The police are under pressure. Just as the antics of a few anarchists, or drunken sons of ageing rockers, or whoever, can taint the cause of student protesters, so the minority of cops who crack under the pressure and get violent during a protest when it isn't warranted stain the good name of the rest of them.
It's simple to take sides when you have a situation as we do at the moment in this country - a lot of angry people on one side, and the police on the other, with riot shields and batons. But though I have many sympathies with those who are protesting right now, I can't put the police on 'the other side'. For me, the truth is the police are us. Not necessarily protesters like us, but people who are going to suffer, like us, under the impending age of austerity - with forced retirements, cutbacks and recruitment freezes likely to make life even harder. It's students now, it will be police soon. We're all going to suffer. In a sense, the people on both sides of protest violence are angry with the wrong people when they fight each other - there are others, looking on from comfortable offices and green leather benches, who are getting away with this.
When you read about the idea of police possibly banning future marches, it at first seems like a draconian clampdown. But I can't help wondering if, rather than us turning into China or any state you care to think of where dissent isn't tolerated, this is a complaint about the price of policing - this kind of suggestion is a position during ongoing negotiations in a time of radical cutbacks. If the Government does want to cut back on policing, then it must cut back, too, on the services police provide, such as ensuring peaceful protests take place for everyone involved, and innocent passers-by. If that can't be guaranteed, the Government may ultimately get the blame. Want to cut back on police? You might end up cutting back on the right to protest - and that won't go down well.
There's another price of policing, too. When you read stories about innocent cops being seriously injured simply going about their daily job, it brings home the realities of life in a much-maligned uniform. I know there have been a lot of errors in the recent protests, and there are doubtless individuals who have stepped well out of line - and yes, at times, the media backs them more than it would the ordinary protesters - but in my opinion most police are just the same as any other hard-pressed public sector worker facing up to an uncertain future, with perhaps more added risks to their personal safety than most. When you read about cops being 'on the sick' in your thundering daily paper you might want to think of some of the reasons why, including the stress of the job, and the impact it can have.
It's easy to take sides, but as I've said before, it's perhaps a little too easy. The police are not the enemy. A lot of people are angry right now about what the future holds, police and civilians alike. The real enemies are not those behind the riot shields, but those who hide a long way behind them, peering through windows and sitting in comfortable offices, the millionaires who are sending many of us - and them - to the knacker's yard. Policing has a price which has to be paid, in every sense.