me in 1981 without sufficient reason. They made a habit of harassing my friends, especially if they were brown.

I’m not that happy with them now and that is a lot more of an issue than it was 25 years ago – then I was politically niave, now I’m definitely an activist. Their actions against activists over the last few years have been appalling. Rather than having a fund of respect amongst activists that the police could draw on, groups within the police like the SIG, TAU, and TPU have been frittering it away. It isn’t just the left, there is almost as much disquiet across the whole political spectrum for many reasons. Just read the blogs.

A decision to participate would be done individually by activists. There isn’t any point in talking it over with others and figuring out longer term factors. If we did that then we would become easy targets for police action. Periodically they’d descend with search warrants based on bogus nebulous conspiracy charges as part of their general intimidation policies. It is far safer to act alone and use the net to support each other anonymously. They spy on established groups like political parties and unions as well, so how long before they start using search warrants and conspiracy charges against them?

To be visibly involved is to become part of the wet dream of some lazy police with conspiracy delusions. In NZ, it is becoming simpler to be an anonymous activist cross-linked via the net. That is not a good model for nurturing democratic change in NZ – it is a suppression technique. In the end suppression just leads to explosions.

Yep, I can see why the riots in Greece happened. It only takes a few fuckwits in the police to squander the respect for their authoritah! Hell it may even be policy to increase police budgets – who can tell? The police are a opaque organization who often appear as if they are unsure themselves about what they are doing. But that is another post.

And now for your viewing pleasure… Cartman… The police don’t like us using their crest so Cartman will have to do.

27 comments on “Police nurture a unwise form of direct democracy”

  1. Carol 1

    “nuture”? – easy slip to make ie in your headline.

    [lprent: Yep, it doesn’t spell check that. Fixed (I think)]

  2. Typical supercilious putdown of youth by the voice of finance capital.
    Aimless youth spontaneously rioting with no program for a better society.
    Tut tut. Have another gin and tonic dear. .. Oops is that a molotov cocktail dear?

    Coming from the mouthpiece of the ruling class that has demonstrated its total bankruptcy in creating a better society, from Athens to Gaza, why should we pay it any heed?

    Well because its a typical trivialising of the real issues which these radical youth are fighting; the system, the rich and the authority of the state which the rich use to pacify social unrest.

    The Economist tries to reduce their actions to individual anarchy, the psychology of hothead youth, but made more effective by modern communications. And what’s more insult youthful intelligence to suggest its only bad policing that gets them angry.

    Well, not so. It’s the old bogey of anarchy rising up that they fear. The youth trashed their malls, supermarkets, and luxury hotels. The flash cars are a favorite target. Its only a step from their to their prized mansions and clubs. That’s already a better social program than that offered by the class the Economist speaks for -the dole, jail, being shot or bombed.

    Then there’s the attack on authority. The youth trashed police stations, the symbol of the authority used by the rich to suppress dissent. That’s a sound program for social advance. Though its hardly a program to replace the police with another form of authority to express the will of the people, its a step in the right direction. That’s why the youth occupied the schools and universities so they could organise, educate and plan the next moves. Planning? horrors darling.

    Then there’s the call for Caramanlis to resign. Well that’s quite a social program. Fancy youth realising that the government is corrupt and oppressive imposing social austerity to bail out the banks and big corporates onto the backs of the youth unemployed. Fancy hotheaded youth being able to recognise the role of the bosses’ government for what it is. Some of them were even ahead of the opposition attempt to sideline them into new elections for a supposedly left Labour Party type government. So they occupied the Trade Union headquarters and demanded a general strike.

    Now that would really impress the Economist. A text message general strike. Wow! They can already imagine their system, its profits, its oppression, its wars, disappearing like the trillions that have already gone ‘poof’.

    What was it that someone said about the future belongs to our children?

  3. Bill 3

    So the economist follows the same old line that the unrest in Greece is a ‘riot’ with no accompanying demands or statements of desire…no underlying analysis/understanding on the part of the participants. That’s a crock. However.

    On acting individually (which is what you seem to propose) rather than acting as an individual is an interesting topic…one I’ve commented on previously in other standard posts. Organisation is a necessity….organisations that allow the individual to act and retain their autonomy work and work rather well.

