At the moment it’s hard to know for certain whether “Britain’s most liberal government ever” (© Nick Clegg) will allow police to use water cannon on protesters. Home Secretary Theresa May at first said that she would not intervene to stop police from using them, then appeared to rule the prospect out.
Most on the left are rightly shocked that a government could even consider such tactics against peaceful protesters. There are a number of issues with using water cannons.
Firstly, the fact that soaking people in water and then kettling them – forcing them to stand in the freezing cold for hours at a time, without letting people in and out - is obviously detrimental to the health of protestors. Imagine if this happened in the freezing temperatures we have at the moment. People could easily catch pneumonia.
(and here comes the picture)
The picture of Wagner being helped away from the melee, his eyes swollen shut and bleeding, came to symbolise what critics claim was a heavy-handed approach by police trying to break up a demonstration against the controversial revamp of Stuttgart’s main train station.
Wagner’s doctor said the patient was currently blind and might never have his sight fully restored.
On Wednesday, news magazine Stern reported on its website that Wagner, a retired engineer had been trying to help some young people who were caught in the stream of water.
In an interview to be published on Thursday, Wagner told the magazine he had raised his arms and waved at police to indicate to them they should stop. But he was hit directly in the face with such force that he lost consciousness.
“It felt like the punch of a giant boxer,” Wagner said.
Given all this, using water cannon can already be seen as an erosion of our right to protest peacefully.
However, I think there is another, more sinister, reason why water cannon should not be used, which is not really being discussed.
At most police protests over the past couple of years, some of their more contemptible tactics have only come to the public’s attention because they have been captured on cameras, or mobile phones, belonging to ordinary people.
Take, for instance, the footage of Ian Tomlinson being struck to the floor by a police officer, the camera phone footage of police horses charging peaceful demonstrators, students in a kettle being crushed by police described by a Conservative member of the Greater London Authority as a “ghastly” incident, or pictures of a disabled journalist being pulled out of his wheelchair by police officers:
If police had used water cannon on protestors, this could damage electronic recording equipment belonging to the protestors. That makes it less likely, presumably, that these images and videos would have survived.
And that makes me very scared indeed.