Friday, 10 December 2010

Poem: The Police & I

Mum always told me:

Police are there to be trusted”.

Their boots on the beat

around provincial high streets

all sparkling brass that would never rust

and every bust they made

was a must and utterly correct.


So whenever I forgot my watch

I wouldn't hesitate to ask them the time.

Wouldn't think twice about stepping out of line,

wouldn't even so much as dodge a train,

take the wrong change in a club

or fill up my pint glass with a can in the toilets of a pub.


And yet I'd still get

a reddening, itching, burning guilt

every time a police car seeped past

but I figured unarticulated fear

equals respect

and respect is due to those who protect.


A few years later,

hanging in one of my friend's bedrooms

killer punk tunes rebounded

with the sound of the speakers screamed:

All coppers are bastards!”

through stolen cigarette clouds,

fitting perfectly with my out of tune fury.


Fast forward.


Armed with only a degree

and confused ideas

I wander the streets

while others march for things

I'm still chewing things over.

It all seems so abstract -

this protesting against war in far off lands.

Intimidatingly confident

hands balled up into tight collective fists.

I'm drip fed edited images

of clashes with police

their faces strained with mysterious

rage and fear and pride.

I feel the tingle of skin memory

wrap around all the punk gigs:

so much sweat and so much bruising.

So much singing and so much boozing.

There was so much unity and collective purpose

that my heart untightened

and for a few hours I became a little bit less frightened

as I shouted along to someone else shouting:

All coppers are bastards”.


But this is still all second hand,

hand-me-down anger...


Cut to:


Electrician Jean Charles De Menezes

is shot seven times in the back of the head

by the police at Stockwell tube station.


The poet Angry Sam takes a lift

from the words of Linton Kwesi Johnson

at the time:


First they said he was running
Then they said he was not
First they said he had a backpack
Then they said he did not
They said he was a drug addict
Although he never was

And then they said someone went for a piss at the wrong time
And now nobody talks about that time anymore.”

Cut to:


All my grins and tears

of the past four years

are bound up in Londontown.

And the G20 are here.

They're not in Ottowa.

They're not in Beijing.

They're here

and sometimes I might fuss about the buses

or the soul draining towers

but I burningly know this is mine,

this is ours,

and I'll be damned if the powers

are going to warp our future

within our sight

without us putting up a fight.

The city centre is tense,

stretched, fragile and read to break

and I break into a run

I feel the twinge of a stitch

I frantically text my friends

but they're kettled

behind a faceless wall of helmets and shields.

I glimpse the people flickering and flitting behind it,

lost, angry and panicked,

and I can smell the piss and the sweat.


Eventually, my friends turn up.

They lift up trouser legs

and show me truncheoned bruises.

They display them with a weird kind of pride

and I stare with a weird kind of jealousy.

This is made real by red dents on the shins

and I can see now, for the first time,

what we're voting in:

something swollen and bruised

on something of natural use.

I flick through digital snapshots

that'll document this forever,

tethering it to our histories:


Frozen faces caught mid-shout.

Bandanas covering faces.

Smashed glass tinkled on the road.

Traffic lights that've ceased their civilian use

and become lookout posts.

Treasured moments of pure visceral emotion.

Blank eyes police security camera.


I look up from the camera

and I realise

we're in the middle

of one of the world's most important cities

being squatted.

Hippies rolling joints from split open fags,

soundsystems got on the blag pump out

earth shatteringly heavy dub.

The streets vibrate with joy and feet and bass.

We crack open cans,

feeling like nothing can touch us,

feeling like we're grinning,

feeling like we're winning

a game we don't know yet the rules of.


Then a long shadow of riot cops slowly line up

even though there's no riot

and we try to tie it

to logic but can't

and so bond hopelessly,

despairingly as the shadow creeps closer.


I get home late,

drained,

my head spinning


and find out later that someone died.

A newspaper vendor named Ian Tomlinson.

His final moments immortalised

in a looped, shaky video of a policeman

smacking him in the back of the legs

causing his last tumble.


They terminated one life short

but it could've been any of us.


Real lives are at risk here.


