Liberty have come under attack from various left-wing groups for working with the police. Sean McHale offers his defence of Liberty.
Liberty, the independent campaigns organisation which seeks to protect civil liberties and promote human rights for everyone has been under attack over recent months from a series of left-wing groups (including Fitwatch and Network for Police Monitoring) who hold varying aims which are loosely coalesced around monitoring of the police.
Liberty is charged with co-operating with the enemy, in this case, the Police.
Their specific crime? Providing independent legal observers for the TUC march against public sector cuts on March 26th. Accepting the police’s invitation has led to Liberty being accused of such nefarious insinuations as the classic “Who’s side are you on?”
Well, in response to this it is clear that Liberty is on the side of the right to protest.
The problem with groups such as Fitwatch and Network for Police Monitoring is that (unlike Liberty) they have political aims beyond protecting the right to protest. Liberty often garner misplaced hostility from many on the Left due to their stance of advocating the rights of all individuals to protest. Fitwatch and Network for Police Monitoring, on the other hand, were established in direct response to the police crackdown on environmental campaigners, and have recently shifted their focus to the anti-cuts movement. Their raison d’etre is not guarding civil liberties, but providing a platform for like-minded activists to be able to operate upon. (2)
Statements on the Fitwatch website such as “Cops can never be trusted” (3) hint that whilst the organisation may have some merit in advising and protecting the democratic rights of protesters underneath this is a psyche in which a permanent distrust of the police reigns. This means that rather than wishing to see a society in which the rights of all are protected (to which the police contribute), they have a more nihilistic vision in which the police exist solely to protect the privilege of the status quo and the injustice said status quo perpetuates.
The web site ‘Third Watch’ continues this vision. It says “Liberty seems to have lost touch with the activists it is supposed to be supporting”. (4) Liberty are not there to support the specific causes of activists, but to protect the means by which they promote their cause. An important distinction.
Network for Police Monitoring reserves particular spite for Liberty “slamming” their decision to become independent monitors and saying that “Liberty has lost its way”. Such a stance negates the importance of a police force which pays attention to and considers human rights (a stance Libert has pro-actively strived to achieve amongst the police) and a key shift in policy from the disaster which was the policing of the G20 protests. This is the practical achievement Liberty has helped to win through their co-operative position.
The Third State website puts forward a rather conspiratorial opinion that Liberty are being used as pawns in the overall police game of shielding their tough policing measures with the smokescreen of legitimacy Liberty provide, declaring that, “The stance taken by TUC and Liberty is at best naive, and at worst complicit.”
The groups that have criticised Liberty whilst masquerading as aiming to promote civil liberties are instead having a harmful effect upon them. Their sniping at Liberty’s decision to accept the police’s invitation is based upon prejudice and an opinion which seems incapable of shifting whatever the actual policy of the police towards peaceful protest. The groups’ political agendas mean that they cannot be relied upon as part of the bastions which protect some of our most fundamental rights. Liberty were right to take the decision they did. They see the future of protest as relying upon a conciliatory and co-operative stance with the police, one which enables and encourages the police to act in a manner which is not solely reliant upon law and regulations, but in one which non-legal measures such as discussion and negotiating are initially used to allow protests to pass in a peaceful and successful manner.