not a member? click here to sign up
Police brutality in the Waterside, and getting the Sachs from the Dunphy Show
Eamonn McCann, 30 May 2005
My most interesting experience during the Northern election was a chat with a Rangers fan as we protested against the police.
Five days before the poll I was ‘phoned from the Waterside by a guy with a video he wanted me to see of the PSNI beating three kinds of crap out of young people in the street the night before. The sound was sharp, the images shadowy. But the tale it told was clear enough.
A gang of lads making an unsteady way home had been accosted by cops spoiling for a fight. So they told me. Since the man with the camera had only been awakened by the ensuing fracas, I have no way of telling whether this was a full account of the origins of the incident. What’s not in doubt is the crack of the batons on skulls, a young woman flung against a wall and then kicked as she crumpled in a heap, a man beaten to the ground and then repeatedly clubbed after he asked for a policeman’s number, a mob-handed assault on neighbours who attempted to intervene. I’d seen it all before, usually in the Bogside, never in the Waterside.
Outside the courthouse the following morning, we paraded the pavement with placards proclaiming “End police brutality” and so forth. The Socialist Environmental Alliance had mustered a dozen campaigners, called in from the canvass (or hauled from their beds.) The aggrieved parties had brought 15 of their mates, all of whom shared a belief that the PSNI behave more belligerently towards young people in Protestant than in Catholic areas because they know there’ll be little comeback from the Protestants’ representatives.
“If they pushed Catholics around like they push us around, Sinn Fein would be down on them like a ton of bricks.”
A woman alongside me sported a Rangers cap. I mentioned that she must have been pleased her side had splashed its way to victory at Pittodrie the previous afternoon.
“Oh, yes!” she enthused, “we really needed the points.”
“Still,” she went on, “I don’t suppose you were too pleased.”
I agreed that I hadn’t been. I ought to have added that of course, though, I was pleased for her.
There’s a couple of court cases pending. The video is with the police ombudsman. So most of what might be said must wait. What can be said is that although demonstrations involving Catholics and Protestants are not at all unknown in the North – usually trade union in character, to do with matters that don‘t figure in Orange-Green hostilities – this demo involved the Bogside and Waterside on an issue, policing, normally seen as the most divisive of all. It had been organised overnight, without discussion of issues or implications.
We all headed down to the city centre afterwards so those who hadn’t yet seen it could view the tape at the SEA office. The most common reference in response was to LA and Rodney King.
Apart from the Rangers fan’s acknowledgement of my Celtic background, I don’t think there was any mention throughout of our being a mixed bunch.
The following week, on May 12th, local papers headlined calls for a “peace wall” to be built between Catholic and Protestant areas in the Waterside because the PSNI were failing to keep the warring communities apart.
But I reckon maybe the way to get together is against the cops.
Sad Sachs sitting on a block of stone,
Over in the corner weeping all alone...
A couple of weeks back Eamon Dunphy had Jeffrey Sachs and myself lined up for a head-to-head. I rushed out and bought a copy of Sachs’ book, End Of Poverty. Not only that, I read it. And more, I read Bono’s foreword.
Dedication far above the call of rational duty. I contented myself with anticipation of a stirring dawn duel.
It wasn’t to be. On the day prior to our assignation, the programme alerted Sachs that I’d be in the other corner. A couple of hours later, Sachs’ people were on the line from London: if that was the set-up, their man would no-show.
Instead of telling Sachs to fuck off and handing me the air-time, solo, Dunphy’s people called to announce I’d been given the elbow.
Sachs is a VVIP (Very, Very Important Person), listed by Time as one of the hundred most influential people on earth. He’s a prominent presence on the respectable wing of Make Poverty History (MPH).
The reason I was eager to get to grips is that his book unwittingly exposes how lacking in vision the respectable tendency is when it comes to tackling global inequality. Indeed, Sachs makes plain that tackling inequality is no part of his project.
The book defines poverty as living on less than a dollar a day. Its point is to outline proposals for raising everyone up to that level by 2025. But it contains no plan or time-scale for narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. This despite the fact that on present trajectories, given the dizzy spiral of the incomes of the rich in the western world, humanity would be more grotesquely divided 20 years hence, even if Sachs’ modest goal was achieved.
What Sachs misses is that the reason the poor are poor is that the rich are rich: the mechanisms which deal out dire poverty to hundreds of millions are the same as deliver fabulous wealth for a few.
A score of billionaires has been created through the privatisation of water world-wide. Many millions have meanwhile been plunged deeper into poverty through being forced to pay private companies for a necessity of life. Sachs wants to rid the world of water poverty – but not frontally to challenge the system which makes water a commodity. This makes no sense.
The perspectives of Sachs and his co-thinkers are limited by their own experiences of life. Ani DiFranco has remarked acidly that, “It’s hard to see the need to fight wealth and power when you are wealthy and powerful yourself.” No surprise, then, there isn’t a sentence in Sachs’ book to suggest as a strategy for the wretched of the earth that they rise up and tear down the structures which oppress them. He sees them as passive souls in need of succour, rather than as the only fitting authors of their own salvation.
Sachs is an updated version of the social reformers of a century and a half ago who, on occasion with considerable passion, advocated greater kindness towards the huddled masses of rural Ireland and industrial Britain, and whose sharpest argument was that kindness was the best weapon for warding off revolution. In the second-last chapter of The End Of Poverty, Sachs spells it out – that it’s in the interest of the Western ruling class to ease the plight of the world’s poor, lest the poor, enraged, bring the towers of capitalism crashing.
(Incidentally, Dunphy’s folk were unclear whether Sachs had objected to anyone at all challenging him on air, or if it was personal. I‘m not so deluded as to imagine he’d heard of me. But I do wonder who in Dublin might have warned him that I wasn’t suitable to be crossing swords with on radio.)