Alright, I promised my international friends the next post would be in English and I’m keeping that promise. It’s about something I’ve been witnessing on the side of all the protests I’m covering. I’ll keep the report down to raw visual description, no opinions. But if any slip through my “flood gates”, keep in mind they’re personal, that’s also how it’s categorized here, for my friends and in no way part of my covering the protests or god forbid publishing the photos. I report what I see, and this is what I saw at the fourth country-wide uprising in Ljubljana last Saturday.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
I kind of forgot about the attitude of riot police towards the highly dangerous, violent and threatening old ladies and retirees that I saw in previous protests in Ljubljana. But it does stick when you hear military rhetoric and barking of “Keep the line!” and “Prepare to attack!” along with taking out the Billy clubs and raising shields against a group of people aged 45 onwards standing leisurely, hands in their pockets, quiet, just wondering what the hell is wrong with the robocops in front of them. I also remember a middle-aged chubby man walking peacefully towards the line of riot police, probably going there to ask them what’s so threatening that they see in them and believe it or not the police acted like a frightened dog, ready to attack. Fell back a bit, shields raised, were only brave enough to approach this man when he lifted his hands and kept convincing them, he’s not dangerous. Paranoid delusions come to my mind… (and obviously my flood gates won’t hold. Sorry.) The only high risk he posed was that of his hypertension.
But pathological fear of common people aside, as a journalist having radars installed all over my head, I can’t help hearing and seeing stuff even as things are happening fast. I’m sad to report that some of the police is treating regular citizens, even those just walking home from work, very aggressively, disrespectful, inconsiderately and arrogantly. They’re not ashamed of physically stop you on your way home while barking something at you. Those that speak at all.
I just painted quite an unfavorable image of the police. But do keep in mind that not all of them are like that. I haven’t seen such cases in Maribor. Sure, the robocops are mute, but as far as I saw they knew the difference between a hooded hooligan and a middle-aged hard working mother. And I saw the best police tactics and treatment in Kranj, where they didn’t even bring in the riot police or robocops as we like to call them (and even Robocop actually had lines in his movie). Here, we just had one very kind, nice policeman in a hat, smiling and talking with the protesters, calming them down peacefully and (now read this carefully!) REASONING WITH THEM as they started kicking at the door of the municipality building. He alone, stopped quite an angry crowd. His attitude made all the difference. Having no robocop presence and no fences helped a lot! We all know that people get increasingly angrier if they are stopped in public places by fences and mute black turtles that are as impersonal as they get. Remember this for future reference.
THE FOURTH UPRISING
The media reported that last Friday’s protests were peaceful. Yeah, they were. If you look at the protesters. Not if you look at the police. Some pretty stupid arrests happened earlier in the day when they arrested people for carrying stuff that they considered dangerous. I think we all know EVERYTHING can be dangerous if used in such a way. In that respect, all women should be arrested for carrying scissors or files in their purses. The disabled with crutches are also very dangerous. It was an anniversary of a big peasant uprising, so a well-known activist and an intellectual, a publicist used a garden fork for holding his sign. I agree that garden fork can be dangerous in the hands of a violent protester. But in a peaceful middle-aged man standing still in a march, using the fork for holding up a sign? OK, let’s just agree it’s better if he didn’t have them (to humor the police), but if we have any respect for each other and if we have any reasonable thinking left, we see that this person is not your regular twenty something hooded hooligan, and we approach him and REASON with him to apprehend the fork. Right?
Wrong! Not our police! They need to release their aggressiveness and frustrations. They send in four robocops to grab him and drag him to the glass wall, press him against it, twist his (previously injured) arms behind his back, try to trip him to fall on the ground face forward as is the usual procedure with violent protesters. The one in charge found enough reason to tell them not to do that, when the pack kept inserting force on him. They didn’t press his face into the ground as they wanted but they did bind his hands and took him to the police car, which is far more than what was appropriate in the situation. And that just brings up questions of the mental state of the people under those helmets. Watch the video of this arrest:
Update 12. 3. 2013: New information emerged about this arrest and provided a twist to why the video is, as you’ve probably noticed, cut form where they stop until the arrest is already in progress. According to an eyewitness the man expressed agressive behavior towards a passer by which is why the police reacted in a way that it did. If that’s true, their actions are not as inapropriate as they seem from the video. (not to mention that the video is of course (deliberately?) misleading). How much less inaprorpiate depends on the way the man acted, now that we know he did something to provoke the police reaction.
