In the last few days there have been a number of news stories about how the police intend to respond to riots this summer. It seems that the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are suddenly convinced that there are going to be riots, and they plan to respond quite harshly.
The Express announced on the 5th of May with a headling of “Water cannons on standby for summer riots” that the Home Office and the Met Police were holding talks about allowing the police to buy water cannon “in case disorder arises from protests planned for London before the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.”
Then on the 9th and 10th of May The Independent and The Telegraph published a story about the Home Office testing a “Discriminating Irritant Projectile” – a cartridge that is fired from a baton gun instead of “rubber bullets” that sprays CS gas or tear gas when it hits. This is the kind of weapon that we have seen being used against people in awful footage from repressive regimes like Egypt.
The BBC has reported that “An entire prison block at Maghaberry jail in Northern Ireland has been set aside to house protesters convicted of disorder at the G8 summit.” In the same article the NI justice minister told the BBC that they were also changing the law to allow people to be tried in places other than the usual court rooms so as to speed up dealing with people arrested at the summit.
Preparing for potential protests at the G8 summit does seem sensible, but the scale of this preparation is questionable. The acquisition of water cannon and new CS gas bullets by the Met is a whole new step in the war on the public. Combined with the massive jump in the use of Tasers by police (and non-firearms police at that) this is a very nasty shift against the safety of the public and against the right to protest. What jumps out to me about all these stories is that police and government have sought out the press to make a point of talking about the measures.
It is hard to tell what the intention of the government is by talking about all of this in public. It is likely that the intention is to intimidate people into staying away from the G8 summit and other protests. I wonder though, if by talking about riots as a certainty they want to provoke a protest so that they can brutally suppress it.
The announcement about preparations of jail cells and extra court capacity seems like an act of intimidation towards those people who intend to peacefully protest at the G8 summit – perhaps they are worried that a whole new segment of society will be protesting for the Enough Food For Everyone campaign. The announcements of water cannon and other measures with specific mention of protests in London preceding the G8 summit are even worse. Whatever they are scared of, these announcements are likely to put people off from exercising their right to protest, just as previous police violence has prevented thousands of people from protesting against welfare cuts and NHS privatisation over the last two years. I think that talk of these measures in the right-wing press like The Express and The Telegraph is designed to both intimidate potential protesters and to scare the readers of those papers into voting the Tories in again at the next election as “the party of law and order”. It’s a tried and tested formula for the Tories – when in doubt get violent towards the downtrodden and tell the scared electorate that you will protect them.