Politics, Punk, and the Police.

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Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by slinger »

I wrote this for my Farcebook page back in March. I was discussing the Bristol "riots," at the time, and it sort of fell out of my head. I've revisited it recently and expanded upon the original somewhat.

It began as a more-or-less straightforward agitprop/political piece, but as with most things in my life the music slipped in and took over while I wasn't looking. I hope you don't mind me sharing it here, and I'm sorry it's so long and rambling.
Much like a lot of people, I always used to trust the police implicitly. It's an age thing and I'm sure a lot of people reading this are of the same mindset; we were brought up to trust and respect the police. "Ask a policeman" we were told by our mums and dads if we had a problem while we were out of their sight.

I can't point to a specific instance when that all changed for me. The few interactions I've had with local policemen and policewomen have been, in the main, very positive. The more I think about it though, the less inclined I am to trust the police now.

I know they're not all crooks and thugs, obviously, but I do know now that there are crooks and thugs among their number. And yes, I've pretty much always known that, but quite possibly there are a lot more of them than I'd previously accounted for, which is something I would never have given consideration to at one time.

A policeman standing idly by while a colleague assaults a prone protestor with his, or her, riot shield is just as guilty as the perpetrator, they are complicit in the crime because they are deliberately, wilfully, refusing to uphold the law - which is their sworn duty - and protect a member of the public from physical abuse.

RAMBLING RANTING, AND A BIT OF HISTORY

The SPG - the Special Patrol Group - which existed from 1961 to 1989 - were a part of London's Met Police. They evolved into a law unto themselves it seemed, and they eventually consisted of eight groups, each of which were made up of an inspector, three sergeants and thirty constables. They paid no heed to traditional divisions within the Met, had their own fleet of vans, and attracted, it seemed to me, the worst of the worst.

During the Brixton Riots they operated "snatch squads," a tactic learned from the British Army in Northern Ireland. They also (hugely (over)used "stop-and-search" - a.k.a. SUS - laws however they liked. Basically, this meant that if they thought you looked a bit suspicious (a bit "sus") then they had every "right" to detain you. WWB - Walking While Black - was enough to generate suspicion most of the time back then, as it is now.

Now you know the deeper origins of the infamous (and brilliant) "Constable Savage," sketch from Not The Nine O'clock News, which showed a police constable (Griff Rhys Jones) being interviewed by his Superintendent, played by Rowan Atkinson. It was broadcast on 16th July 1979, and it ended like this...

O: Savage, why do you keep arresting this man?
S: He’s a villain, sir.
O: A villain …
S: And a jailbird.
O: I know he’s a jailbird, Savage. He’s down in the cells now. We are holding him on a charge of possession of curly black hair and thick lips.
S: Well, … well, well, well there you are, sir.
O: You arrested him, Savage!
S: (stupidly pleased) Thank you, sir.
O: Savage, would I be correct in assuming that Mr Cudoogo is a coloured gentleman?
S: Well, I can’t say I’ve ever noticed, sir.
O: Savage, you’re a bigot. It’s officers like you that give the police a bad name. The press loves to jump on instances like that and the reputation of our force can be permanently tarnished. Your whole time on duty is dominated by racial hatred and petty personal vendetta. Do you get some kind of perverted gratification from going around stirring up trouble?
S: Yes, sir!
O: There’s no room for men like you in my force, Savage. I’m transferring you to the SPG. Get out!
S: Thank you, sir.

I've appended the full sketch for anyone who has never seen it, or for some of us to just have another bloody good laugh at it.



Did you know that it was actually a police forensic scientist called Paul Newstead who sent in the basic idea for the "Constable Savage" sketch? No, neither did I.

Despite its "widely recognised role," in provoking the 1981 riots in Brixton, the SPG was redrafted into the area in force during the miners’ strike because many regular police officers had been sent "Oop North." during 1984-85.

That created a manpower shortage, apparently, that the Special Patrol Group then had to fill. The reason given was a large increase in burglaries at that time. It rather begs the question of why the SPG wasn’t sent "Oop North," to deal with the miners while regular officers could continue crime-solving in Brixton. But what do I know? Having said that, how much worse might the Battle of Orgreave have been?

You might remember the name of Blair Peach?

This was one of the SPG's most controversial incidents and it came in 1979, while officers were policing a protest by the Anti-Nazi League in Southall, West London.

