Sunday, August 04, 2002

How not to get people killed

Martin Wisse (here I am, Martin!) has written about the huge demonstration that took place in Genoa in the first anniversary of the death of Carlo Giuliani during the G8 riots (let's call them like that) last year.

What's been remarkable is that this time, despite the danger of terrorist attacks having, if anything, grown, despite a death laying between protesters and the various police forces, despite anger and the memory of torture (because that's the name of what happened in Genoa last year, to peaceful protesters many of them foreign nationals), and the rest - nothing happened in Genoa. No shop windows where smashed. No cars burnt. Nobody got hurt. Upwards of 100,000 people marched and nothing got destroyed and nobody got as much as a bloody nose. Ok, some flowerpots near the the Brignole railway station got smashed. That's all.

Why? What was it that went so differently from last year? Is it that there were no violent elements, antagonists, violent anarchists, black block? No - they were there all right. Probably fewer of them but it's not the force of numbers that counts in this case. So what?

In part, this time around the mainstream leftist parties and the CGIL, the largest Italian union, came as well. (They even officially apologized for not having been there last year, took the requisite flak, and Luciano Violante, there to represent the DS party, in a press conference said: When you go wrong, you say so, and you take what's coming to you.) They have strong, and experienced, "order service", that is, security. Maybe it was that. Maybe not. Security was there last year too. I wasn't there, understand. So I have to go by what the papers tell.

And they tell funny stories. This is how Carlo Bonini chronicles the event on La Repubblica:

At twenty past six, the "blacks" have just gotten under the walls of the city prison of Marassi. They meet a Neapolitan policeman, vice-quaestor Angelo Gaggiano: not a wet pinko but the same man that ordered the charge in via Tolemaide last year.

Gaggiano marches up in the no-man's land between the police and the Blacks and takes off his helmet. Fifty meters behind him, his people. Fifty meters in front, maybe five hundred people from "Inmensa" and "Askatasuna". He shakes hands with their representative - roughly the same age but - the journalist notes - for all the rest divided from his opponent by all of life's choices bar none,more or less.

"Now understand me, guagliò (= guaglione, "kid", all-purpose friendly Neapolitan form of address). I let you get to the prison, with all that you shouldn't have. You give me a guarantee that you'll not be lobbing stones, bottles or molotovs against mine or the prison. That way, everybody's happy. If you don't keep your side of the bargain, you'll get charged. All right? Can you guarantee that?"

The other, not exactly a kid the journalist notes, is a bit vague. "Let's say that we self-determine ourselves as single individuals. That we demand the political agibility of acts of outrage."

Gaggiano turns, fiddles with his cell phone, calls somebody, maybe the quaestor. "Oscar? Look, this is how things stand here..."

Then he turns back. "Let's say I don't get precisely what you mean by acts of outrage. Let's say that I take it to mean a couple of firecrackers, all right? Is that so?"

"Well, yes, a couple, three firecrackers."

"Eh... let's not go over the board with this outrage, though."

"Maybe slogans as well. I dunno, murderers, things like that."

"Vabbuò (=allright), see what you can do for the slogans. Just as long as you keep those scarves off the face, allright? Gimme a break there."

Yeah - I don't know how much the journalist embellished events. I can just see this scene in any typical Italian comedy, with Ugo Tognazzi in the role of the policeman and Vittorio Gassman in that of the Black. And yet, you know, this is Italy at its ridicolous, childish best.

Anyway, Marrassi went unscathed, and so did the Blacks' outrage, and so did shops, banks, petrol pumps, malls.

But that's not all. Police consistently was visibile in front - and shielding - the carabinieri (it was a young carabiniere who shot Giuliani), but giving a wide berth to the demonstrators. Visible but not threatening. No tear-gas launchers in sight. No armour. Shields and batons in ungloved hands, and kept rigorously low. No menacing war drumming with feet or shields or batons. When the crowd got nervous, buffer distance was simply increased. Never was the crowd bottled in, and possible deflux corridors were always kept clear. People charged with keeping the peace kept their heads, even when spat upon freely.

Needless to say, no live bullets flew around.

At the end of the day, disappointment was expressed only by the handful of young people who attacked the flowerpots in via San Vincenzo. "If I knew it was going like this, I'd have gone with the Disobedients. At least they were a lot. What a shitty day."

And as a result, a vast peaceful body of civilized citizen could express their protest with all the protection that a democratic State should afford them. And that it should have afforded them last year.

Is this an unprecedented leap forward in sanity and competence? No. It's the ABC of crowd control, that all the Italian police forces have known and have been practicing for decades. I have seen much the same in Padua: young men who probably thought that they were being made to risk a beating (as Forza Nuova had promised) for a bunch of bloody perverts, but were there nonetheless, curteous and more than ready to protect the faggots and dykes from anybody who'd tried to stop them doing their thing.

So the real question is: why was this uccustomed sanity ditched last year? Was incompetence, confusion, panic the only reason things derailed so much? Or did somebody plan for disaster? And where did the people that tortured people in the Genoa barracks learn their trade? And who told them that they wouldn't be called to task for it?

The same people who loudly proclaimed their support for the officers accused in Naples of doing much the same things, things that would, that should, shame anybody wearing a uniform if true? And not claiming that those things weren't true - but that they were justified.

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