A collection of videos from inside the 9th december protests

This is a small selection of videos from the protests on the 9th december in London. Most show police hitting unarmed protesters, in many cases unable to leave the area. Nearly all of these events were unreported in mainstream news media.

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Why can’t we trust the police?

Police officers are people, just like us. They are friends, parents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. I am sure that the great majority of police want to help and to serve. Here are just two examples of sympathetic police:

It was also clear from a number of conversations with officers that many of the frontline did not approve of this strategy either. Several told me they sympathised and blamed their senior officers. Source

As we left, subdued, a police officer (one of many) was saying ‘£40,000, that’s basically a mortgage, how is that fair?’. He looked me in the eye – ‘We’re with you’. Source

Given that, why is it that those people that are out on the streets protesting trust the police about as far as they can throw them?

During the protests on the 24th of November a great many people were contained or “kettled” by the police for the first time. Being in such a kettle is a hugely unpleasant experience, as you can see from these quotes:

On the other side of the square, myself and a large crowd remained huddled in the cold for seven hours, with no food, no water, no toilets, no access to medical attention and with minors unable to get home. For 15-year-olds in T-shirts, and older people (I saw at least two men in their late 60s and early 70s) this is no joke. Source

This is the most important part of a kettle, when it’s gone on for too long and you’re cold and frightened and just want to go home. Trap people in the open with no water or toilets or space to sit down and it takes a shockingly short time to reduce ordinary kids to a state of primitive physical need. This is savage enough when it’s done on a warm summer day to people who thought to bring blankets, food and first aid. It’s unspeakably cruel when it’s done on the coldest night of the year, in sub-zero temperatures, to minors, some of whom don’t even have a jumper on. Source

The main topic on every protesters mind yesterday was avoiding being kettled. Reports abound of phrases like “Don’t want to get kettled” and “don’t go that way, we’ll get kettled” and comments on twitter were frequently about avoiding places where the police were gathering in case of kettling. And that is the problem. Every time the crowd saw a line of police forming across a road, they assumed it was to kettle them. It doesn’t matter if the police were simply trying to direct the crowd along their preferred route, if the police gathered and formed a line, thoughts turned to kettling and the crowd moved in a different direction. The police have simply shattered any trust held in them by an entire generation.

Eventually, the police had blocked every available route and had formed barriers across the path where the protesters wanted to go. This is an unfortunate tactic, since in a crowd of twenty-five thousand people the people at the back don’t know that the people of the front can’t go on. The crowd kept moving forward regardless. As more people arrived the ones at the front were pushed up against the police lines. The police response to that is bizzarre to say the least; they start shouting at the protesters to “get back” and when they don’t move (they can’t) batons come out and the police start hitting the crowd. At this point it’s not relevant if the protesters wanted violence or not. They can’t go back, and the police in front of them are hitting them with heavy sticks. They get angry. The kettle boils.

I’m not saying there was no one there intent on violence. It was obvious that there were a couple of hundred people, at least, that went with face coverings and weapons and wanted a fight. Those were the ones later shown attacking the treasury building and hurling rocks at the police. I would have every sympathy with the police if they had targetted those people. What they actually did was beat protesters indiscriminately with batons, and charge them with horses. There were countless injuries, some extremely serious. Reports of injury are widespread online, but strangely absent on some TV news channels.

Some of the damage done by police

Dragged a wheelchair using protester from his chair, not once, but twice.
#dayx3 police dragged a man from his wheelchair in par sq 5 m... on Twitpic#dayx3 #demo2010 #ell wheelchair left empty on Twitpic

Hit someone that was trying to leave so hard that he suffered bleeding on the brain and required brain surgery.

Caused Guardian journalist Shiv Malik to require 5 stitches to his head, and refused to help him leave for medical attention.

Kicked a protester as he went down.

Announce that people could leave but then charged at them with horses and batons.