However, some faith still remained,

still retained by my concrete conditioning,

still occasionally reminiscing

on childhood ideologies

now slowly hazing away.


Fade out.


Fade up.

Wandering with a semi-stagger

back from the pub with a friend

we take a short cut through a council estate.

Through the dim orange orbish streetlights

cut blue lights and hear shouts

bounce off the dark edged walls around us.

We turn a corner and see the source:

two police vans

and ten white police shoving

around few black guys.

Faces to the wall,

the twist of wrists,

and the click of cuffs

and dull slams are coming from

inside one of the vans.

Now I don't want to judge why they were there:

could've been drugs, guns...

maybe just bored uniforms looking for kicks

but the force they were using -

sticks waving, chests puffed out,

challenging all on-comers -

was out of line.


We stand on the fringe and cringe,

feel the sudden violence singe our skin

and I get flashes of the movie Do The Right Thing.

We ask what's up,

and immediately we have a plainclothes officer

screaming in our faces:


BACK OFF! BACK OFF! BACK OFF!”


I ask him to calm down and explain

but we get nothing but the same refrain.

Just aggression and orders.

No rationale.

I look down, slightly scared,

then glance across and to say something to my friend

but she's not there.

She's not there

because another officer

(who has at least a foot and half on her)

has shoved her down some steps


Scared, meekly, soundlessly protesting

I help her up.

We move back, still watching.

The violence continues in a flurrying strobe

of black and white and blue.

My friend edges a touch closer.

I'm about to join her...

and then I remember the hash I've got in my pocket.

I'm about to say “shall we go?”

when a bearlike policeman storms up to me,

grabs me by the scruff of the neck,

marches me round a corner,

spins me round,

and shouts in my face:

What part of fuck off don't you understand?”

and then threatens me with arrest.

I try to mutter some calming words

but realise that he probably isn't in the mood

for an anger management session.

A policewoman comes into view

frogmarching my friend next to me.


We leave,

the rage steaming our faces,

the rants choking our throats.


And it was that evening

my faith in them finally died

because I realised

for every one of em that smiles

and gives you the time

in another situation will be on a different side,

baton raised

and prejudice burning their face.

For all they claim to be serve the public

it's nothing but a cheap trick

and when it comes down to it

they don't pay much attention to laws they impose.


If I thought, wrongly, someone was a terrorist

and gave chase

and emptied my chamber into their face

I'd be a murderer.

If I smashed someone in the legs

and they cracked their skull on the pavement

and if that meant they died

I'd be done for manslaughter.


For Jean Charles De Menesez, no police officer was found guilty.

For Ian Tomlinson, no police officer was found guilty.


And for my lack of faith in them?

They're all guilty.


Because if I were in a job

where my colleagues were found innocent of killing

due to their blood over-thrilling

I'd walk the whole world with a shameful stalk

making sure I couldn't be complicit

in any of their talk.

But police don't often do that.

They look after their own

in a taped-off zone.

And if you haven't had trouble with them yet:

your time is on loan.

And police can help with a lot of stuff

but when you get to the crunch

and something's a threat to their boss

(the State)

you know which side they're on.

I've seen them prioritise government windows over people.

And yes, of course they're people too

with families, husbands, wives and friends.

Police are not exempt from society,

but it's not about good cops v bad cops.

Uniforms, weapons

and the right to use violence following orders

make anyone lose their humanity.


But we have the chance to keep ours

and feel empowered.

Individually we may cower

but collectively we can face them

with eyes of raw steel

and righteousness

and we can battle back.

Learn from my personal history

and the history of the people

stretching back a millenia

and with the past as a foundation

we can stand and we can fight.


Then ring your Mum,

explain why you did it

and make her proud.

1 comment:

  1. NoTav movement here is trying to persuade them to *think*. Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_Ddq-7d3h4 a guy from NoTav is asking the cop "what's your name? are you only a number? are you a little sheep? did you come here to shoot?". A little later, the same guy will be beaten and the cops will brake is hand. Since then, in Italy we changed from "ACAB" to "ACAP" mixing English and Italian ("all cops are pecorelle", where 'pecorelle' means 'little sheeps' - ingenous weak animals able to survive only when in a bunch).

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