Mark Steel: I've no time for these hooligans who go around being killed

'Maybe the driver went to press the indicator and instead pressed the trigger of a pistol – twice'
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The Independent Online

A young protester is shot dead in Genoa, so the politicians agree we must all condemn the violence of the protesters. Perhaps it is a recognised psychological disease, to think that when someone is killed it's due to the violence of the killed person. Perhaps it has a name, like "confused murderer/murdered syndrome". Maybe those who suffer from this neurosis start by sitting through episodes of Inspector Morse, thinking: "I hope they catch that bloke who got killed at the beginning."

Blair's response was, in effect, to say: "I utterly condemn the behaviour of those people who flouted our democracy by being shot. They'll say they were exercising their democratic right to be shot, but if they can't be shot peacefully they have no right to be shot at all."

Typical was the macabre discussion on the night of the shooting, about the police vehicle that ran over the protester after he'd been shot. Statements were issued insisting that running over the body had been an accident. So, let's give the police the benefit of the doubt on that one. Now they only have to prove that shooting him twice through the head was an accident and they're clear. Maybe the driver went to turn left, and instead of pressing the indicator he got confused and pressed the trigger of a loaded pistol – twice. After all, you know what the Italians are like at driving.

What the debate about running him over tends to miss out slightly is that he was already bloody dead. It's killing a live body that makes someone a murderer, not damaging one that's already dead. Or is this a common mistake? Perhaps there are books that claim: "I know who killed JFK. It was a priest who lowered his body into the ground inside a wooden box."

Equally perplexing is the debate around whether the police "over-reacted". To give an example, one night they raided the official centre of the Genoa Social Forum, an organisation that no one is claiming was linked with violence. According to witnesses, part of this centre was a building site, but the Italian police declared they were considering whether to charge them all with "possessing offensive weapons" as there were poles and other building-related objects nearby. If this is normal, it must make it extremely difficult to get anything built in Italy.

Having builders round your house must be like holding a teenage party at which everyone's smoking dope. Every now and then a police van pulls up outside and the plasterer starts screaming and trying to flush his chisel down the toilet. Maybe this explains the leaning tower of Pisa. The builder thought: "I'm taking enough of a risk with the screwdriver, I'm not going up there with a spirit level as well."

The trouble is that every witness agrees that every person in the building was severely beaten. One BBC reporter said that when he arrived he could see pools of blood at regular intervals throughout the building, suggesting each person had been attacked while sleeping. Several witnesses told of the police returning to "hose away the blood."

The British pair Nicola Docherty and Richard Moth, who fled the demonstration when the police charged, were among those beaten, and their whereabouts were not released, not even to the British consulate. After three days it was revealed that Nicola had a broken wrist and Richard had stitches in his head, though they were still denied contact with anyone, including their distraught parents. Many of those beaten are still unaccounted for, prompting the Italian press to dub the incident "the Chilean night".

So, did the police "over-react"? Is it possible to over-react to a room full of people who are asleep? Perhaps they were sleeping in a manner liable to cause a breach of the peace. Maybe Milosevic should try this – "You might think there's nothing wrong with Kosovars, but you haven't seen them when they're asleep? Alright, so maybe I over-reacted but all that tossing and turning, I tell you, anyone would have done the same."

There was a section of the demonstration that set out for a bundle, the notorious Black Block, and the police claim that at every incident in which they've been accused of violence, the Black Block were present – though one piece of news footage showed a line of gay rights campaigners in pink furry costumes, dancing a chorus line while waving brightly coloured balloons. Then, like lions arriving amongst a herd of jolly wildebeestes, the Black Block began to prowl nearby. Within moments the police attacked the whole crowd and the viewer could see gay rights protesters being belted with truncheons as orange balloons floated above a cloud of tear gas. I know that in the heat of battle things can get confused, but there must be something in police training to assist officers in distinguishing between rock-throwing anarchists and a line of blokes dressed as teddy bears performing the theme from Oklahoma!.

None of this is condemned by Tony Blair, neither the batons nor stitches nor pools of blood nor illegal detentions or shooting – for he only condemns the violence.

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