Riot Police officer speaks: They guided us into wrong

A.B (25), a riot police officer who was on site since the first day of GeziPark protests, says: “Instead of saying ‘Police is hostile! They attacked us”, one should question those who give the orders. We are upset with the authorities, we did not act wit our own decisions.”

What do you think happened in Gezi Park in the morning on Friday, May 31, 2013?

Since the park belonged to municipality land, it was not actually within our area of responsibility, But in social demonstrations, it is one of our tasks to ensure security of the groups. While we were waiting there protestors was rounding on us like “are you the gatekeepers of construction?” There were also those who were throwing stones to us, but it was within tolerable limits. Then we heard the news “Municipal police burned the tents”. While municipal police could have them leave by convincing them, the things came to this point. The intervention way was wrong and order was an order. The responsibility area of municipality police was tried to be left to the police.

At which point were you involved?

We were waiting as a group of 20 people. It was a total uncertainty. Our superiors told us “Do what you have to do” This is a very general saying. They left the police with its own destiny. OK, “Do what you have to do”… But what are we going to do? Since the order was not clear, it was so open to misuse and initiative.

Then you decided to throw tear gas upon this?

Nothing was said like “throw” or “don’t throw tear gas to the area of intervention”. We know when and under what conditions to use the tear gas. When those conditions occur, holding off is a critical situation. This was a result of the order “Do what you have to do”. We thought  that this was what we had to do.

Under what conditions is tear gas used?

When there is an attack against you or a group that you need to dispel pepper gas is a guaranteed method. Because in this way, you put a distance between the group and yourself. Reducing the distance helps you avoid a direct intervention. There happened a shambles.

You didn’t know that the protesters in the park were peaceful?

If we were informed accordingly before the task allocation, it might not have been this way. We come across with many different groups. We are told to do what we have to do without knowing who these groups are until we meet them.

Because they did not tell us why those people were there, they open the way to individual drives and mistakes. And this is due to the administrative structure of Riot Police and to the fact that officers are discounted. But this caused many situations… We saw what had been experienced afterwards but it was too late at that point. We took the park under protection. Then I was sent to Gümüşsuyu, but as that moment it was such a break-loose and we lost track of the day. We were only told “a group is coming, get ready”.  We were just running with our helmets and masks without even knowing where we were heading. I always wished it to come to an end so that we could all go home. I was on duty for 48 hours without sleeping. During breaks I slept on the banks in front of Beşiktaş ferry.

Is it normal to work for such a long time?

This is a torture for the public officer. There is a regulation for the working hours but some of the superiors see themselves above the laws. Although we should not work more than 40 hours a week, there are colleagues who have worked more than 100 hours at a time.

How does this situation affect your psychology?

This was one of the reasons that increased the severity of the intervention. I am on duty for 48 hours, tired, have not been to the toilet, could not have a meal; the effect of these is just like being drunk. I lose my ability of reasonable thinking and self-control. I cannot think who the person in front of me is or whether s/he is defending her/his democratic rights. Even if one tries to explain, you do not have the strength to listen. You are getting aggressive. It is impossible that this aggressiveness does not reflect on the citizens.

Even if it is so, was an intervention that harsh absolutely necessary?

It did not happen like “I will intervene so on my own will”. I received this order. There is a principle of proportionality in interventions. When the resistance intensified so did the intervention proportionally.

The reason that public reaction was so high was the tents burned down. We were upset with this too. System does not work like “Order received, so I will use all”. Here the problem was not a person who threw so much tear gas, but many people who threw tear gas at once.

Don’t you have a chance to reject the task at such a situation?

If we take the risk of sanctions such as discharge and interrogation, we reject. The logic is either obey or leave. If you say “I am not throwing tear gas” you face unbelievable pressure. You are excluded, relegated.

They can even make you commit suicide. Most people cannot take the chance to say “I am not going to do this”. We are reacting against by ourselves. After all, even if you say something nothing changes. One superior told me “If you don’t like this, go to the other side and throw stone!’.

How do you distinguish between extremes and innocent people in the area where you’re throwing tear gas?

We realized so late that 95% of the people there was innocent and 5% was extremes. Those who were attacking was that 5%, but everybody was affected by the intervention. Neither I nor my friends are happy with this. I have many friends who took part in the protests. My father calls me and yells like “You did this, you did that”. Politicians preferred putting the police in front of the people instead of going there and trying to build a dialogue.

There is a generation very angry with the police today. How do you think this will be improved?

If one wants to improve the public perception of the police then the organization itself should be improved. You can’t expect people, who are working extremely, cannot get their money, do not have a social life and whose psychology has been shattered look good to the citizens. As this mistake has occurred right after all others this image cannot be improved for a long time.

Life should be very difficult for you right now…

Police has never been appreciated during the history of TurkishRepublic anyway, but we don’t worry that citizens must appreciate us. We are only upset with the superiors on top of us. We did not act by ourselves. During this period, there was not even one single statement made by the Bu süreçte Chief Police Constable.

“Is police not a citizen? We are also citizens but even if we support the protests, once we put on that uniform we become the embodiment of government and have to hold this on mind at all times.

We only say “we wish this to be solved”.

Zeynep Bilgehan

16 June 2013


    This post is also available in: Turkish