    Many people, many voices. High degree of organisation but no centralisation. No ‘party lines’. An ever increasing constituency that happily accommodates all levels of resistance/protest….from the letter writer to the editor to the revolutionary. It’s been done here (post 11/09 invasion of Afghanistan) and will doubtless happen again.

    The problem is the old habit of people seeking to invest leadership in others. I was pleasantly surprised that this habit afflicted the middle class liberals far less than it did the tired old Trots and Leninists. However, while the liberals were comfortable to work and organise with no centralised command and control structure, they couldn’t identify the danger signs when elements of the left attempted to impose such a centralise structure.

    While those elements were successful in stamping their mark/ their authority, the result was the constituency that had been building and spreading dissipated when confronted by the reality of a party line….a many people, one voice scenario.

    It’s possible to organise in ways that confound the police. It was done. Next time around I’d like to think the people who were hoodwinked by the authoritarians will be a bit wiser and able to preserve the integrity of their organisational structures.

    We’ll see.

  4. Quoth the Raven 4

    Many of the rioter in Athens know exactly what they want. They are anarchists. You don’t fly a red and black flag without knowing what it’s all about – an end to capitalsim and all illegitimate authority, ie complete emancipation of humanity.

  5. Greedy Pig 5

    “What triggered the events is not that interesting – anything could have. What was startling is the speed that *people* could get out on the streets to show their displeasure and being in the same places – that is new..[blah blah… anti authoritarianism… again]

    Some people… the loose headed.

    [lprent: Talking about yourself in the third person? Bad habit that, makes people think that you’re an egotist]

  6. Greedy Pig 6

    Maybe every municipality should have an approved rioting place. After the rioting the rioters could rebuild it*.

    *if works not against the culture of the rioter.

  7. Ag 7

    I don’t know why the Economist should act all surprised. I guess more people are realizing that the Emperor has no clothes.

  8. Rex Widerstrom 8

    Using the net in a way invisible to the police assumes a reasonable degree of knowledge about encryption, using proxies and the like. I’m sure this information is disseminated amongst activists but whether it’s done quickly enough and whether it’s secure enough to exclude police infiltration, I wonder?

    The police regularly claim to have infiltrated “highly sophisticated online pedophile networks using high-tech methods to hide their activities”, implying they have the technology to penetrate even highly secure networks. Assuming that’s true (and I don’t, necessarily, given that data is very easy to plant on someone’s computer – just ask any 12 year old L337 |-|4><0r3r) then I doubt activists have the level of personal security you seem to imply – but you’d be a far better judge than I of such things, I guess.

    Having been the subject of more than 20 years of unwanted police attention I carefully considered the issue of anonymity net-wise, considering I figured that much of what I would write would be critical of the police and the whole “justice” system.

    In the end I concluded it’s better to be out in the open. At least that way if I’m dragged off in the night on yet another trumped-up charge (that’d make seven) someone might make the connection between my perfectly legal opinions and activities and their unpalatableness to certain power structures, and the continuing list of ever-more-bizarre “crimes” with which I’m charged.

    The problem with remaining underground is that, when you’re dragged off for interfering with livestock, it’s a bit late to creditably claim it’s really because you’re a pain in the establishment’s arse. Even though it’s true, the police can say “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?” and the unknowing public will nod and move on, nothing to see here…

  9. lprent 9

    Rex: It’d be easy for the police to penetrate any particular persons systems, especially if armed with a search warrant. It is a lot harder when you multiply that by a larger number of people. Say at a low level, just  a hundred for NZ.

    However they’d be faced with the same type of issue that I have keeping some people off this site. Multiple ISP access accounts, internet cafes, dynamic IP’s and no requirement for logins (or multiple logins). Not to mention siblings, parents, freinds, and work accounts.

    You have no idea who people are some of the time – for instance d4j has used at least 6 dynamically allocated IP ranges. The only reason you know it is him is because of his style.

    Who needs encryption? The problem for any security systems in the days of the net and the amount of traffic running around is pretty damn high.

  10. Greedy Pig 10

    Can we have an opt out of rioting arrangement if we don’t want our property damaged?

