“I know who they are. You don’t need to.”
December 21, 2014 4:18 AM   Subscribe

I was surprised when I saw this photograph in a colour supplement a few days after the demonstration. It was captioned “A West End shopper argues with a protester”, but that’s not what happened at all: I was trying to calm him down. I wrote to tell them truth, and to my astonishment they published my letter.
The truth behind one of the more famous photos taken during the 1990 London Poll Tax Riot.

The Poll Tax was infamously what brought down Margaret Thatcher, a per adult flat rate tax that was the intended replacement for the old local government domestic rates, but much more regressive than those. First introduced in Scotland in 1989, against mass protest and mass refusal to comply with it. The introduction in England and Wales led again to mass protests, which culminated in the demonstration in Trafalgar Square in which some 200,000 people took part. This started peaceful until the police started attacking it.

Background information:

The Battle of Trafalgar documentary.
Libcom eyewitness accounts of the poll tax riot.
posted by MartinWisse (15 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this, and for the reminder that without context a photograph can be misleading and worse, can be manipulated to serve any purpose.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:23 AM on December 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

Thanks for posting. I was living in the UK at the time and vividly remember the opposition to this unfair tax. In fact I think I still owe HM Government a couple of hundred quid.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:26 AM on December 21, 2014

About a week later, two plainclothes policeman came to our house to discuss it, and to my eternal shame that’s where it ended. They implied I was being slightly hysterical and persuaded me that I didn’t want anyone to lose their job over the incident.

That's right, you don't want to take bread out of the mouths of children of fathers taking the air out of the lungs of protesters, do you?
posted by Spatch at 4:35 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I know who they are. You don't have to."

Putting cameras on policemen is putting cameras in the wrong place, facing the wrong way.
posted by cromagnon at 4:57 AM on December 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Interesting article, thanks. It's always interesting to see how protests are reported in the media; when I lived in London, my continuing impression when encountering large protests (against student fees, against austerity, Occupy) was that they were consistently much better attended, better organised and better behaved than the news would have you believe. Plus a constant trickle of stories like the one above, and photos like this one,* which sums up the pattern: an uncropped version of the image that became iconic for that protest shows that it's some guy on his own, consciously performing for a pack of reporters who are completely ignoring the large, peaceful crowd just a few feet away. Of course, while technically true, this reporting does a wonderful job of mischaracterising and discrediting entire large movements and the popular mood surrounding them.

*For the record, I don't buy into that page's implications that the photographed protester was an agent provocateur, or that the widespread use of that photo was deliberate conspiracy. The media's need to sell drama to a hungry audience is sufficient to explain it. Banality of evil, and all that.
posted by metaBugs at 5:00 AM on December 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

In a slightly more comical example of this - a friend of mine was the sole person arrested at the groundbreaking for the Barclay stadium here in Brooklyn; he was one of a team of protesters who were just standing outside the tent where the festivities were, making a lot of noise and trying to be generally a nuisance. They finally sent a cop out to tell them to disperse; my friend had a drum he was banging on, and he just stubbornly gave the drum another smack after the cop said that when they grabbed him.

The picture shows him with two cops cuffing, his hands behind his back, and he is shouting something. It looks like he's defiantly continuing to speak Truth To Power as he's being hauled off or whatever, but he told us that what he was really shouting at that moment was "SOMEBODY CALL MY GIRLFRIEND!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:45 AM on December 21, 2014 [19 favorites]

Strangely, the story is also presented in a misleading way: the woman in the photo is named Ros Sare, but the first-person account is bylined Abigail Radnor.

"That's me in the picture" looks like an interesting feature, though -- see links at bottom of the page for other accounts.
posted by beagle at 6:29 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, I ended up reading about a dozen "that's me in the picture" in a row - they're all great. Abigail Radnor is the interviewer.
posted by moonmilk at 6:57 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Every time I see that word, is a nod to its origin.
posted by Dashy at 7:03 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I remember that day very well. Violence was a foregone conclusion, and the police were absolutely up for it, as was the Thatcher government - just so they could say 'Look what happened - everyone who opposes the Poll Tax is an extremist nutter.'
posted by Monkeymoo at 7:18 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The police had also gotten very used to this kind of thing during the miners' strike.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:37 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing that gets me about the Poll tax picture is that the real story is way more interesting.
posted by shelleycat at 8:30 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

The title of this post didn't make sense til I read the story and dang, that is crazy. Since when does the public not need to know who the police are? Ugh. Very glad she wrote in tho. Very cool of her.
posted by sio42 at 9:07 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was the fire-engine-red-haired black-hoodie-wearing begasmasked protestor whose 5-second clip of being hauled away by cops in a cloud of teargas became the CNN standard shorthand for all coverage of the 2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City.

I was young and stupid and I spend 3 days in jail and was charged with Assaulting a Police Officer and Inciting a Riot (both charges were later dismissed). I've actually never seen the clip in question (I was in a prison cell while it was in rotation), but it is a very strange thing to get out of jail and come home and discover that you are the poster boy of public disgust with the black bloc.
posted by 256 at 2:28 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was there in the poll tax protest. What she wrote about is really how it happened. It was not a riot like they said in the papers, unless it was the police who rioted. They were on horses and they had batons. They struck people down as they were running away. A lot of us fled towards Covent Garden and mixed in with the tourists there, since we thought the police would not dare attack in front of them, but they came very close. I remember car windows being broken, but I am pretty sure it was the police doing at least some of that window breaking. "Can't Pay Won't Pay"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:53 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

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