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Push, shove, approve! - Wayne Flask

Activists were kicked out in a choreography intent on maintaining PA's image as a safe haven

An activist is pinned down by the police. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

An activist is pinned down by the police. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

I was an unusual face among a pack of protestors at the Planning Authority building last Thursday.

Thankfully, I never laid my hands on any musical instrument because my motor skills are comparable to those of an elephant on morphine, and that bars me from ever being a musician, especially a drummer. Not being a drummer also precludes me from changing beats and shunning other activists to become an MEP hopeful, but more of that later.

The atmosphere was light – first time I saw one of the Graffitti members donning a tie – and despite the sweltering heat, I could even enjoy the bossa nova of “konkrit!”

It was a peaceful protest and for a while I thought holding a placard was something I should do more often, without fear of physical, political, or online retribution (unlike most people reading this, my memory goes beyond the last five years).

It was peaceful, until the Rapid Intervention Unit appeared through the doorway. The music stopped and gave way to threats and aggression; the sort of stuff you see on TV whenever Red Star and Partizan face off in the Belgrade's Marakana.

The rest you know already: an activist had a snare drum thrown at her face from close distance, another emerged with a cut on his forehead. None of the activists raised a finger throughout – and you wouldn't, of course, seeing the size of them, and especially the demeanour the police reserved for the activists.

With a knee planted in his face as if he were a dangerous jihadist about to pull the pin on a nuclear grenade, I realised this wasn’t much of an issue of upholding the peace or the law

The police were entitled to use force to get us out of there – let’s face it, even though the PA’s environs are public domain and everyone’s taxes pay for both the landscaping and the board members’ salaries, it would be naïve to expect them to sit by playing Minecraft.

But “force” can mean different things. The problem is that the RIU’s presence was totally unnecessary; their violent tactics uncalled for; one of them yelling "you’ll never come back here again" is technically a threat, which he is duty bound to prevent.

With one of my mates pinned down, a knee planted in his face as if he were a dangerous jihadist about to pull the pin on a nuclear grenade, I realised this wasn't much of an issue of upholding the peace or the law; it was a choreography intent on maintaining the image of the PA as a safe haven, as it has been for long, long years under various administrations.

The PA is a key nerve centre: here is where all sorts of money, clean, slightly tainted or completely dirty, is rubber stamped to be transformed into buildings small, big or outright monstrous; the place where you might get a lot of grief for restructuring your house internally, or none whatsoever for building a hideous tower and destroy a town in the process.

No surprise, therefore, that the PA is a sunny Valhalla which must be protected at all costs, as the RIU’s 3x3 formation in front of the bolted door clearly showed, once their little routine was done and dusted. Don’t you miss Iċ-Ċittadin l-Ewwel?

The police are entitled to do their job of course. I, for one, respect the police uniform as a symbol of authority and accidents such as that which left an officer maimed for life leave me shocked to the point of sickness. But our law enforcers disagree internally on the concept of respect.

For example, three uniformed officers on duty at the PA behaved in an exemplary manner, offering to take activists to a polyclinic and retrieving personal belongings lost in the fray caused by the goons in black. That is the kind of police officer I would look up to, and so should any citizen.

The story is altogether different at the top of the echelon, where the lack of as much as half an apology, and indeed the RIU’s deployment itself, speaks volumes of the way in which the police operates. Claims of bullying the weak are entirely justified.

The consistency of the police force and its enforcement fluctuates wildly; you get a severe bruising for playing the maracas in the PA lobby, but no trouble if you’ve led a life of crime living off the proceeds of all sorts of illegalities. The Police Commissioner has a lot to explain; under his watch, and, just to be clear, that of other predecessors too, the police uniform has been stained with all sorts of unsavoury stuff, from blood to rabbit sauce.

I’m sick and tired of having to write disclaimers here and there. I have no time, nor sympathy, for the political establishments that hog your opinions. I will never spend an ounce of energy to justify their doings. But, seasoned as I am in the art of pointing out crap, Graffitti and KEA got a physical whacking, not for being an anti-Labour organisation, but for being people with principles that don’t bend at the smell of money or power.

Graffitti has been the police’s punching bag of choice for at least 30 years (up there with migrants, of course) and found no sympathy when they opposed similar projects under other administrations.

It is ridiculous for other political or politically-infiltrated organisations to lend their solidarity from behind the keyboard, less than a year after their very keyboards attacked Graffitti and its members as “pseudo-intellectual auto-castrated closet fascists with 100% cotton souvenir Che T-shirts still lovingly wrapped in plastic” or “guardians of the magic revolution.”

These people are never anywhere to be seen whenever a protest or direct action targets the PA. MEP hopefuls and fake prophets throwing paper planes at the police depot really pale in comparison to what went on in Floriana on Thursday.

Finally, I will not entertain comments about unlawful protests and so on. It is an oxymoron to protest legally and complain by the book; this is not Trip Advisor.

But it is indeed ironic, for most of those condemning Graffitti/KEA and defending violence, that the PA itself justified the protest by voting down the development 10 against 1. This, after Minister Jose Herrera promised a review of the ODZ fuel stations policy which never materialised, the very reason for the activist “insurgence”.

You’ll be asking who voted in favour of the fuel station in Żejtun. None other than Elizabeth Ellul, acting chair, and the same person who offered Graffitti the farcical, sleazy carrot of dialogue before the sticks came flying in.

Wayne Flask is the author of the book Kapitali.

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