During a running battle, demonstrator Blair Peach was struck on the head and died as a result of his injuries; at the time it was alleged to have been an act of the SPG. In the inquiries which followed, a variety of unauthorised weapons were found in lockers kept by SPG officers at one of their bases as souvenirs following their seizure, including baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers.

No SPG officer was ever charged with the attack, although later an internal report was leaked which stated that the Metropolitan Police paid an out of court settlement to Peach's family. The original Metropolitan police report, eventually officially published on 27 April 2010, concluded that the fatal blow that killed the anti-racism activist was probably made by a police officer. It is thought that "Peach's skull was crushed with an unauthorised weapon, such as a lead-weighted cosh or police radio" The internal report also concluded that some officers had conspired to cover up the truth surrounding the death of the special needs teacher.

It wasn't just London and the SPG though, Even before Blair Peach, in 1976, and in a different part of the country was the Liddle Towers case.

Towers was arrested outside the Key Club in Birtley - which is in the metropolitan borough of Gateshead, in Tyne and Wear - on 16 January 1976 by a PC Goodner. After a struggle Towers was bundled into a dog van by six policemen and taken to Gateshead police station.

Later, at 4 am, he was taken from the station to Queen Elizabeth Hospital because he complained of not feeling well, and, after an examination which apparently revealed no injury and nothing wrong with him, he was taken back to the cells.

He was discharged later that same morning at 10 o'clock.

Both the taxi driver who took Towers home and his local GP, Alan Powney, who saw him later that day at 2 o'clock, gave evidence that was consistent with Towers' own account of having been assaulted in the cells. Towers told his friend "They gave us a bloody good kicking outside the Key Club, but that was nowt to what I got when I got inside". Towers died on 9 February 1976 at Dryburn Hospital, County Durham.

On 8 October 1976, an inquest into the death of Towers returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Punk band the Angelic Upstarts released a single entitled "The Murder of Liddle Towers" in 1978. Sex Pistols producer Dave Goodman released a record called "Justifiable Homicide". The Tom Robinson Band dedicated their 1979 album, TRB Two to Mary Towers, the mother of Liddle Towers. The song "Blue Murder" on this album relates to the death of Towers.

In 1977, The Jam were critical of the police in their song "Time for Truth" which contains the lyric "Bring forward the six pigs, We wanna see them swing so high". Skinhead band The Crux also had a song called "Liddle Towers" about the incident.

Toss in some classic reggae, like Police And Thieves (Junior Murvin) and the political reggae coming out of London and Birmingham at the time, not to mention bands like The Clash spreading the word via cover versions and originals, and I think many of us who were not actually personally involved started to realise that the police might not always our friends.

There were two sides to the stories we were reading, and for once things probably were actually black and white.

Records like SUS (The Ruts/1979), and SPG (The Exploited/1981) also tried to shine a light into the darker corners of policing, and apart from the odd underground/punk magazines, they were the only outlets telling the "other" side of the story in days when even what was perceived as the left-wing press, i.e. The Daily Mirror, supported the police almost unquestioningly.

There were many more records, some great, and some truly awful which I haven't time or space to mention. It would take a book, and more than likely has done already.

Police Oppression, by the Angelic Upstarts, Police Car by the Cockney Rejects, the wonderful Ruts again, with Babylon's Burning, and Jah War, which referenced the beating given to Clarence Baker, a member of Misty In Roots, by the SPG in Southall while protesting against the National Front... The list goes on.



It was anti-establishment in the best possible sense, and it was where a lot of us learned not to trust the mainstream press who simply weren't reporting the things the bands were writing about. Sometimes it was our only way of finding things out and putting things together for ourselves.

Punk wasn't all "I'm bored" and wearing bin-bags and safety-pins, it could also be extremely political, extremely cerebral, and it was, of course, heavily anti-racist at a time when Eric Clapton was making a declaration of support for Enoch Powell at a gig in Birmingham. This, from a man whose entire career was based on black music, and who had had his first UK solo hit with a Bob Marley song in 1974. Ironic much?

We've been warned of rivers of blood
See the trickle before the flood
Pretend nothing happened, make no fuss
It's One law for them, it's one for us

One Law For Us - The 4 Skins

Rock Against Racism: Originally conceived as a one-off concert with a message against racism, Rock Against Racism was founded in 1976 by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle, Jo Wreford, Pete Bruno and others. According to Huddle, "it remained just an idea until August 1976", when Eric Clapton made that declaration of support for Enoch Powell (known for his anti-immigration "Rivers of Blood" speech) at a concert in Birmingham. Clapton told the crowd that England had "become overcrowded" and that they should vote for Powell to stop Britain from becoming "a black colony". He also told the audience that Britain should "get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out", and then he repeatedly shouted the National Front slogan "Keep Britain White".

