We now have some more information on what happened during the UK Uncut protest on Saturday so this is an update post to gather more of it together. I will save the commentary for now in favour of presenting the data I have gathered.
We have some comments about the previous behaviour of Officer CW2440 on the 15th of January, from @johnnylil
Then some longer comments from @johnnylil, so I have strung them together for clarity.
“re CW2440 on jan 15th. Two protesters were trying to peacefully obstruct the entrance to topshop and police asked them to move as it was private property. Protesters requested to see deeds proving this, explaining that otherwise police could not accuse them of trespassing. CW2440 then pushed one of them violently so he fell into group of passerbys. Him or 2442 then later aggressively manhandled another protester for speaking up about his right. ALL VIOLENCE CAME FROM POLICE.”
“This is me this is about. This is not an accurate account of what happened. I was physically pulled up by one or more protesters trying to pull me away from the police, which hurt me. I don’t blame the police. Boots made up a ridiculous charge: I pushed leaflets through an open gap in the door! The police then had to do their job. Why did someone try to pull me away from the police? A ridiculous thing to do, which caused the trouble. I am sorry that anyone was injured trying to defend me, but I was not resisting arrest, and was treated fine by the police, so it was unneccessary and damaging. It was brilliant protest and I’m glad we got loads of coverage though :-)”
She later added:
“However, having now seen that video, I can confirm that the incident of the person being sprayed in that video is after I was pulled by the protester, when I had already been taken to the side alley by the police, and so that incident is not related to me attempted to be taken away from the police.”
For the sake of convenience I have gathered several videos here.
In yet another attack on our right to protest, police yesterday used incapacitant spray on peaceful protesters at Boots in Oxford Street, London. For an eyewitness account head over to F for Philistine where @dawnhfoster has written up what she saw, and includes some video. You can also read about events from @bc_tmh‘s point of view at Beyond Clicktivism. Since those two blogs have covered things much better than I could, I though that I would show you how events looked to those of us following them at home via Twitter. Reports for the first hour or two were of a successful protest, of people enjoying themselves, talking to people on the street and the police and shop staff being friendly but things went wrong just before 3pm.
13:45 @stavvers: Police being brilliant. Hugh Orde would be a very sad panda #ukuncut
14:48 @UKuncut: Staff at Boots friendly & good natured – laughing and joking with protesters #Ukuncut
14:55 @stavvers: Police arresting and pepper spraying protesters #ukuncut
14:56 @MissEllieMae: Police just pepper sprayed a load of us. We’re calling an ambulance for someone #ukuncut
14:58 @MissEllieMae: People are being dragged away by the police. There is no violence. An ambulance is on its way. This is shameful #ukuncut
15:01 @chris_coltrane: FUCK. Police arrested someone. We shouted “shame”. POLICE PEPPER-SPRAYED PROTESTERS IN THE FACE. #ukuncut http://yfrog.com/h74b9hej
15:03 @chris_coltrane: The girl was arrested for “criminal damage”. Guess what she did? She put leaflets through the door of Boots. #ukuncut
15:04 @UKuncut: 1 person has been arrested in Ldn for pushing a piece paper between a door. The police then pepper sprayed those that helped her #ukuncut
15:04 @chris_coltrane: A dozen people with bright red eyes recovering on the street. The police have taken a peaceful protest, and turned it violent. #ukuncut
15:04 @dawnhfoster: Holy fuck, they just pepper-sprayed a load of people. Waiting for the ambulance. I’m shaking. #UKUncut
15:04 @MissEllieMae: Sitting next to my friend who was pepper sprayed. There was no violence. #ukuncut
15:05 @MissEllieMae: Loads of police here now, everyone is very angry with their behaviour #ukuncut
15:10 @dawnhfoster: Boots have taken victims in to treat them. Chatting to manager, who thinks it was CS gas not pepper spray. #UKUncut
15:12 @stavvers: Ben’s Cookies are providing free milk for protesters who have been hid with pepper spray. Big thanks to them #ukuncut
15:19 @UKuncut: Boots helped to treat protesters affected by pepper spray. Seems even they are disgusted by police behaviour. #ukuncut
15:24 @dawnhfoster: Seriously, where’s the ambulance? #ukuncut
15:27 @UKuncut: Ambulance has arrived to help protesters attacked by police. We <3 the NHS! #ukuncut http://twitpic.com/3uvxt0
15:27 @bengoldacre: When I went on #Ukuncut it was a really strikingly peaceful protest. Interested in justification for police pepperspraying ppl in face.