Held several thousand people on Westminster bridge until near midnight, all the while telling them that it was a temporary containment and wouldn’t last long. These were the people that had tried to leave as instructed.
Riots in Westminster! on Twitpic

I also find it galling that David Cameron announced on national television that protesters had dragged a police rider from his horse and beaten him. Here is a video clip from Sky news that shows that officer falling from his very frightened horse, then ending up under the horses hooves before being dragged to safety by his colleagues. No protester involvement.

Finally, even former Met police commander Brian Paddick said during an interview that containment did not appear to work and peaceful protesters were caught up by it and wound up themselves. Source: Channel 4 news.

If you want to be truly scared, think about this. On Radio 4 this morning the Met police commissioner praised the restraint of firearms officers for not opening fire at protesters that attacked the prince of wales’ car. Armed police are on our streets, and shooting people was a possibility. Source: Jack of kent

I would love to be able to trust the police. Unfortunately we have been given every reason to stay as far as possible from the police, and that is not an attitude that will change any time soon. It doesn’t matter if most of those police are good people. It doesn’t matter if some disagree with their orders. They have broken our trust in them. The protests against fees and cuts will continue, and I suspect they are going to be bloody.

The Twitter news frenzy

The news media has been telling people that recent protests have been organised via twitter. That was spot on, but their attempts at explaining how have not been so accurate. For the people that don’t know, here is my explanation.

Twitter lets its users post a public message (tweet) of 140 characters in length. Those messages are automatically seen by their followers. Anyone can follow any other Twitter user and their tweets will be displayed in their “Twitter stream.” A tweet can also be aimed at or mention a person by including their name prefixed with an @ symbol. For example “@latentexistence Hello Steve!”

In addition, tweets can contain a subject prefixed with a # (a hash) and that is called a hashtag. Clicking on a hashtag brings up a list of all the other tweets containing the same hashtag. In this way it is possible to see a stream of tweets on a given topic. The most popular hashtags at any one time are called Trending Topics. Twitter shows a list of these on the front page. Finally, if a person likes a tweet they can “retweet” it which will send it out to all of their followers.

While most tweets are just inane chatter, many complete rubbish, a tweet that contains concise, well-written information, a link, a picture or a video, and that has the right hashtag is likely to be retweeted by a good percentage of people that see it. In turn it can be retweeted by their followers too. There are some people that have much more influence than others often because of the speed of their information or the quality of presentation, and these people tend to have more followers than average, and achieve far more retweets then others.

When a good tweet with a hashtag appears,  it can be retweeted over and over again because the tweet appears in the search for a given hashtag. Someone sees it, likes it and retweets it. Since the retweet also has the hashtag, the tweet appears in the twitter stream again and the whole process repeats. A really popular tweet can appear over and over again for hours.

This whole process goes in to overdrive when it comes to protests. It starts with getting the people there. Many people in search of a protest to attend ask about it on twitter. They are usually directed to the relevant hashtag such as #dayx3 or #ukuncut, and from there to the relevant website or facebook event. On the day of the protests, people start tweeting with those hashtags and anyone watching will see a steady stream of people announcing that they are on their way and how they have prepared.

Later on as the protests start people that are their take photos, videos, and send them to twitter along with their observations, in 140 character form. Other people watching at home will then retweet a lot of it to their followers and of course with the appropriate hashtag. That loop of tweet – hashtag – retweet becomes the main driver of the important information. In many cases people at the protest are sending out information about where they are, where they are going and what the police are doing is picked up by other protesters and acted upon.

During yesterdays protests the police announced that protesters were free to leave the crowd if they left via Whitehall. This information was given to the crowd through loud hailers, but also announced by the police via twitter. It was of course picked up by many people watching and retweeted. Unfortunately for the people that trusted the police and wanted to leave, they were met with batons and charging horses. Word quickly spread through twitter that in fact many people could not leave.