Saunders, Wreford and Bruno, who were members of the agitprop theatre group, Kartoon Klowns, together with Huddle, responded by writing a letter to NME expressing their opposition to Clapton's remarks. They claimed these were all the more disgusting because he had a hit with a cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff": "Come on Eric... Own up. Half your music is black... Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you!" At the end of the letter, they called for people to help form a movement called Rock Against Racism, and they received hundreds of eager replies from fans who recognised the hypocrisy and wanted to proclaim the black roots of the music they loved.

At this time other well-known rock musicians also made inflammatory statements, including David Bowie, who expressed support for fascism and admiration for Adolf Hitler in interviews with Playboy, NME and a Swedish publication. Bowie was quoted as saying: "I think Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. After all, fascism is really nationalism... I believe very strongly in fascism, people have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership." He was also quoted as saying: "Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars" and "You've got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up." Bowie caused further controversy by allegedly making a Nazi salute while riding in a convertible, although he has always strongly denied this, insisting that a photographer simply caught him in the middle of waving.

He later retracted and apologised for his statements, blaming them on a combination of an obsession with occultism and Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as his excessive drug use at the time. He said: "I have made my two or three glib, theatrical observations on English society and the only thing I can now counter with is to state that I am NOT a fascist."

The first RAR gig took place at the Princess Alice pub in London's East End in November 1976; Carol Grimes and Matumbi were the main acts. At the end of the gig, the bands took part in a jam, something which was to become a signature of RAR's gigs at a time when it was still rare for black and white musicians to perform together. In the same year, RAR launched its revolutionary fanzine, Temporary Hoarding, going on to produce 15 issues over the next five years. By 1977 local RAR groups were springing up all over the country, including in Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Sheffield, Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, and across London. Eventually, there were more than 200 throughout the UK. Across the globe, several RAR groups started in the United States, in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, and also in Ireland, France, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, South Africa and Australia.

Musicians not only played for RAR, but many also took part in organising gigs and clubs. For instance, in Leeds, Gang of Four, The Mekons and Delta 5 were all actively involved in their local RAR group, as were Au Pairs and The Beat in Birmingham, and Misty In Roots and The Ruts in Southall, London. Tom Robinson, who was an early supporter of the movement, played several gigs with his band, TRB, and came occasionally to meetings of the RAR Central Collective. The Collective – which included writers, graphic artists, photographers, musicians and fans – oversaw RAR's national events and comprised elected representatives: from Temporary Hoarding (Ruth Gregory, David Widgery and Syd Shelton); from RAR central office (Kate Webb, John Dennis and Wayne Minter), as well as Red Saunders and Clarence Baker from Misty in Roots. Other members who regularly participated in meetings included Lucy Whitman (who wrote for Temporary Hoarding as Lucy Toothpaste), Roger Huddle and Robert Galvin.

With support for the movement growing, in 1978 RAR organised two national Carnivals in London in conjunction with the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) to counteract the rising number of racist attacks in the UK. These were held in poor but vibrant multi-racial areas. On 30 April 1978, 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to the East End of London (a National Front hotspot) for an open-air concert at Victoria Park in Hackney.[8][9][10][11] The concert featured The Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson Band, X-Ray Spex, Jimmy Pursey (from Sham 69) and Patrik Fitzgerald. The Southall-based reggae band Misty In Roots led the parade from the back of a lorry. For the second Carnival, on 24 September, a similar number of people marched from Hyde Park, crossing the Thames until they arrived at Brockwell Park in Brixton for a concert featuring Aswad, Elvis Costello and Stiff Little Fingers.

Further Carnivals were organised by local RAR and ANL groups, often with the help of sympathetic councils and trade unions. The biggest of these, in August, attracted 40,000 to the Northern Carnival in Manchester. There, over a couple of days, Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, The Fall, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Exodus, and China Street all performed; a week later at the Deeply Vale Festival, a Rock Against Racism day was held. There were also large Carnivals that year in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Brent.

In 1981, Leeds RAR organized the last RAR Carnival at Potternewton Park in Chapeltown. Bands who played included The Specials, Aswad, Au Pairs and Misty in Roots.