15:28 @dawnhfoster Medics treating three guys in ambulance now. Hope they’re ok. Policeman confirms it was CS not pepper spray #UKUncut
21:50 @UKuncut: This slightly dislodged rubber is the ‘criminal damage’ which resulted in police hospitalising 3 people. http://yfrog.com/h5oapkrj
Interestingly, I also saw this from a Boots twitter account:
The account was deleted a short time later, along with another Boots account. There is some speculation that the accounts were either fake or were run by Boots staff without authorisation. It did cross my mind earlier that the account might be fake, and on looking back through its tweets I found what looked like a genuine but very unprofessional twitter account.
This video was taken in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Given that CS spray is supposed to be used just prior to restraining someone, and the victim must then be carefully monitored to ensure recovery, this video is fairly damning for the police.
More about CS spray
There was some confusion over what the police actually used on the protesters. Many people referred to Pepper Spray and others referred to CS Gas. What was used was actually CS Spray as confirmed in this Freedom Of Information request. [PDF] (A few police forces use PAVA spray instead.) A lot of people call it pepper spray even though it uses CS while pepper spray uses capsicum. CS spray contains the same active ingredient as CS gas, but dissolved in a solvent that can be sprayed instead of being a powder or being dispersed from a thermal grenade. CS Gas is actually banned for use in warfare according to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. It might be illegal to us it on enemy soldiers, but it seems to be acceptable for the police to use it on civilians. When I tweeted this fact earlier, people seemed very worked up about it. As I write this, it has been retweeted 95 times!
The guidelines are clear that CS spray is to be used only in defence to allow police to restrain someone who is a danger to others. From reading eye witness accounts it is obvious that the officer used the spray not to protect himself or others around him, but offensively when people did not do what he wanted. In 2000 the Police Complaints Authority carried out research in to how CS spray was being used by the police. They found that 38% of the time police were using the spray offensively, not defensively. I do not have any figures to know if this has changed ten years later but I would hope that it has. The guidelines state that “Tactical training in the use of the spray should emphasise precautions in relation to self / cross contamination.” Perhaps officer CW2440 hasn’t had that training, because not only did he incapacitate ten people and cause problems for several others nearby, he also managed to spray himself in the face.
The guidelines also talk at length about caring for the incapacitated person after they have been sprayed and says this is of “utmost importance.” Details of recovery times are given and the guidelines state that particular attention must be given to monitoring breathing. They go on to say “A medical practitioner should examine those who cannot open their eyes or whose eyes are actively running beyond the normal recovery period. The expected period is 20 minutes after exposure.” In actual fact we can see from the tweets that it took nearly half an hour for an ambulance to arrive in a city where bikes and cars are used in addition to ambulances to make sure that paramedics get to the scene within 8 minutes and usually even less time. Questions should be asked about why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive. Protesters called the ambulance, did police interference cause the delay?
The ACPO guidance also has this to say about the use of CS spray in situations like this.
“2.5.13 Such action on the part of an officer may have a profound impact on crowd dynamics with obvious implications for public safety and public order. The spraying of incapacitants in these circumstances may, particularly in the case of CS, lead to cross contamination causing panic or even hysteria. Similarly, the use of incapacitant spray, again primarily CS although PAVA in a more limited way, in crowded public areas may cause significant cross contamination and another use of force option may be more appropriate. The decision to use incapacitant spray against a person in these circumstances must be capable of subsequent justification and the closest scrutiny.”
From what witnesses and those involved have said to me I think it likely that the use of CS spray was simply the actions of one officer that acted alone, when he saw protesters trying to bar his way to prevent an arrest of someone that had merely posted a flier through a door. Perhaps he panicked, or perhaps he was just itching for an excuse to exercise some power. Hopefully there will be an enquiry into this incident. More worryingly though, witnesses reported that police wearing a different uniform arrived on the scene shortly after the spraying, and those officers were carrying handguns. I can’t see any justification for sending armed police out to what had been a completely peaceful and friendly protest before the police got involved.
The protesters that were arrested were drinking tea outside of Boots in Lewes. They were not preventing anyone from entering as far as I know, simply refusing to move away when ordered to. (Since writing this I have been told that people collecting prescriptions were all let through, others were discouraged but not stopped.) How the police issued their section 14 notice is not clear. The police officer in the video clearly used the line “You will be arrested in breach of conditions imposed under section 14 of the public order act. These officers will now arrest you.” Police action so far is legal, but as far as I am concerned it should not be in their power to order anyone to move in this situation.
