Monday, September 24, 2007

The full story


It has been just over two weeks since I was violently detained by the Greek riot police during a peaceful rally and I thought I would try to put down what happened and give myself a sense of closure over the events that happened.

On Saturday 8th the Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis was scheduled to give his annual address at the International Trade Fair (ΔΕΘ) in Thessaloniki. This is usually the cue for large scale demonstrations in the city and this year was expected to be no exception. The wave of popular disgust and indignation over the government's handling of the forest fire crisis was yet another reason for people to protest. I decided that the rallies organised would be a wonderful photo - opportunity, full of life, colour and a certain touch of drama. And indeed they were. Thousands filled Aristotelous Square and Egnatia Street. Walking through the crowds I was able to take lots of pictures which I intended to put on my Flickr page and blog.

At some point one one of the rallies decided that they were going to march down Agias Sophias St and then onto the Trade Fair and I decided to follow them. Almost immediately the march was accompanied by a phalanx of riot police. As images go, it doesn't get more dramatic than this so I decided to hang back and take shots of them marching down the road in battle formation.


At no point did anyone gesture or shout to me to stop, they remained impassive, if uncomfortably close to the main body of the march considering the fact that tensions were running high. Then as we were going along Tsimiski St a couple of the MAT left the main group and started running in my direction. At first I didn't realise what exactly was happening so kept on taking pictures until they were almost upon me.


I guess the cries and screams from the people behind me should have been a warning but rather stupidly I assumed that I had nothing to fear from them, considering the demonstration was peaceful and there hadn't been a hint of trouble.

What happened next is hazy. I recall being knocked to the ground and having people scream at me. I managed to shout out, "Δεν αντιστεκομαι" (I'm not resisting) and "help". The next thing I knew was that I was face down in a pool of my own blood on the pavement whilst somebody handcuffed me violently.

Witnesses to the incident who contacted me later told me that the riot cop had body slammed me with his shield into a nearby lamp post. That, at least would explain the dislocated shoulder.

I asked them what I had done but all I got was a guy screaming his head off at me. Later on, an officer, I think came along and in a calmer tone of voice told me I was being detained. After a succession of plain clothes police came along and told me I was being taken in for questioning. Again and again I was told that I shouldn't have taken pictures.

Four other plain clothes cops accompanied me in an unmarked white van to the central police station (Αστυνομικο Μεγαρο) where I was taken to the fourth floor to be questioned. There I was asked repeatedly, but politely about my reasons for taking pictures. They examined the photographs and took my details. Eventually, after an hour or so they seemed convinced by my story that I was just taking pictures as a hobby in order to post them on my blog and so said I could go.

Whilst being escorted out some of the officers said that I should clean myself up, though I'm not sure if this was out of kindness or the realisation that letting somebody walk out of a station whilst bloodied and bruised was not the best PR move.

After passing a group of jeering motorcycle cops who were hanging around the main entrance I got a taxi home to make sure that someone could pick up my daughter from her friend's house and to get my IKA book so as to be ready when I went to hospital.Itook this opportunity and posted something on the blog in order to let people know what had happened (see here) Luckily, a friend of mine offered to take me to the Agios Pavlos hospital, Kalamaria where I was treated by doctors in the orthopedic clinic. After being X-rayed, they informed me that I had suffered a dislocated shoulder and possible fractured nose.

After a couple of days I decided that I would press charges, even if I believe the chances of the person who did this being punished are tiny. I feel that if I don't do something then it is tantamount to saying what they did was right.

Two weeks later I am still in pain and I find sleeping difficult, if not impossible. I still can't figure what I did that deserved such a violent response. At no point had the police, either through gesture or verbal warning indicated that I should stop taking photos. Indeed, I'm absolutely sure on this point as I would have heeded them immediately, as I had done when taking pictures of some of those on the demonstration.

20 comments:

surfmadpig said...