HOOLIGANS OUT OF THE BLUE
The protest was a bit more intense than previous ones. A banner was burnt at the Bank of Slovenia, some paint was thrown and some eggs, and that’s it. Plain clothed policemen were among the protesters keeping note, although it always fascinated me, how they can identify the person throwing anything when it happens so fast, and so covertly. But ok, I guess they do. Even if the guy is hooded and has a scarf over his mouth and nose, they can identify him by his eyes well enough to recognize him and arrest him two hours later in darkness. I guess. Don’t know.
I was the only journalist/press photographer present when the arrest from plain clothes policeman started some two hours later in the dark. A small group of protesters was standing in the park chatting when a big hooded thug (let’s make something clear immediately: thug as in “violent person”, not “a criminal”) walked among them and grabbed one of them and started dragging him away. They pushed away a woman among them, an activist, media expert and a professor Sandra Bašič Hrvatin, while two other from a group tried to protect the guy being dragged away. I was pretty close, but I couldn’t hear the attacker introducing himself or showing a badge or something, let alone say why he’s doing that. I just know more of them came. And I know two uniformed police officers nearby just stood there and did nothing, but then again I don’t think they noticed, until I and a man with his kids told them, because I thought it’s a brawl between two protesters.
They dragged the protesters to the underpass where a line of robocops was waiting and finalized their arrest, binding their hands together etc. Half way there, I asked the professor what’s happening and she told me it’s the undercover police that’s arresting them for no reason. Exactly what I saw, too. So I ran there and took pictures of the arrests from a position where I did not interfere or disturb them (because THAT’s punishable, whereas we CAN take pictures of the police doing their job). But this is where things get a little tricky again.
Our taking pictures of arrests is the watchdog function of journalism. So when the police denies us of that, I consider that an effort to conceal something that’s not quite by the book. But in the early stages of the arrests, they didn’t even see me standing above them. They did see some other photographer on the other side and told him to stop taking pictures. By then other protesters were pressed against walls in the overpass, hooded undercover police officers or riot policemen arresting them. I jumped down, passed the first arrest in progress by some six meters when the robocop came towards me pushing me away immediately, barking that I should get away from there and that they’re in the middle of a procedure. Now, when that happens, you obey, unless you want a ride in the police car. I let him push me away as far as he does, but I immediately circle around and come back, after I clearly tell them police work in public places is public and photojournalists are allowed to photograph them (as much as anyone else) as long as they are not disturbing their work. They never say anything back, they just stop bullying you. And in this case, I would consider the officer’s approach somewhat justifiable. They are in fact establishing a safe perimeter. However, not in what happened next.
Two policemen took one of the arrested by each arm and took him up the stairs towards the car. I followed them in a normal walking pace some 15 meters behind up the stairs when this (for lack of a better word: fat) hooded guy with an umbrella and some baggy pants looking like some ghetto bar thug comes swiftly walking down towards me, barking (yes, by that I mean the tone and articulation that immediately expresses aggression and attack) the words: “Get outta here, clear off, we’re in the middle of a procedure.” I honestly didn’t hear him well, so I stopped and kindly said: “Beg a pardon?” By then my mind clicked and I realized what I heard, so I also knew he’s plain clothed policeman.
He repeated, but at the same time, he was still coming towards me and of course, the standard procedure, he pushed me away. Down the stairs. Luckily, I expected that, because it happens all the time with our kind police, so I caught myself. And now some crucial facts. He did not introduce himself as a policeman to justify preventing me from going up the stairs. At that time there were many regular people around, and also tourists. What if it was some of them, not me, coming up the stairs at that time? What if I was a tourist and didn’t expect that push down the stairs? The wet stairs of course, it was raining. And if I fell and broke an arm or something worse let’s just imagine what sort of bullshit story the police would come up with. I could only assume he’s an undercover cop, but his cover was surprisingly good. As far as anyone else knew, he was just a thug preventing people from going up the stairs.
Which makes me question the entire arrest. If they didn’t introduce themselves as cops, it’s normal for a person to defend himself. Which leads me to suspect they really didn’t say why they are dragging them away either. So would you let a hooligan like that drag you away for no reason. Probably not. You’d resist, right? Not knowing you’re making it worse. What a great way to arrest as many people as possible. Well, that’s what it looked like.
Anyway, before I eventually got up the stairs I raised my voice to the thug (no kind words there, sorry) telling him to stop pushing me down the wet stairs. Simply because I’m at a higher risk of losing my balance, because my left leg is handicapped. And of course I also told him a word or two about photographing procedures, and that’s when he turned around and didn’t say a word anymore. So I got up the stairs and other photographers were there already and when the two protesters started asking why are they arrested, it just somehow confirmed my suspicions that I really didn’t hear many words from the undercover cops as they grabbed them from a group that was peacefully standing in the park. Again the cops tried to get the cameras away, but when there was more of us, they finally backed off.
