Dear Police Scotland: Get Tae Fuck. Love, a Club Photographer

Hello.

First off, I’m not going to talk about the historical relationship between the police and British nightlife. I’m not going to talk about the legality or morality of drugs. I’m not going to talk about the political controversy over a single Scottish police force. I’m not going to talk about the suggestion that clubs are being purposefully targetted for their prime city centre real estate, or the very persuasive allegations that the former Chief Constable of the tendentious single police force – Stephen House – is a wanker. I’m sure you already have opinions on all of that, particularly the latter. I know I do.

What I am going to do is offer my view as a seasoned photographer (and patron) of nightclubs for around a decade. I’ve worked in all of the usual Glaswegian haunts from the Cathouse, to Bamboo, Garage, Sub Club, and the ill-fated Arches, and I am going to argue that we need to look closely at our city’s nightlife community to see a dangerous trend unfolding that represents a more authoritarian stance from the police.

Much has been said in recent years about how the ‘Glasgow style’ of police enforcement has been allegedly spreading to other parts of the country, with examples including the crackdown on the saunas of Edinburgh, and the presence of armed police on regular callouts in Inverness. What people fail to realise (or give appropriate attention to) is that this is not a Wegie-centric style of policing, but an entirely new approach in general. This is most evident (as far as I can tell) recently in the position of the police towards licensed premises.

In the past year or so, I have witnessed a palpably different attitude from the police towards clubs in Glasgow from what existed before. Not long ago, there was a good relationship, with many clubs praised for their low levels of ejections and lack of requirement for calling upon police resources to control their patrons. The basic idea being, that if your security staff can head off trouble before it happens, and/or deal with it effectively when it does arise, then you are doing a good job. Less calls to the police signal a better managed environment – and less burden on the taxpayer.

Based on this principle, there was hardly ever any reason for the police to step foot inside the private establishments where we go to drink and dance in the wee hours of the morning, unless there was a serious incident. People got on with drinking, and having fun – perfectly legally – and  so long as there wasn’t any real manifestation of violence that couldn’t be controlled or dealt with by the trained (and licensed staff), the high-vis wearing arm of the law kept their distance; and rightfully so. Effective community policing – particularly in a city like Glasgow – is about working respectfully alongside people.

Now, however, things are different. The police routinely make drop-in visits to clubs throughout the city, in which they take some sort of guided tour throughout the various dancefloors… to eh, well, who knows what? Far from being a friendly visit to check that everything is going smoothly like they may have been in the past, these serve a distinctly different purpose.

There are two possibilities: either the police genuinely think they are going to stumble upon somebody engaged in some sort of nefarious activity whilst traipsing about in their dayglo jackets and arrest them, or else they are really there to demonstrate a misguided show of force. If the former is correct, then it remains to be seen how it makes any of us any safer. I’d be far happier if they were waiting outside at kicking-out time for the inevitable clashes with drunk passers by, or clamped down on the boy-racer neds who routinely speed out from Mitchell Street onto Argyle Street on weekends to cause trouble, or maybe even dedicated more resources to seriously tackle the 5% increase in reported rapes from 2014 to 2015 (and no, this is not simply down to ‘increased confidence of victims’).

I personally completely reject the idea that emanations of the State should be able to turn up at private establishments, and walk around with their assorted weaponry in a display of force, giving their approval for the behaviour of people who are socialising and not causing trouble. The only time police should enter nightclubs in this manner is where a crime has been reported – not on some routine ‘inspection’ to swing their self-inflated dicks around. Irrespective of the legal powers the police may or may not have, the question is about what kind of relationship we want to have with them.

One needs only look to Aberdeen to see the abhorrent practice of police turning up to clubs just before they open, and demanding that anybody who wants to enter has to submit to drug testing. This sort of action is completely unnecessary, and an illegitimate intrusion of the police into people’s private lives – skirting around the requirements of Section 23(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act for reasonable suspicion.

If we are not careful, this sort of authoritarianism from the police is only going to increase, and not just in the places where we gather to drink and listen to loud music. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that Scotland is already subject to some of the strictest alcohol related alcohol laws in the UK, never mind the rest of Europe. How long before drug testing is mandatory to enter any sort of pub? How long before the police expand their jurisdiction to further elements of social society? This aggressive approach is not only a waste of resources, but an affront to everything that we supposedly believe in with regards to the freedom to live without undue interference from the State.