I think you are doing the right thing pressing charges, and a very good move would be trying to reach the Athens tv channels about it. How the police will handle your case will depend 80% on PR, and I believe that having the tv broadcast your story might even lead them to eventually have to issue apologies and pay - it could make the difference. Of course we're talking about serious media freakout there, so you might want to give it some serious thought.

In any case, I hope you feel better soon.

Kassandra said...

I've seen this happen on the news many times, with shock and dismay, and I'm so sorry it happened to you. It's ridiculous beyond belief. I really hope you succeed in pressing charges, and that your wounds heal soon...

Alex Case said...

The Greeks sure do like a good riot, on both sides. I had one friend who boasted of their view of the Parthanon and another who tried to impress us with their annual view of the student riots to mark some famous protest (October??). It was a toss up which was better. I see it as an extension of the love of a good argument in those parts...

Seriously, though I wish you a quick recovery and all the best in the courts.

TEFLtastic blog- www.tefl.net/alexcase

teacher dude said...

Great, except this wasn't a riot but a peaceful protest.

George said...

Did you go to the British Embassy to complain? What did they say? By the way, I saw your article in Athens News today. Also, upon reading your full text, I thought maybe you should have immediately spoken ENGLISH and said "IN ENGLISH" that you were British. This may have at least saved you the initial beating since I'm sure they would be a bit more cautious against hurting a British citizen for no reason? Maybe they thought you were Albanian, and they thought who are you going to tell? Use the British card, it works!

john z said...

Sounds to me that in a tense situation you took a calculated risk by getting in the faces of the MAT. People generally don't like having cameras stuck in their faces. It's an invasion of their space. You put yourself in danger, irritated the riot police while they were wound up and trying to do their job. You said yourself that maybe you were stupid. Now, having miscalculated – and got a minor beating – you're making a big song and dance about your own error of judgement. My opinion: get over it, put it behind you, forget about it. These things happen. Worse things happen. The scars seem more mental than physical, ie it's your pride that's been hurt more than anything else. You'll survive. What's the point of starting a campaign? What do you think you are going to achieve? End police aggression? Come on, don't be so sanctimonious. They're a police 'force', not social workers. Sure, we'd all like the cops to be Dixon of Dock Green, but we also all know that if you rub a cop up the wrong way he'll go for you. You have to use your common sense in certain situations and it seems you didn't. That's your fault. As for George's suggestion that you should have told them you were British, it's a good job you didn't; because I've seen people try the 'I'm British' card and all they've got for their conceit is more aggravation. Maybe, subconsciously, you thought you weren't in danger because you were British and these Greek cops wouldn't dare touch a subject of Queen Elizabeth. Generally, I hope you get over your injuries soon, but don't make a martyr of yourself – or allow all these silly feminine expressions of sympathy sway you into prolonging an unfortunate but not too serious situation.
Apologies if I come across as being harsh, but you and Devious Diva have put this on your blogs, on a public forum, so I feel I'm entitled to express my opinion.

Good photos, by the way.

teacher dude said...

Funny,I was under the impression that the police in a democratic socity were subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Obviously, you see the rule of law in a different light.

However, as a member of a free society I'm exercising my rights as a citizen and suing them.

By the way, as the blog entry says at no point, either through word or gesture did the MAT indicate that I should stop taking photos. Hence my surprise at their unprovoked attack.

Anonymous said...

Hey Man, get over it...cops all over the world abuse their authority...once in the U.S. without a warrant, they knocked on my door, which I opened and then the dragged me out of my home (by my arm) and one of them searched it while the other one held me by the arm... OK it was a small apartment, but still...they didn't have a warrant...and they didnt find nothing cos they were there on a false lead I think, but in any case, fuck the cops.

Why is it always British people that get in trouble for taking pictures in Grease?!?! THink of the plane spotters back in the mid-1990s....Brits need to wake up a bit, otherwise, there might be another round of Don Pacificos (google that) dealt on the Greasers.