I can’t help thinking that if we didn’t tell those two policemen in the park something is happening, they would have dragged those three away quite secretly and fast. Instead it triggered an angry response from the crowd that immediately formed a march towards the police station. People were angry and they showed it. Meanwhile, robocops were sent to defend the police station, arriving in cars with lights and sirens just ahead of the group reaching the station. People demanded the realease of those three arrested, but of course the robocops don’t speak. They’re just robots. So the wise ones in front of them demanded the chief and eventually someone in charge did come out to speak with a representative of the protesters. That is finally when they – even the ones from the group that the three protesters were with – found out why they were arrested. For throwing paint.
It appears they identified them during the march and then also later in the dark (I guess they have that ability). So it wasn’t for no reason afteral, but who knew until now? It’s easy to infuriate the crowd if you’re communicating in the wrong way. If they had just explained immediately why, the march to the police station maybe wouldn’t have happened. But it’s as if they only know the language of violence. In fact, when the crowd in front of the police has already settled down considerably and there was just chatter, another ten to fifteen robocops arrived and of course (what the hell were you thinking?!) people got mad again. See the difference between the protests in Kranj and these? The mentality is completely different.
Anyway, the people left when the protesters were released. So what’s the bottom line? How do you explain this police attitude? This indiscriminative aggression and the disrespect they show, the arrogance of their approach to people they are apparently protecting… I don’t know, I just know that’s what they are showing. I know it’s difficult for them in many situations, but these? I’ve defended them for a long time, but now… Because yes, you need a different approach when people throw stones at you. But why treat regular citizens, even older people, showing no aggressive behavior as some worthless nuisance? Why come out with aggression towards someone who’s just passing through for example? I feel sorry for them if they’re really so afraid of regular people. As much or even more than the masked hooded hooligans.
Not all of them are like that, that’s obvious. But way too many are. And I get it, you’re nervous, you know something might happen … — No, sorry, I wanted to find some other point of view to justify your actions, but when I think about how you handled the man with the fork, sorry, there’s no excuse. Mentality is off. I don’t get it. Sorry. Can’t defend you there. Sorry, you’ll need to start communicating differently with regular people… But don’t get me wrong, you are doing your job, it’s just that “customer service” is a bit bad… You might want to rethink that one.
For those of you who don’t understand that I am prone to caricature in my nonjournlistic posts, here’s a bit of explanation. I am NOT saying that the police has been threatening or terrorizing old ladies! WTF? In fact, I had the deepest understanding for the police until Saturday, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t see the attitude towards normal, peaceful people in previous protests. I simply justified them, because cops were clearly very nervous. I would be, too, if someone threw stones at me. So yes, I did understand their attitude towards a certain type of protesters, but NO, I didn’t understand the attitude towards peaceful protesters and I am emphasizing their age, because middle aged protesters have never shown any inclination to protest violently. So for all of those out there who want some facts on which this is based on, the frightful attack mode yelling happened on 30. 11. 2012 on the Cankarjev dom platform. That same day, at least two passers by were denied passing on the Slovenska cesta to get to Aškerčeva, because they couldn’t get through anywhere else. This was the only place without a fence or a line of cops. Except for one on the sidewalk who, well, didn’t let them through. People in question were walking home from work with their groceries. BUT on the other hand you’ve probably seen the image from that same day that proves otherwise, right? So what part of the sentence “NOT ALL OF THEM ARE LIKE THAT” don’t you understand?
Once again, it is not my intention to antagonize the cops. I think I levelled it out quite accordingly in this post. I am sorry, but I had understanding for them in previous cases. Even on the 3oth, because I knew they were nervous, although their attitude towards that group of people on the platform was questionable. But on Saturday, they let things get out of hand and there’s no more excuses. There are packs of these socalled robocops who seemingly get sucked into this wolfpack syndrome and lose a bit of their humanity. I won’t defend them for it, sorry. And that doesn’t mean the police in general is terrorizing old people. Whoever reads this that way is just too simpleminded to read my (personal) posts. How come I have nothing bad to say about the police in Maribor? Or the police in Kranj? And in Maribor, I’ve been there at the violent protests and both Nina and I had not a single bad experience with them when we got closer or needed to go around them or pass them or get closer to the action. They simply knew we’re not a threat. In fact, they protected us. One of these robocops told us where to stand to not get hit by a stone.
I’m not against the police. We need them. But we need them to treat us right. The attitude of the robocops (not the other policemen) on Saturday, was far from right. And I’m saying it, because it’s time to fix this, before people revolt against the police.