I don’t know what the strategic agenda is in these ‘drop-in’ visits. I don’t know the political manoeuvrings that are going on in the background. I don’t know if this is really a misguided attempt to curb violence, or to cut down on excessive drinking, or if it’s the hangover of a Stephen House power trip. I don’t know if it’s really an attack on ‘youth culture’, or if it’s somehow a result of David Cameron and that pig. What I do know is that the more time goes on, the more the principle of ‘policing by consent’ is being made a mockery of. Yes, clubs should be safe places – but they largely already are. The presence of the police does nothing but to cause friction where none exists. Our freedoms to congregate are rapidly being eroded for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and nobody really seems to care.

Dear Police Scotland – get tae fuck.

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6th December 2014 Athens Protests

Yesterday saw large protests in the Greek capital of Athens to commemorate the death of a 15 year old boy named Alexis Grigoropoulos at the hands of Greek police in 2008. This year has extra significance due to the hunger strike of Nikos Romanos, who was there when Griogoropoulos was killed.

There was meant to be a gathering from 12 noon outside the University of Athens, so we headed in to see what would happen. The police had already banned demonstrations in a large portion of the city centre for the visit of the Turkish Prime minister; something that was set to end at 3pm.

When we turned up, nothing was really happening. Lots of people were gathered around the University, but there was no chanting or people grouped together; nobody addressing the crowd or anything like that. There were a few banners here and there, but it was a sunny day, and largely people were just sitting around drinking coffee.

We hung around for a while and decided to go and get something to eat and drink and come back a bit later when there was due to be a march from the University to the neighbourhood of Exarcheia, via Syntagma Square.

Despite there reportedly being around 8000 police deployed in the city, their presence was far lower key than it has been on previous occasions. For a day where they expected a lot more trouble, there didn’t seem to be as many on them about as usual – especially considering that there was roughly one member of the police for every protestor.

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There were a few on street corners, but mainly to close off particular areas and re-direct traffic. That wasn’t always successful as the Greeks don’t like to be told what to do – including not to drive down a particular road.

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It wasn’t clear exactly what they were trying to achieve, as they closed one road off first, and then moved it to the next one. It also wasn’t clear whether the tape they were using to mark the streets was tied to a car they owned, or just one that happened to be parked there at the time.

We headed back up towards the University after 6pm, and things seemed like they were amping up to get ready to move off. We ducked into a nearby bar to get a drink and use their bathroom. Pretty soon after, we head the chanting a street over as people marched past, with fully clad riot police running alongside the side streets. Then came the sound of smashes, and bangs – with the owner of the bar telling us: “They’re smashing up the old Parliament. What’s the point? If they go down the street they’ll find the real enemies.”

We headed back out to see for ourselves for what was going on, and found the street in a sad state of disrepair, with bus shelters and shop windows smashed up, and bins on fire. The police (or fire brigade – it’s hard to tell) weren’t far behind with miniature extinguishers.

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We tagged onto the tail end of the march, but didn’t get too far before both the police and some of the protestors told us to stop taking pictures. This isn’t something I would usually ever comply with, but given the intense atmosphere, and us as foreigners, we thought it wise to do so. All around us there were people with masks smashing up the fronts of windows, or dragging away large plant plots to break into pieces. They were definitely in the minority though, with plenty of both older and younger people simply marching peacefully along, or watching from the sidelines.

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A few seconds later we heard a few huge bangs come from just behind us, and saw people start to run. The police had thrown flashbang grenades and tear gas in retaliation to what looked like water bottles or small stones that had been thrown at them. This quickly escalated, and you can see exactly where we were in the opening scenes of the video below. Watch out for the police punching an already handcuffed man in the face.

We took our leave at this point, with the march heading onwards to Exarcheia. Reports are that the use of the force by the police continued, predictably – with both water cannon, and the liberal use of both tear gas and flashbangs. I’m not sure how any police force can ever justify using chemicals or military tactics so brazenly in a residential area.

As we walked back to Syntagma, we passed more destruction, with steps and shops all smashed up.

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I’m really not sure what destroying shops or steps is supposed to achieve, and whilst I completely support direct action, I’m completely against the destruction of the city that you live in to make a political point. Many activists online have decried these actions, circulating videos that apparently show a few hundred masked, undercover police emerging from the crowd and going behind police lines. It wouldn’t be the first time that the police have infiltrated marches and provoked violence to discredit, or give an excuse to move in with force, so it’s hard to know exactly what the truth is.

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Athens once again lies smashed up, in a country where finances are already beyond strained. Today, the Greek Government are set to vote on a controversial new austerity budget in an attempt to appease the European Union, with further demonstrations planned. We can only hope that things won’t go like they did yesterday.