  11. Rex Widerstrom 11

    lprent:

    I’d have thought so. But they seem to have no trouble rounding up these international child porn rings. I imagine they troll chat rooms till they find someone who’s not following the group’s security protocols (in terms of being indiscreet, I mean… we both know the weakest link in any network’s security is, to quote the old saw, the nut behind the keyboard).

    Once they’ve got an in I guess they start distributing material which can be traced (are trojans) and send the patsy something which logs all his connections.

    The alternative is that they’re telling fibs, which could quite easily also be the case.

    They seem to like solving cyber crime… presumably because it’s “sexy” at present and they can do it at their desk while eating donuts and surfing porn.

    captcha: ex-Editor 😯 Is it trying to tell me they’re on to me already?!

  12. jbc 12

    lprent: a very interesting point you make. I find it easy to agree with the sentiment and motivation for these organised protests but [as much as I’d feel anger towards authority] I can’t help feel that the methods used in these protests (torching cars, destroying things) is not the best way to act. Collateral damage does not win sympathy. On top of that the police are probably energised by riots rather than put off by them. Putting out fire with gasoline?

    A co-worker of mine once remarked (more than a decade ago) that the Internet was the “world’s largest stupidity amplifier”. That remark comes to mind with this Economist article.

    Now, what your niece [correct if wrong] Rochelle did over the police spying was far, far more intelligent. That’s the type of action that earns respect. A series of intelligent, carefully designed acts that hit your target can be much more effective than torching random cars and letting anger run wild.

    Consider an unwarranted parking fine. You get angry. Do you:

    A. Follow the warden home and torch their house and car.

    B. Follow the warden, note their licence plate, copy it, ensure they get sent many tickets for parking and other traffic offenses. 😉

    ?

  13. Ag 13

    Can we have an opt out of rioting arrangement if we don’t want our property damaged?

    No. One of the great pleasures of rioting is annoying people like you.

  14. lprent 14

    jbc: That is why Rochelle did that way. However the police in that case had given her a gift.

    Almost all activists including the moderates (like me) are now using this to have a bloody good go at the police. It is a good way to work some of the frustration out of the system. It is also a good opportunity to get the police to review their actions and policies over recent years.

    For example (using Rochelle as the example). You have to remember that this is after the police have pulled Rochelle up on close to 10 charges, that they either dropped when it came to trial, lost or lost on appeal on all but two of those charges.

    One was deliberate and she pleaded guilty in youth court. She chained herself to the front of a store. Her mother and I helped ramp up the sentence because it was only fire exit.

    They’d have lost the other one as well. Rochelle was working in Tauranga and the court was in Auckland. The police managed to move the court dates about 2 or 3 times without informing her (she was representing herself). So she organized to be in Auckland with witnesses to be informed that date had changed. Eventually she lost because she was out of holiday time and couldn’t organize witnesses or an appeal.

    This is not uncommon, any activist will tell you that this is the norm – to protest mens that you get charged on all sorts of crap that usually doesn’t stand up in court.

    Abusing the legal system and their position in it like that doesn’t exactly endear the police to any activist, moderate or otherwise. But in all of those cases what the police did was ‘legal’ and there is bugger all that could be done about it.

    It was also bloody stupid in terms of wanting any activist to trust them or to cut them any slack. That is what they are reaping now and for the next year or so.

  15. Many of the rioter in Athens know exactly what they want. They are anarchists. You don’t fly a red and black flag without knowing what it’s all about – an end to capitalsim and all illegitimate authority, ie complete emancipation of humanity.

    But who will run Facebook for you then?

  16. Whoops. I was about to complain about my comment being deleted. But now it’s back! How odd …

    [lprent: Just the usual caching problems would be my bet.]

  17. jbc 17

    But who will run Facebook for you then?

    Precisely.

    Note to Internet organised rioters: when you send that burning bus careening towards a sinister-looking building – make sure it does not contain the datacenter that hosts (or routes) your favourite blog. When tipping cars in the suburbs be careful not to disturb the roadside cabinet that patches the DSL to your home or the homes of your online friends.

  18. Quoth the Raven 18

    Russel – I don’t use facebook. It’s a stupid thing for teenagers and adults with nothing better to do. Maybe you use facebook. I would have thought something better from you, like a cogent argument about why people can’t organise themselves without hierachies, rather than a facetious little comment. Have you tried gettting a job in the MSM?