In the run-up to the UK general election of 1979, RAR organised the Militant Entertainment Tour which travelled 2000 miles across the country visiting Cambridge, Leicester, Cromer, Coventry, Sheffield, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff, Llanelli, Exeter, Plymouth, Newport, and Bristol. The tour's grand finale was at the Alexander Palace in North London. Forty bands played on the tour, including the Barry Forde Band, Leyton Buzzards, The Piranhas, Stiff Little Fingers, 15 6 17, The Mekons, Carol Grimes, Alex Harvey, Gang of Four, Angelic Upstarts, Aswad, The Ruts, Crisis, UK Subs, Exodus and John Cooper Clarke.

Going (almost) full-circle, and tracking back to Blair Peach for a moment, it was at a demonstration organised by the Southall Youth Movement against the National Front, who were standing candidates in the upcoming general election, that he was attacked and killed by the police. Dozens were injured, including the aforementioned head wounds suffered by Clarence Baker from Misty in Roots which left him in a coma for several months. RAR quickly organised two benefit concerts at The Rainbow Theatre in North London, called 'Southall Kids Are Innocent. The Clash, Pete Townshend of The Who, The Enchanters, The Pop Group, Misty in Roots, Aswad, The Members and The Ruts all performed.

Punk, and punks, the music and the poetry, along with the explosive arrival of up-to-the-moment British satire, and the new wave of British comedy... all of those were my alternative news service, and It's only a shame there isn't such a powerful alternative movement now.

My apologies for any and all incoherence, this was written pretty much as I remembered different things happening and then did a bit of on-the-spot research to back up my "facts." There is so much I haven't included, and I've tried to stick to a basic theme, but I never even got around to giving a mention to the poets of punk, like Attila the Stockbroker, Patrik Fitzgerald, and of course the wonderful Dr John Cooper Clarke.

In my long-winded and convoluted kind of way, though, I think I've just about said enough to justify the existence of Punk. 😎 A lot of the bands and artists mentioned are still working, singing, writing their poetry because they know the job they started in 1976 - decreed to be the "Year Zero" of Punk in Britain - is nowhere near finished, even though fewer and fewer are heeding their calls to action nowadays.

I really hope that some people might actually reappraise "Punk" and see it for what it really was, the politically aware, anti-racist pro-justice movement that we desperately needed at the time, as well as the news service for the counter-culture, and it was all set to music, and if you count the "Pogo," interpretative dance. :happy-jumpeveryone:

Sometimes it was deliberately provocative, sometimes it was downright loud and abusive, sometimes that was the only way open to the youth of the period to get people to take any notice of what they needed to say. I dearly wish we had something like it now, to shake the current "younger generation" out of their political apathy, and to inject some backbone into a few of the older generation too.
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by Daniel Quinn »

youth have their own concerns which us foggies wouldn’t recognise, which can be summarised as meritocracy and fairness.

There is always change

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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by NSNO2021 »

Unfortunately my early experience with the police force (early 70s) was negative, very negative. Next came my first girlfriend whose father was in no particular order, a serving police officer, short tempered thug, drunk, wife beater and definitely had a flexible approach to law enforcement. I won't bore you with countless other examples, suffice to say I have met far too many bad police officers and occasionally suffered from their actions. It's a shame because I still think the majority are trying their best in difficult circumstances to do a decent job but it's hard and getting harder due to politics and underfunding.
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by savvypaul »

Daniel Quinn wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 7:08 pm youth have their own concerns which us foggies wouldn’t recognise, which can be summarised as meritocracy and fairness.

There is always change
What was it about what RAR / Anti Nazi League were campaigning for that could not be summarised as meritocracy and fairness?

Age difference is just another self-imposed dividing line, like class. Both are bullshit that keeps people in their ghettos. It's not where you come from, it's not who you came from, it's not how old you are...it's what you have in your heart. You're only an old fogey if you refuse to change and progress yourself. And, that, is a choice...
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by savvypaul »

NSNO2021 wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 9:33 pm Unfortunately my early experience with the police force (early 70s) was negative, very negative. Next came my first girlfriend whose father was in no particular order, a serving police officer, short tempered thug, drunk, wife beater and definitely had a flexible approach to law enforcement. I won't bore you with countless other examples, suffice to say I have met far too many bad police officers and occasionally suffered from their actions. It's a shame because I still think the majority are trying their best in difficult circumstances to do a decent job but it's hard and getting harder due to politics and underfunding.
I found that most police are OK until it becomes apparent to them that you do not share the same beliefs / values as them. I used to go to marches in a suit and tie. Most of the time, the police asked me if I was lost. They didn't know that my briefcase contained pamphlets on your rights should you be stopped by them.