There are dangers to this system though, as I myself found last night. A photo was taken some time before midnight, of the thousands kettled on Westminster bridge. That photo was sent out on twitter with the message that although the police were still holding those people in freezing conditions, without toilet facilities or food and water, the tv news channels were completely ignoring it. The message was of course retweeted. Unfortunately there was no timestamp on anything, and so the message was also retweeted at about 12:45, by which point the protesters had been allowed to leave. I commented on the cruelty and legality of this containment at 12:50, and my own comment was picked up and started to be retweeted in that feedback loop of hashtags, eventually reaching 34 retweets and a cascade of other comments. Some time later although I commented that we had no up to date information, people were still convinced that the crowd was being held and it was only when someone tweeted that they had been able to cross the bridge that twitter calmed down and believed that the kettle was over.

Twitter is a wonderful tool for coordination through crowdsourcing, an incredibly fast way of getting news hours before the BBC or Sky news catches up, and fantastic for sharing information. It’s downfall is the way in which information is given too much trust, and fact checking is poor, sometimes even on my part.

A leaderless fight

Police yesterday said that the protests deviated from the “arranged route.” This fact was used as a reason to kettle several thousand protesters in various parts of London, particularly for six or more hours on Westminster bridge.

The problem is, their claim is rubbish.

The recent protests have not been any one group, but hundreds of groups in towns and cities all over the UK. Those groups are organised through Facebook groups and events, through conversation on twitter, through email, text message and word of mouth. The action of any “leaders” extend as far as sending out a message as to time and place, and maybe creating a facebook event. Decisions such as which direction to march in have been made spontaneously in reaction to actions by the police and informed by information shared between protesters and people at home via Twitter.

I am sure that the police did speak to someone claiming to be in charge and they probably did arrange a route with them, but whoever it was had no say in what most of the protesters did yesterday, because these protests have no leader. Or perhaps they have hundreds.

Serious questions for people that vote conservative

I would be very interested in what conservative voters think on these questions. I know some good people that are conservative, and I am struggling to understand the thinking.
  1. What do you think are society’s obligations to the poor, the sick and the disadvantaged?
  2. Do you think that current cuts will impact the above? If yes, is it unavoidable? If no, why not?
  3. At what point is the cut off point beyond which a person should not get any help?
  4. Do you believe that state has any role in this help, or should it all be personal generosity?
  5. What do you think should happen if personal generosity does not cover required help?

Anyone that does not feel comfortable answering in a comment is welcome to contact me by email if you know my address or via the contact page shown on the top right.

The right to protest, even if it’s inconvenient

This is a quote from a conversation I had today. I hope the other participant will forgive me for reproducing it here.

“Although the right to protest is enshrined in law, the money spent policing these demos will have to be found somewhere and as there is only a finite amount of money someone somewhere will suffer…having to find money to police protests will affect the poorest.”

I had to stop to think about it. It’s true, of course, to a certain extent. Protests on the scale of those against the tuition fee increases will be attended by the police, and like most of our public services, they are extremely inefficient and will run up a horrendous bill in the process.

Whose fault is that though? That the police see it as their job to be present at every protest in vast numbers is not the fault of the protesters. Oh, they will argue that they must be present in case there is any violence but many protesters will argue back – quite convincingly – that it is the police that aggravate the situation and often directly cause problems.

What about the result of finding that money? Assuming that the police aren’t simply left to find the money from within their existing budgets, the current government will have no qualms about taking the money by cutting public services and benefits. To be honest, they’re going to do that anyway because, well, I don’t know what the thinking is there. My MP told me yesterday “Well I guess I won’t persuade you, but I see something completely different, with the vulnerable protected.” I can only conclude that conservatives see different things to what liberals and socialists see.

So will protesting cost money? Yes. But it will cost more than it should because the police seem to feel that it is their job to clamp down on protests.

Will that money come from public services that affect the poor? Absolutely. But that money would be taken away anyway.

Should this stop anyone from protesting? HELL NO! The right to protest is absolute and we cannot have a democracy without it. These protests against tuition fees, tax avoiders and government cuts are making a difference! MP’s have resigned, have changed their minds, have gone in to a panic over this. Keep protesting. Your country needs you.

Protests? What protests?

If you have been anywhere near twitter today, you can’t have failed to notice that there have been a few little protests going on.