  19. jbc 19

    QTR: From the Economist article

    A similar tribute group on Facebook has attracted more than 130,000 members, generating thousands of messages and offering links to more than 1,900 related items: images of the protests, cartoons and leaflets.

    You linked to YouTube in your own post.

    Seemed clear to me that Russell was referring to how these “anti-capitalist anarchists” rely on services (Youtube, facebook, second life, the Internet, etc) provided by the capitalist organisations they wish to see the end of.

    Seems hypocritical to me – but then I don’t actually believe that rioters are smart enough to understand that.

  20. jbc – there’s an old saying – “capitalism will sell you the rope you use to hang it.”

  21. Rex Widerstrom 21

    If activists are using Facebook then they might as well hand themselves in to the police and save them the trouble of coming round to arrest them.

    In fact, come to think of it, they don’t even have to bother doing that any more, since courts are now allowing service via facebook.

    That’s what I mean about the supposed anonymity of activists on the net. Yes, there’s all those factors lprent mentions which make it hard for police. But they’re determined to use the online world to capture real world “criminals” and the courts and the lawmakers seem ready to oblige by making it easier for them to do so.

  22. jbc 22

    Robinson – yep I’m aware of a similar saying, but I don’t think it really applies here.

    I just find it a stretch to believe that that the riot fans who inhabit Second Life (for example) really understand the implications of the “end of capitalism” and have it as their end goal.

    As QTR stated about Facebook: “It’s a stupid thing for teenagers and adults with nothing better to do.”

  23. Quoth the Raven 23

    jbc – How is that hypocritical? You don’t have to live in a hovel like a monk to be a socialist. You can be rich and be a socialist in my mind without being a hypocrite. There is nothing wrong with using the tools at hand to better organise. It would be hypocritical if they were the bosses of some business exploiting people. Anarchists try to build the shells of a future society within the old one, through organising themselves, through democratic reforms (even if they don’t wish there to be governments) through unions etc, For example the woblies are thought of as an anarcho-syndacalist union. One could use the same stupid argument against free market supporters, are they hypocrites for using public healthcare and education? Just as with socialists it may seem slightly contradictory, but they cannot avoid these contradictions anymore than a socialist in current society, but they can work using governments for reforms and organise themselves, as socialists do, to make society better in the way they see it. Providing information for free on the internet does seem like a good way for an anarchist to get his message across, but that doesn’t mean these social netoworking sites aren’t silly. In this video Chomsky talks about that sort of thing (near the end somewhere).
    He was 15 I’m sure he did use facebook. Second life now that would be an idiotic waste of time no matter what your beliefs.

  24. Pascal's bookie 24

    Second life now that would be an idiotic waste of time no matter what your beliefs.

    google this

    libertarians “second life”

    QED. 🙂

  25. Quoth the Raven 25

    LPrent – There is a good article here: Greece rises in rebellion. I especially recommend you read the second half as to the views of people involved.

  26. Anita 26

    To go off on a slight tangent, one of the effects of excessive Police action against activists is that they no longer feel that they can go to the Police (or other similar authorities) for help. When an activist is attacked or burgled, they won’t go to the Police, domestic violence and rape are even less likely that usual to be reported.

    So by behaving unfairly the Police not only drive that group towards more extreme action, but they also remove the protection our society provides to everyone.

    The Police’s history of unbalanced enforcement stripped Māori and PI of their faith in the protection of the State. They’ve tried to rebuild that faith (with some massive srcew-ups along the way), will they try with activist communities?

  27. killinginthenameof 27

    Haven’t got time to go over the whole thread but there’s something I’m starting to notice. Conservatives (or classical liberals to keep DPF happy) carry on about anarchists and how they are just angry at nothing in particular. There’s an interesting, almost mirror like response to this from the conservatives (Brett dale is almost a text book example of this). They are just angry at any one questioning their white male authority and implied superiority. You see it in Brett’s case over his anger against taggers, but it’s not really about the paint on the wall. It’s that someone who may be, not white, not male, not heterosexual, not old, not Christian, not conservative, not rich, daring to question his, and everyone else like him’s superiority. And I guess a bit of paint on a fence shows how flimsy it really is.

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