I got enough rough treatment from coppers at football matches in the 1980s to know that many of them were simply thugs with a uniform, a truncheon and official permission to 'get stuck in'. There is little love for them in the ex mining villages around Durham from those who remember Met Police waving wads of overtime cash at striking miners who were chopping up their own furniture to heat a room.

Nowadays, police forces have been made to cloak their institutional racism / misogyny / homophobia in more socially acceptable language. 44% of Londoners are black / ethnic minority. 92% of The Met are white. It's not by accident. White males don't give up privilege easily. Cressida Dick complained that the vast majority of Met coppers were good, and had been let down by the copper that murdered a woman and the coppers who freely shared misogynist messages on WhatsApp. No, the vast majority of Met coppers have always turned a blind eye to prejudice and so did Cressida Dick. For values to count, you have to pursue them, even at personal cost, and before the event, not just once your organisation has been found out.
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by ArloFlynn »

How does that saying go...? Oh yea. All coppers are baaarstuds. I always feel they protect the wrong side. Looking at the current intake, I would be quite confident, that I could outwit, otsmart and outrun the lot of them.
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by Lindsayt »

slinger wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 5:34 pm
Much like a lot of people, I always used to trust the police implicitly. It's an age thing and I'm sure a lot of people reading this are of the same mindset; we were brought up to trust and respect the police. "Ask a policeman" we were told by our mums and dads if we had a problem while we were out of their sight...
I wasn't brought up to respect and trust the police.
Or not at home I wasn't. At school I was. And when in the presence of my grandparents I was.
But when I was at home I was taught to avoid getting caught. And to tell lies if I ever got caught.
Which was bloody stupid advice. I should have been taught to keep my trap shut.

There was a copper in my village. PC McGarret. A rather mediocre copper. He was ineffectual when it came to dealing with the criminal elements in the village. And somewhat overbearing when it came to petty things. He gave all the impression of being on an ego trip. Expecting everyone to look up to him and treat him with respect. Whilst he did nothing to earn respect. He expected respect just because of the uniform he wore and his job title.

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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by Daniel Quinn »

savvypaul wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 10:06 pm
Daniel Quinn wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 7:08 pm youth have their own concerns which us foggies wouldn’t recognise, which can be summarised as meritocracy and fairness.

There is always change
What was it about what RAR / Anti Nazi League were campaigning for that could not be summarised as meritocracy and fairness?

Age difference is just another self-imposed dividing line, like class. Both are bullshit that keeps people in their ghettos. It's not where you come from, it's not who you came from, it's not how old you are...it's what you have in your heart. You're only an old fogey if you refuse to change and progress yourself. And, that, is a choice...
Age is a fact. There is nothing you can do it about it. You may wish to consider yourself as hip , but it is a fact of life the new takes over from the old and the new as nothing but disdain for the old

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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by savvypaul »

Daniel Quinn wrote: Fri Nov 19, 2021 8:58 am
savvypaul wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 10:06 pm
Daniel Quinn wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 7:08 pm youth have their own concerns which us foggies wouldn’t recognise, which can be summarised as meritocracy and fairness.

There is always change
What was it about what RAR / Anti Nazi League were campaigning for that could not be summarised as meritocracy and fairness?

Age difference is just another self-imposed dividing line, like class. Both are bullshit that keeps people in their ghettos. It's not where you come from, it's not who you came from, it's not how old you are...it's what you have in your heart. You're only an old fogey if you refuse to change and progress yourself. And, that, is a choice...
Age is a fact. There is nothing you can do it about it. You may wish to consider yourself as hip , but it is a fact of life the new takes over from the old and the new as nothing but disdain for the old
I doubt that I was 'hip' when I was young, let alone now. I've no desire to look or sound any younger than I am. I know that I'm instinctively out of date. The new definitely takes over from the old in terms of fashion...and that's the way it should be, and age is certainly a fact...but, beyond fashion, self-awareness and empathy are choices that can be made at any age.
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Re: Politics, Punk, and the Police.

Unread post by Daniel Quinn »

You seem to be taking my point personally and rebelling against it. Bravo for impersonating a teenager😉

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