I kinda agree with the guy above, just drop the case otherwise you might be in more trouble. I sure was threatend by the good ole boys in blue when I went to the station the next day. The gorilla of a cop picked up a club and implied that I would get my head bashed in if I filed a complaint....so much for democracy in America...

By the way, it is illegal in many states for someone to take pictures of cops....but cops are allowed to take pictures of demonstrators..and this does bring me to my next issue at hand.

wasn't there a big fuss about cops taking pictures of demonstrators at that specific event which your incident happnd. Maybe the cops who beat you were pissed about the decision not to allow cops to take pictures of demonstrators....

George said...

Teacher Dude: Did you ever go to the British Embassy afterall? You never said and I'm dying to know what they said. I find it hard to believe that the British High Commission or Embassy wouldn't at least be concerned about you.

The other two folks above are being a bit harsh I think because even though the British Plane spotters were arrested, they ultimately were let go. I'll bet if they were Albanian or Turkish plane spotters a different outcome would have occurred.

UK-UK-UK We're #1

teacher dude said...

Well,I've been asked to provide a written account in English and Greek by the embassy which they will be forwarded onto the Ministry of Public Order.

BTW, this is not a football match There are no winners and losers in this.

Διαγόρας said...

Hello, Teacher Dude!

I am sorry to hear what has happened to you, and I hope you get better soon. I do not subscribe to the point of view of "john z" and "anonymous". Nothing was ever improved in the world by a "get over it" and "you will live" attitude. In the worst case, you may achieve nothing; in the best case, you may achieve something. No matter how small that something is, it is valuable.

I would also like to add that if you manage to achieve something --anything-- out of this whole issue, it will be shame on countless Greeks who were victims of police brutality before you and did nothing about it.

So, cheers, good luck, and I, for one, am very interested to see what happens next.

bint alshamsa said...

Teacher Dude,

I am furious that this happened to you. I have absolutely no respect for those who use their position to engage in bully tactics. Being a police officer does not excuse one from adhering to basic ethical principles.

As for those who say you should just forget about it, consider the source. There will always be cowards who are more interested in maintaining the status quo than in establishing justice. Stand up for your rights even if no one but us listens. At the very least, you may sleep better knowing that you did all you could to respond to the crimes that were committed against you.

bint alshamsa said...

JohnZ,

Since you feel "entitled" to express your opinion here, I'll assume the same with regards to your comment.

People generally don’t like having cameras stuck in their faces. It’s an invasion of their space.

Wrong. The space that he was in belonged to him too. Since they approached him, as well, he was no more getting in their face than they were getting in his.

Now, having miscalculated – and got a minor beating – you’re making a big song and dance about your own error of judgement.

Well, if it's so minor, why don't you go out and get one yourself? Even if engaging in a peaceful rally was an error of judgment (which is a ridiculous assertion, by the way), that doesn't excuse the fact that the police were abusing their authority by beating someone who was not posing a threat to them or anyone else.

Come on, don’t be so sanctimonious.

Perhaps you should take your own advice.

we also all know that if you rub a cop up the wrong way he’ll go for you.

We also know that cars can be dangerous. Does that mean we should just excuse it if someone hits us with one? The fact that some cops will "go for you" if you rub them the wrong way does not excuse their behavior. Even if they do it all the time, it's still wrong and they are still supposed to be held liable for such behavior.

Generally, I hope you get over your injuries soon, but don’t make a martyr of yourself – or allow all these silly feminine expressions of sympathy sway you into prolonging an unfortunate but not too serious situation.

"Silly feminine expressions of sympathy"? Boy do you have issues!! Standing up for one's rights is not "making a martyr of yourself". Listen, if you want to be a cop's bootlicker or fanboy, have at it. However, there's no reason why Teacher Dude should be the sort of coward that you apparently are.

Apologies if I come across as being harsh, but you and Devious Diva have put this story on your blogs, on a public forum, so I feel I’m entitled to express my opinion.