Later in the video is a more incriminating moment. A protester is “de-arrested” by the police but only after having her details taken. Quoting the video:
“She’s been de-arrested. She’s provided her details and she’s been de-arrested. She’ll be out of the van in a couple of moments once my colleagues have got everything they need.”
De-arrest means that no central record is ever made of the arrest, only that in the notebook of the officer concerned. Requests for statistics on de-arrests have been rejected because of this. De-arrest is necessary in some situations but the context in which it is usually used now is to force people to give their name and address to the arresting officer, clearly in breach of the intent of the law. There is no legal obligation to give identifying information to the police unless arrested, so the police have established a routine of threatening to arrest people unless they give information, and if that does not work then they arrest the person, take their details, then de-arrest them. This means that the police now know the identity of the person, but have no record of the arrest. Not only that, but the information that they have unethically seized is not stored as an official police record and so is not subject to the same controls. For an example of the sort of thing that the police do with the information, see this Guardian story about spotter cards used by the police at protests, and this comment by Mark Thomas on the same.
In a previous situation similar to this, the police denied that there was even any database involved. I think it is clear that they are abusing the definition of database in order to avoid regulation of their data tracking. Extract from their reply to a complaint:
“The information obtained under section 50 is subsequently recorded electronically and weeded after seven years. The fact that your details have been recorded in such a way does not constitute any form of formal police record, and would not be disclosed externally.
This video footage and your personal details are not cross-referenced, and the database which you allude to does not exist.”
The police may be working within the law, but it is clear to me that that in the case of coercing protesters to give identity information and “de-arresting” they are abusing the intent of the law to keep records on people guilty of nothing except exercising their essential democratic right to protest, and in creating section 14 of the public order act MPs have given dangerous powers to the police that threaten our democracy.
Does a Section 14 or 12 notice have to be in writing?
A Section 14 or notice only has to be in writing where it is issued in advance by the chief constable of police. It does not have to be in writing when it is issued at the time of the assembly by the most senior officer present.
Section 14 – Public Assemblies
As with Section 12, the senior officer may impose conditions on public assemblies, which he considers are reasonably necessary to prevent serious public disorder etc. But unlike Section 12, the conditions he may reasonably impose are in this case limited to specifying:
a) the numbers of people who may take part,
b) the location of the assembly, and
c) its maximum duration.
I find it outrageous that the police have been given this power in law. I do not believe it should ever be in the police’s power to issue orders to people, only to investigate crime and to make arrests to facilitate the trial of those that commit crimes. There is an argument that they can inform people of the law so that they are aware of what is a crime and what isn’t, but giving them extra powers to order people around and making it a crime to disobey is yet another marker on the way to a police state. (There is also the issue of restraining people in the interests of public safety. Discussion about police powers is for another day, however.) There is a way to avoid being prosecuted under section 14, however. In this case, ignorance is an excuse. Since a protesters must be aware of a section 14 notice to be found to contravene it, simply do not take or read any leaflets from the police, and do not listen to any announcements that they may try to give. More info again:
Can I be arrested if I have not been told about the conditions?
It is an offence knowingly to fail to comply with one of the Section 12 or 14 conditions. So it would be a defence to say that you had no actual knowledge of the conditions – eg because you had not been told or, in the case of a notice issued by the chief constable, there was no written notice.
The police sometimes use a megaphone to issue a Section 14 notice at the scene of an assembly, Activists arrested for breach of Section 14 are often subsequently acquitted because they simply could not hear what the police were saying and therefore had no knowledge that a Section 14 notice was in existence.
I read in The Guardian today that Prospect Magazine (Subscribers only) had interviewed Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I remind you that the ACPO is a private for-profit company that seems to have a say in the way that we are policed, without being subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any democratic oversight. The interview was very revealing about police perception of social media as a method of organising protests and about their attitude to protesters’ rights.
Orde is of the opinion that “hyper kettling” (containment followed up by crushing the crowd) is acceptable even though it infringes on human rights. “I can understand the need for it, [It is done] for the greater good, and that’s the really complex part of policing.” On charging at protesters with horses, he commented that it is a “very useful, effective tactic.” Kettling is currently working its way through the court system after various victims of it launched legal challenges on human rights grounds.
