Spanish Current Events: Peaceful Unarmed Protesters Beaten By Police

May 27, 2011 By: erik Category: News, Spain, Videos 4,075 views

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Spanish Current Events: Peaceful Unarmed Protesters Beaten By PoliceIn the protest of the British salt tax in colonial India in 1930, the leader of the protest at the Dharasana Salt Works, Sarojini Naidu, told his followers, “You must not use any violence under any circumstances. You will be beaten, but you must not resist: you must not even raise a hand to ward off blows.” When the protesters began pulling away the barbed wire protecting the salt pens, the police began beating them with steel-tipped lathis (an Indian martial arts fighting cane). American journalist, Webb Miller, described what he saw that day:

Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.

Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down. When every one of the first column was knocked down stretcher bearers rushed up unmolested by the police and carried off the injured to a thatched hut which had been arranged as a temporary hospital.

There were not enough stretcher-bearers to carry off the wounded; I saw eighteen injured being carried off simultaneously, while forty-two still lay bleeding on the ground awaiting stretcher-bearers. The blankets used as stretchers were sodden with blood.

At times the spectacle of unresisting men being methodically bashed into a bloody pulp sickened me so much I had to turn away….I felt an indefinable sense of helpless rage and loathing, almost as much against the men who were submitting unresistingly to being beaten as against the police wielding the clubs…

Bodies toppled over in threes and fours, bleeding from great gashes on their scalps. Group after group walked forward, sat down, and submitted to being beaten into insensibility without raising an arm to fend off the blows. Finally the police became enraged by the non-resistance….They commenced savagely kicking the seated men in the abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police….The police then began dragging the sitting men by the arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards, and throwing them into ditches.

While not nearly as violent, it should be obvious why what happened in Barcelona, an important city in a free western democracy, reminded me of the revolution in India.

A few observations:

  1. The sitting protest is genius. As the parent of a small child, I can confirm that when a human doesn’t want to be moved, sitting down and refusing to stand is the most effective measure.
  2. I don’t know about you, but the constant sirens really raised my adrenaline as I watched it.
  3. Trying to look at all sides, I almost feel sorry for the cops, who have been told by their boss to clear the street so a car can pass, and they are stuck in a terrible situation: either refuse to do your job and possibly get fired (which sucks, especially in this economy!) or be brutal. Both terrible options.
  4. I really love that technology has made it to the point where news – and video evidence! – of any authoritarian brutality is zoomed right to hundreds of thousands of people so quickly. This can only be a good thing for our global society.
 
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Grady/741574679 Josh Grady

    The ambiance in the square this afternoon was fabulous.  While our indignation is stronger than ever, I didn’t see many people who allowed their indignation to turn to anger, although obviously not many people in the crowd would describe themselves as fans of the Mossos (Catalan police).

    As far as that goes, if you’re able to see both sides of the issue, you must not have been looking at the right videos.  Seen the shot of the riot cop banging away at the guy in the wheelchair?  (http://flic.kr/p/9Mre8Y)  How about the take of the cop stomping on the (previously) seated demonstrator’s head?  

    Some days ago the two major police labor unions declared (http://www.lavanguardia.com/local/madrid/20110520/54157186387/los-sindicatos-policiales-advierten-de-que-desalojar-sol-seria-un-enorme-error-y-generaria-un-proble.html) that they were of the opinion that the camp outs were legal and peaceful, and that it was not in the country or the various police departments’ interest to provoke confrontation.  The same communique wryly noted that the police had also suffered paycuts and were just as stressed as the civil population about the current situation.  I could appreciate the difficult position that the police were in at that time, and I admired the nerve they displayed in taking the moral stance.  

    This morning, however, the police acted like pricks, bullies and stormtroopers, thereby loosing any moral legitimacy they might once have had.  

    Do you understand how the whole “funcionario” thing works?  The idea of a police officer (note that members of the IV Brigade are the Mossos elite, not fresh recruits) being fired for refusing to obey the order to clear a public square of what the Tribunal Supremo has declared a legitimate gathering is laughable.  I view the possibility of Jesus coming down from on high to personally intercede in the IAD hearing as more likely.  

    That said, it’s possible that Bull Connor* saw himself as faced with “terrible options”.  Either he ignored the law of the land or he allowed folks to get “uppity”.  I have trouble siding with him either.

    I recommend that you stick with the Gandhi references, defending the sepoys is beneath you.

    *Did I just prematurely Godwin this conversation.  I think that I’m within the bounds of reasonable analogy here, but just barely.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Any discussion of authoritarian brutality of innocents has a tighter Godwin spiral, I think.

      Both of those links are broken for me, but I believe you. My only sympathy for the cops stems from knowledge of how brutal we can all be to each other in the right circumstances (e.g. Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments). We would all like to say we’d have the moral integrity to lay down our clubs and sit with the protesters, but we all don’t. They fact that they are the elite means that they have even more discipline to follow orders, which makes mutiny an even harder moral slope to climb. Of course they don’t have any moral legitimacy.