Wow, you certainly are clueless! A blog is not a "public forum". If you are allowed to comment, then it is only because the blogger has decided to do you a favor.

Furthermore, if you think that being in a public forum entitles you to express yourself, then your advice to Teacher Dud is full of shit because he was doing just that when the police attacked him.

Alex Case said...

I can't add anything to the people who have already responded, but would like to add my vote to the people saying that "shit/police beatings/ torture/ ethnic cleansing/ rape etc. etc. happens, get over it" is the most idiotic argument of all time. To boil it down to it's most basic level, people complain about being beaten up by the police happens all the time too, so why complain about that and not just get over it and stop complaining about them seeking justice if that is your philosophy??

TEFLtastic blog- "All the truth that's fit to teach"- www.tefl.net/alexcase

PS, sorry if I sounded a bit flippant with my last comment

mmjrules said...

Hey Teacherdude!

I read this post after being forwarded here by your CNN interview post.

I just wondered if the case is moving and what are the news after more than a year since your beating.

Hope you will tell us!

Anonymous said...

You are not the only photo journalist being attacked. If you check various web sites and blogs you'll find a few who are being pushed around by the police and having they're cameras taken. It's actually against the law but not many countries these days are holding to those laws. I love your work. I just discovered your photos these last two weeks. They are a lot better than anything I have seen on the "news". Keep it up and be careful.

Simon Baddeley said...

The law may be written down and until they learn otherwise most assume there's no difference between what is written and what is practised. Part of growing up is learning that laws are made and unmade by politics. What is written down is real in so far as it is tested, sustained or changed in the courts because people, on the basis if their experiences decide, if they have the spittle for it, to challenge what is written and what is practised against what is written. and in such wise some rewrite the law and others make its existing words stronger. The law said that street was as much yours as the police's and that one or more of them broke the rules about the nature of public space. But in the midst of public demonstrations public space (as during a traffic accident) becomes contested. the rules shift. In the case of urban riots or even the possibility of them it's best to treat the streets as more like the veldt - with different species skirting carefully around each other and events determined less by the law than by the disposition of strength and perceived threat. I would treat taking photos of the police in these circumstances as something to be approached like wild life photography. When approaching certain animals it is well to be wary. I am in my 60s. I've done some time in the streets, demonstrated in the heart of large crowds, sucked up some of the excitement of such events. I've also seen my wife falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and wrongfully imprisoned - the words used by the judge after three years of pursuing a "small cas" through the courts and obtaining the advocacy of a fine barrister. That long process took more courage than required to deal with the initial injustice meted out by a rogue police officer supported by his sergeant. I know police officers I'd trust with my life, one of them is my daughter. Good luck with your endeavours. The law comes to us as a given, but it is made by 'a few good men'. Something Tolstoy says "Every great idea is so simple. If evil men can come together to plot evil, good men can can come together to plot good. I'm not suggesting anything intended or supernatural, but it might be good to borrow from those who do have faith that life has a pattern and treat what has happened as a test. I would not wish what happened on my wife but since she won her case in court (£40K costs and £7.5K damages)I count myself fortunate to be her husband. I saw a principle made real and confirmed in the old drama - a verdict delivered by 12 of her peers in open court.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with user "john z". You ask for trouble, you get in trouble. And if you think that a British passport is a get-out-of-jail card, think again.

Ewan said...

Those cops shouldn't have attacked you, end of story. People shouldn't be able to use their so-called authority to get away with stuff like that. You can bet your camera that if two protestors had bodyslammed a riot cop and caused him the injuries you've suffered, they'd be arrested, charged with assault and found guilty. This is not right, I hope you are successful in pressing charges and that you recover soon. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Ναι ρε σεις, ο τοπικός σταθμάρχης των Άγγλών τις έφαγε και άρχισε να κλέγεται στο διαδίκτυο.