Orde also equated protesting on private property with theft, demonstrating an amazing ability to confuse things in his head. Perhaps he is the one telling people that photography in public places is illegal too?
“Walking into Topshop with an intent to cause damage, [means] you’re actually a burglar. If you walk into Boots and do nothing then you are simply a trespasser and the role of the police is to stand by to prevent a breach of the peace.”
His statement implies that UK Uncut protesters intend to cause damage. As a senior policeman he will probably get away with such ludicrous defamation. I believe that he is wrong about the trespassing too. As shops are normally open to the public, it is my understanding that any member of the public is free to enter until such time as a representative of the shop asks that person to leave. It is trespassing if protesters have been asked to leave and refuse, but it is shocking that a high-ranking police officer does not understand the difference.
Where Orde’s understanding fails completely is on the nature of the current anti-cuts protests.
“It is not good enough to throw our hands up in the air and say ‘Oh, we can’t negotiate because there is no one to negotiate with. There are lots of people we can talk to, but they need to stand up and lead their people too. If they don’t, we must be clear that the people who wish to demonstrate won’t engage, communicate or share what they intend to do with us, and so our policing tactics will have to be different … slightly more extreme.”
This idiot has no right to tell any of the protesters that it is “not good enough” to have no leader. These people are not docile little sheep, and they don’t have to follow anyone to object to the government conducting a slash-and-burn campaign on our benefits and our public services. They do not have to follow a leader just because some policeman is out of his depth in dealing with the internet. If the police want to engage with protesters then they can easily talk to them through twitter and facebook. If protests can be organised through a consensus via social networks then there is no conceivable reason why the police can’t have their say on the same social networks. When I was talking to a friend about this interview earlier she said something which I think sums up nicely what the protesters think about the situation.
Anonymoosh said “The police find a way to engage , when they want to, this time they don’t, they want people to be too scared to demo. They only want to know what we are doing , so that they can plan to stop it, they don’t want to engage. They know full well when the meetings are, we arrange them on the net. The truth is , as a movement, we have no need of leaders, it’s the police that need us to, I don’t see why we should oblige.”
Does Orde really think that people are refusing to engage, or does he prefer to have a nice ready-made excuse to kettle the little people?
Apart from sounding like a drink, what else has changed? The answer is: not much.
People subject to a T-Pim (It’s Pimms O’clock!) must stay in their house overnight for eight to ten hours instead of the previous sixteen. They will now be allowed to stay somewhere else as long as they ask permission. The restrictions will be limited to two years at a time. The suspect must still wear an electronic tracking device and will not be allowed to travel abroad.
There is a little progress here but not enough. The government is still using fear as an excuse to keep a more authoritarian control of the people than it might otherwise get away with. The whole concept of a control order, where a person may have their freedom violated merely on a suspicion, is disgusting. It borders on creating thought crime and on abusing people based on who they associate with, two of the most vile concepts found in stories like Orwell’s 1984. It is fundamental to justice that the accused has a right to know the charges against them, so that they can defend against them. Ever since 11/09/2001 governments everywhere have adopted this tactic of power through fear of terrorism and we should not stand for it any more.
The words “Police State” are thrown about a lot. People often say that we live in a police state. Others, myself included, would say that we are certainly headed that way. But what do the words actually mean? Well here is what the dictionary says about it:
Police State: A political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures. (From the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)
So do we live in a police state? Lets look at some evidence. I made a long list of areas that the government, past and present, has been very authoritarian about. Some in particular stood out to me as indicative of a police state.
In addition to all the examples of government control of political life which I have already detailed, there are also the economic and social factors. Our government is very keen to change the way that the public behave through the use of tax. In particular they use this method on petrol and other fuels, on alcoholic drinks and cigarettes. They also plan to introduce a charge to couples that make use of the Child Support Agency when splitting up. Since there often is no choice but to go through the CSA this amounts to a tax on splitting up in the eyes of many and is seen as a government attempt to make people stay married. There has in the past been a married couples tax allowance which some see as doing a similar job. The government is also known to use Nudge Theory to try to change our behaviour. They also want to censor our internet connections by default to remove pornography. (Extreme pornography was made illegal in 2009.) Some of these things are specific to a Conservative government, but most of them apply to all governments that we have had.
