The verdict was finally returned on the Ian Tomlinson inquest, with unexpected speed. As many have been saying for the last two years, Tomlinson was killed by a baton blow and shove from PC Simon Harwood. Immediately, Twitter exploded. The hashtag #PCSimonHarwoodIsAThug began to trend.
Harwood’s behaviour was not an example of a rogue thug, behaving in a way that is at odds with policing. The only difference is that Harwood actually killed someone, rather than doling out a maiming or bruises and psychological trauma.
It is easier to follow the view that Harwood is a thug, rather than seeing the problem is systemic. It is always easier to see a problem as a personal choice rather than a broken system. This is called the just-world effect.
I had my ‘feminist click moment‘ relatively recently; it has been less than two years since I took the red pill and began to understand, fully, that I inhabited a system which was fundamentally skewed against me as a woman. Less than one year ago, my understanding of injustice broadened as I became politically active. I saw it everywhere. What had once been a vague noise, largely beneath my perception, had exploded into a scream.
The system is fucked. I could no longer ignore it. Personal choices meant very little. The system is fucked.
At the back of my mind, the cognitive shortcut I had used still splutters, ‘but, but, but…’
Its argument means nothing to me.
It is hard to suddenly see ourselves as figures playing a rigged game, that it is not a problem of bad individuals, but a fundamentally broken system. It feels like suddenly there is a fight that cannot be won.
Consider the Tomlinson verdict: it took almost two years for a jury to rule that he was unlawfully killed. The video evidence of the attack has been present for all of that time. It was only due to immense public pressure that the inquest happened at all.
It helped that Tomlinson was an ideal victim. One cynically wonders whether the charges against Alfie Meadows, another victim of police brutality are a pre-emptive attempt at avoiding another inquest into unjustifiable violence.
There are two systems that are visible to me at work in the Tomlinson case. There is the immediate, the police culture of covering up their actions. Then there is the broader culture of placing blind trust in institutions, of victim-blaming, of discomfort with political protest.
There may be more systems. I cannot see the whole picture, none of us can. My brain is a product of its environment and its biology; it will not let me see everything.
PC Simon Harwood is a thug. He does not exist in a vacuum. He is a product of a system, as is everything that came after he attacked a man selling newspapers.
To fight injustice–be it police brutality, be it oppression based on gender, race, or any other factors, be it a broken state–we need to see the system. It is a battle, but it is a battle worth fighting.