      Josh, I appreciate your view of the situation from inside. You should have a blog; you write so eloquently.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Grady/741574679 Josh Grady

        The links should be working now.  Does this Disqus thing tolerate some rudimentary HTML in the comments?  That would eliminate the risk of forgetting to leave a space after the link and before the close-parenthesis.  

        I agree that elite troops are tailor made to obey orders even, or particularly, in the face of difficult circumstances.  However, their elite status should eliminate any thought of the risk of losing their jobs for failure to comply.  Therefore, they are following orders because they chose to do so — the pressure of economic punishment simply does not apply.  Nuremberg made clear that “just following orders” was not a sufficient excuse.  

        Thanks for the accolades.  I’ve always enjoyed intelligent debate.

        • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

          I’m not sure about the HTML-Disqus thing. Always worth a try. They seem to italicize with HTML, so perhaps links work.

          And there’s the Nuremburg Godwin bomb dropped. I glanced at the trigger myself earlier in this discussion.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Grady/741574679 Josh Grady

        The links should be working now.  Does this Disqus thing tolerate some rudimentary HTML in the comments?  That would eliminate the risk of forgetting to leave a space after the link and before the close-parenthesis.  

        I agree that elite troops are tailor made to obey orders even, or particularly, in the face of difficult circumstances.  However, their elite status should eliminate any thought of the risk of losing their jobs for failure to comply.  Therefore, they are following orders because they chose to do so — the pressure of economic punishment simply does not apply.  Nuremberg made clear that “just following orders” was not a sufficient excuse.  

        Thanks for the accolades.  I’ve always enjoyed intelligent debate.

      • Lee

        I see what you mean in terms of obedience.  Belonging to a group is a long process, and by the time the  Mossos get out on the street, they’re years away ofrom who they were, and maybe they were nice young kids who wanted to help society. And then they went through training…so tell them to clear out the Plaza, and that’s what they do. 
        I saw the news on RTVE 24 horas (online) and they interviewed one man who  was dressed more clean-cut than the demonstrators. He said that the Mossos were so out of control that the Municipal police were protecting people from them….BTW  I’m from NYC and the year before I left, there was a massive incident since called a “Police RIot”.  
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tompkins_Square_Park_Riot_(1988)
        I missed this incident by a hair, but I went to the counterdemo a week later, and almost got mowed down by the mounted police, though we were doing nothing more than sitting down (in a pre-announced 5 minute sit-down). And NYC cops are cosidered some of the best trained in the USA….

  • Ray Tibbitts

    Perhaps the most dangerous reputation a police force can live with is the one of “the Mossos never do anything…” (just repeating what the few people I know in Barcelona told me years ago…)  

    If protestors go into it expecting their local authorities to turn a blind eye to their civil disobedience, and the cops individually feel that their force has something to prove, I think a downward spiral towards violence may be more likely.  Certainly more likely than simply using the police human-resources instead for directing traffic around the protest area.Or, to then stand at ready to assist shop-owners and local residents to get in and out of the area, or to silently deter anyone who might have violent tendencies, or to even protect the protestors themselves against the only people they are actually hurting: the commuters, shop-owners and local residents themselves, who might justifiably be the only ones who should even be considering a violent response to the situation. On a mostly unrelated, and personal observation: In the recent municipal elections, far and away, the party whose public propaganda suffered the most and severe vandalism, won handily.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Grady/741574679 Josh Grady

      Ray,  perhaps you’ve misunderstood, or taken comments regarding the Mossos’ passivity out of context.  The general feeling is that the Mossos don’t do anything about petty delinquency, but one would have to be extremely naive to not believe that they lack the will or commitment to abuse authority. 

      While I think that Spaniards in general currently feel that they live in some sort of countrywide version of the Bronx, directly out of a bad movie about motorcycle gangs, the large and recent immigrant population (and latent Catalan xenophobia) have exacerbated the sentiment here.  (See the 3,000 member strong http://www.robbedinbarcelona.com Facebook group as an example.)  

      I think that I’m more tolerant of the police than many, as I have both police friends and family, but even I have no illusions about the Mossos riot squad.  Don’t you remember the beatings of journalists last year?  That incident still hasn’t cleared the courts, and the “Dracs” are already pounding away at a new group. 

      Independent of articles 21 and 22 of the Spanish constitution, indignados have been prepared for a police assault for days now.   Sorry, I don’t have pictures of the posters recommending how not to escalate tension in the event of confrontation, but they have been hanging in the plaza for days now.   The protesters were certainly aware of the potential for violence.  

      Madrid may well be different, but Plaí§a Catalunya is separated from major businesses (Corte Inglés, Caja Madrid, Hard Rock Café, and FNAC) on all sides by a street.  Perhaps this isolation is responsible for the relative lack of negative impact on the local economy.  Arriving at the plaza via the intensely commercial Port d’Angel is bizarre, as the packed pedestrian street and its hordes of shoppers transitions into the center of the Indignados camp out.  The tourist drag of Las Ramblas seems equally unaffected by the protesters.  Never, in all the time I’ve been in Barcelona, have I seen such a complete absence of (uniformed) police presence in the area surrounding the Plaí§a Catalunya.  Then again, this is the first time I’ve seen it without the beggars, the top manteros, the 3 card monte guys, and the drunk English stag groups.

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