When I wrote down this list I was staggered by the length of it. I had expected a few minor items, not this many. The examples on this list add up to our rights being systematically abused and removed for the benefit of those in power and those who chose to serve them, and to force on all a moral code accepted by only some. Surprisingly, in light of all that I have detailed here I do not think that we have a police state yet, but we do have a highly authoritarian legacy of laws from the last government and the current government does not look to be changing much of it.
So what does a full-blown police state actually look like if we don’t have one? Belarus is probably the most horrific example from recent months. When Lukashenko appeared to have won the last election the people were not happy. There were riots outside parliament. The police shot and beat up rioters. Then they arrested all of the opposition leaders and all the protesters. They tracked down people that were there by taking location information from the mobile phone networks. Even the children of opposition leaders were not safe and one child was taken away from family by the government. That is how bad a police state can get. More info: Link 1Link 2Link 3
We are not in a situation like that of Belarus, nor is it likely to happen any time soon. Nevertheless, we should be wary of this slow-but-increasing erosion of our rights and civil liberties. Through the last decade the public has been encouraged to be afraid of “terrorists” so that governments may pass whatever laws they want for their own convenience. This masks the cancellation, selling off and privatisation of our public services. It seems that many people in our society actually want this level of authoritarian control from their government and with the level of governmental and police control, we could very easily cross the line into a police state. We must stamp it out now before that happens.
This is just a quick mention; this blog now has a Facebook page of its own. It would make me really happy if you all went there and clicked Like. You get timely updates when I write something new, and I get the fuzzy warmth of knowing that people read my crazy ranting. I will no longer post announcements of new blog posts on my personal Facebook account. Please note that anyone is free to like the Facebook page, but I have a policy of only adding someone as a friend on Facebook if I know them in real life.
The words “Police State” are thrown about a lot. People often say that we live in a police state. Others, myself included, would say that we are certainly headed that way. But what do the words actually mean? Well here is what the dictionary says about it:
Police State:A political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures. (From the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)
So do we live in a police state? Lets look at some evidence. I made a long list of areas that the government, past and present, has been very authoritarian about. Some in particular stood out to me as indicative of a police state. Continue reading “Do we live in a police state?”
Big business and media companies frequently complain that piracy loses them vast amounts of revenue, a cry which all too often is swallowed up by the news media and wheeled out as headlines.
Copyright violation (call it by the proper name please) costs businesses nothing like the amount that they claim it does. So what if copying a game, film, song or piece of software gives nothing to the creator at that point? In the vast majority of cases the person that copied something was never going to give the publisher any money. They either would have gone for a cheaper alternative, or they would not have paid for anything at all.
This idea that a copyright holder is losing out comes as part of a larger sense of entitlement that seems only to be held by rich people. When they see something getting popular, making money or not, they think that they ought to be getting some money out of it. This happens even when they had nothing to do with it!
There is a very strong argument that people that copy things actually generate extra income for the copyright holders. People that download a lot of music and video tend to purchase more music and video than those that don’t. People that copy software often then recommend that other people get, and usually pay for, that software, or may use a copy at home but pay for a version for work. Photoshop is a common example of that. I’m sure Microsoft is quite happy when teenagers and students copy Windows and various development tools, because it means that they learn on those systems, and later go on to purchase and recommend those systems later in life. Microsoft has even been known to give away copies of these things to students at university in order to hook them.
Patent trolls are another example of this inflated sense of entitlement. There are companies that exist purely to gather up patents and copyrights purchased at low prices, wait until someone builds a business on principles affected by those patents but not say anything, then years down the line, suddenly threaten a lawsuit unless that business pays royalties on all of the affected products, past and future.
The concept of net neutrality is needed because of another example. Take the scenario of a person at home watching a Youtube video. The consumer pays Internet Service Provider, which we will call ISP A. The content provider pays ISP B. Both ISPs link in the middle. In the UK the link up is often at Telehouse in London. Currently, those two ISPs have an agreement to carry all traffic from each other because it balances out. But now, ISP A is demanding money from content provider to transfer information to consumer. If the content provider doesn’t pay, ISP A could slow down their traffic while speeding up that of another content provider that did pay, or worse, just dump their traffic. But hang on, the consumer has already paid their ISP to carry traffic from the content provider! ISP A is effectively taking bribes to sell out their customer.
With internet providers selling out their customers, big businesses using overly broad patents to kill innovation and small business, music copyright holders demanding extra money to use a song that you have already purchased on your MP3 player instead of a CD, and many other examples, be in no doubt that big business and its rich owners are not working in your interests.