Harlesden Protest Police Brutality

After an knife attack on a main street in Harlesden, a van load of police arrived and began questioning people on the street. Among them was a young black man who they had seen smoking cannabis and who, perhaps because of this was, was a little disturbed to be surrounded and questioned by police.

The scene of the police crime

What happened next was recorded on the phone of someone standing just a couple of yards away in a small crowd that had gathered around the group. They were protesting that the police were arresting him, and doing so with quite unnecessary force, with one officer viciously kicking him as others tried to handcuff him. And then, when he had been cuffed and was being held face-down on the pavement, clearly under control, another officer came up and sprayed him in the face from close range with CS gas.

Although force is often needed in making arrests, particularly when suspects are not cooperative, this very clearly went far beyond what was necessary. Both the kicking and the use of CS gas were clearly intended to inflict pain rather than to assist in the arrrest. The video went viral, and North West London Stand Up To Racism called an emergency protest at the site of the arrest, seeing the incident as a clear case of racist policing.

The man arrested was shortly afterwards de-arrested, having clearly no link at all to the knifing the police were there to investigate – and which their attack on this unfortunate man made it much less likely that they would find any evidence.  Not only was it racist policing, it was also something that was counter-productive in the investigation of the crime and corrosive to police-community relations.

It was dusk as the protest began, and soon got darker, but I persisted in working by what ambient light there was. Quite a few pictures were ruined by subject movement but few if any by camera shake, so this was a situation where image stabilisation would not have helped, although faster lenses would have come in useful.

The arrested man’s mother spoke briefly at the protest but requested that we did not photograph her. Others were happy to be photographed, and some actually requested I take their pictures.

When people ask me not to photograph them, I generally assess both the situation and the public interest if any in taking their pictures before accepting their request. In this case I was happy to agree. Of course in general in the UK we have the right to photograph anyone in a public place like the street, and even in private places we can generally take pictures although publishing them might be an offence. But there are times when it isn’t appropriate to stick up for our rights, and where a little humanity makes more sense, and this was one.

Harlesden Protest Police Brutality

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