Actually, not so little. These protests were nationwide. There was chaos in Oxford Street, the busiest shopping street in London, on a busy weekend shortly before Christmas. Protesters blocked access to some very large shops, all owned by Philip Green, who carried out a review of government spending and procurement at the request of David Cameron. Green runs Arcadia group but the shares are actually in his wifes name, and since she lives in Monaco, all £1.2 billion in dividends has been tax free. Shouts of “Pay your tax!” are quite hard to argue with.

In Brighton some people got inside the window display at Top Shop and super glued themselves to the window. Police also held a large group of people outside the shop for several hours. Protesters were eventually allowed to leave on the condition that they gave all their details to the police, something that is completely illegal for the police to demand.

The most bizarre thing about the day was the astonishing lack of coverage on television news. After a couple of hours without mention a campaign started on twitter to phone the BBC to complain. The staff on the other end of the phone were friendly and sympathetic. They had quite a few calls about the subject and knew exactly what I was talking about. There was a short report on BBC News at 13:46. And that was it. No other mention at all. Sky news has not even mentioned it once. The revolution apparently won’t be televised. But it will be tweeted.

—Edit: The BBC played the same footage at 18:16. Apparently shutting down parts of the busiest shopping street on one of the busiest shopping days of the year is not news worthy. Thank you very much to channel 4 news, who opened with this story and spent several minutes on it. —-

The BBC News TV report – all 23 seconds of it

Here are some links to find out more about the protests.

Channel 4 news

BBC News website

The Daily Mail – a strangely un-critical report!

The Guardian

UK Uncut, the organisers

Some more footage

F.I.T. keeping track of protesters

#UKUncut on Twitter

Nothing to hide? I pity you.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

If there is anything that you need to fear, then that famous statement is it. Everyone has something to hide. For a start, people want to hide financial and security information. Their bank balance, salary and passwords. People want to hide embarrasing things about themselves, such as personality traits, sexual preferences (and not just gay or straight) and their body. People want to hide little habits that are perfectly innocuous but make sense only to themselves. People want to hide their hidden insecurities, their weaknesses and their flaws. People want to hide secrets that have been told to them in confidence. How often have you asked someone “Can you keep a secret?”

People want to hide things just because it’s none of anyone else’s business.

Think about passing through an airport. The security guard picks you to search. How do you feel as he goes through your bag? As he touches your toiletries, handles your underwear, looks through the book you are reading. Do you feel happy? Comfortable? Or, more likely, slightly embarrassed and resigned to it happening? Worse, you might be selected for a pat-down, or if you’re in America and really unlucky, one of the new TSA open-handed pat-downs.

The truth is, we have everything to hide. Take the aftermath of the case of Paul Chambers and his famous tweet about an airport. Now that it has been found ‘menacing’ by a judge, I catch myself thinking every time I write anything, could this be misinterpreted? Could some bureaucrat see this and decide to question me on it? My friends and I have little joke conversations about taking over the world. About blowing things up. About getting revenge of some kind. And that’s all they are. Jokes. But now there is the risk that I will have to explain those conversations to some government official that just doesn’t get it. It’s not their fault, their mind is just not on the same wavelength as me and my friends, but the result could be that they decide we really are planning to install an evil overlord with a white fluffy cat and sharks with frikken laser beams and hold the world to ransom until they promise to stop being stupid. And that, I really don’t want to have to explain to the police. (Clever me, putting all this on a blog post, eh?)

The famous “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is insidious. It opens the way for gentle intrusions in to our privacy in the name of protecting us from the bad people. But it leaves us at the top of a treacherous slope and the climb back is not easy. Once we give away our right to privacy we live in a different world, once every bit as bad as any totalitarian state that you might have read about or seen in films.

Police vs protesters Benny Hill style!

Just in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet, here is the video I made after the 30th November student fees / anti-cuts protests.  My sister and I fell of our chairs laughing after seeing this live on TV, and I just had to add Benny Hill music to it.

I was going to make a more complex video with more footage, people going the other way and more cutting between police and protesters, but I have been told that it is good that it is as simple as it is. Just as well, because I am not very good at video editing.