Several hundred people gathered today in front of the Ministry of Health to protest against the Health and Social Care bill and what it will do to the NHS. During the course of the protest riot police intimidated and grabbed at protesters, held them against their will, and broke up the protest into small groups that petered out. This was suppression of protest, something that I have written about many times before. As yet the mainstream media outlets have been silent about the protest and about the policing of it. Read on for some images, videos and tweets from the day. For a detailed personal account with many pictures and videos please read This blog post by Cai Wingfield, and see the links at the end of this post for more.
Despite being completely peaceful, the protest received significant police attention within an hour. Large numbers of police vans arrived with Territorial Support Group (TSG – riot police) as well as armed police. The police surrounded the protesters, possibly with the intention of containing (kettling) them – that was certainly how it was perceived. The presence of armed police and being surrounded raised tensions among the protesters significantly.
Let me describe the atmosphere at this point, because in a second things get nasty. COMPLETELY peaceful. The crowd is sparse and moving at a fast walking pace. There is a little chanting but no aggro. The yellow-uniformed police are walking at the same pace of us, and have not (that I’ve heard) requested that we don’t march. The mood is very upbeat. People are smiling and laughing, happy to be doing something positive and perhaps get a little attention (there has been almost no media presence that we’ve seen, unless you count the Socialist Worker as media). The crowd is made up of people of all ages. There are young children and babies, medical students, young adults, up to middle-aged and some elderly people. There is a high proportion of people who have reduced mobility. I spot several people walking with sticks or crutches. I see someone in a wheelchair wearing a V mask, there with their V-masked family.
Now someone shouts something. I’m within a few people of the front of the march. Suddenly, to my right, tens of baseball cap-wearing cops stream out of concealment, running. They’ve obviously been waiting for us.
The mood of the crowd turns quickly to dismay. This is completely out of the blue. These new cops are highly organised and running quickly. They have helmets and truncheons on their belts. People are suddenly scared. There are shouts of “KETTLE! KETTLE!” and “RUN!” from those who see what’s about to happen. People start to run (including me). But it’s too late, they’re already blocking the way ahead of us.
Quote taken from personal account by Cai Wingfield.
Suddenly it’s clear something is happening. More shouting and running. A line of riot cops is forming ahead, their arms outstretched. Shouts of “KETTLE!” and “RUN!” again from the protesters. We start to run, searching for a break in the line or another way through. All around there is running and screaming, people don’t know what’s happening. I reach the first cops as they start to grab people. I think I see some people grabbed bodily and with serious force, but I don’t stop running. My arm is grasped at by a gloved hand, but I break free. Others are not so lucky, including some of those I’m at the demo with. The line is being held now, people are not being allowed to leave or enter the zone. I see passers by, elderly and disabled people kept inside the cordon. It’s about 4:14pm.
Quote taken from personal account by Cai Wingfield.
Note that the containment (“kettling”) is fairly loose; it is not the hyper-kettling favoured by the ACPO where crowds are surrounded and compressed and then held for hours as the police and horses closed in. It is people being held without charge and against their will all the same.
It seems that the police still don’t understand that modern protests are arranged through consensus and social media. They persistently try to find the leader, even though there isn’t one. (And then they often use the inability to negotiate with a leader as justification for escalating their tactics.)
The protest moved away despite being surrounded by police.
The police have not come out of this looking good.
Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group officer U1632 attacked an innocent and totally peaceful protestor, from behind, during a demonstration against NHS privatisation in London, today, 17 March 2012. U1632 ran up behind the young man and whacked him across the calves with a 2-foot long steel-core truncheon, causing his victim to collapse in agony on the pavement, before hauling him off to an unknown fate, out of sight, behind police lines.
Quote from Cop thug U1632 attacks NHS protest [indymedia]
I was there today. The van pulled up in front of me and three police got out with what I would identify as a machine gun but not knowing much about these things i@m not sure exactly what type of gun it was.
The protest was not at Parliament Square. It started at the dept. of health where the cenotaph is on whitehall. It moved out onto whitehall where we intended to stay, completely peacefully. A huge number of police started towards us from parliament and we broke and started moving up whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. The police were trying to kettle but the protest was keeping ahead of them. As I got to Trafalgar Square a red police van pulled up as described above.
They only stayed for a few minutes before getting back into the van but it seemed to me like they were trying to intimidate. I still can’t quite believe it. To see this at a peaceful protest in the uk is not in any way normal. I asked a police officer who was stood by the van what the reason for deployment was and he told me to ‘fucking jog on’
Some senior police I spoke to later suggested they were diplomatic police and the van was under threat but I can tell you that they came up, under no threat and made a show of getting out with the guns.
The protest had a very mixed turnout. Many older people there and a lot of disabled people. We weren’t a rabid mob threatening anyone.
Quote from voxxtrot posted at reddit
It appears that the armed police may have been at the protest by accident, having simply been close by at the time. It should be noted that the armed police were from the Diplomatic Protection Group, a part of the Metropolitan Police that guards diplomatic residencies in London. DPG officers are routinely armed when deployed. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to send armed police to a peaceful protest and it is not known why they were present.
The NHS demo and the failure to report [Personal account by Stavvers]
Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012 [Personal account by Cai Wingfield with lots of pictures and videos]
Some thoughts on machine guns, Nazis and who kettles the kettlers [soundfurynothing]
Photo set by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN [Demotix]
Photo set by Heard in London [Demotix]
There has been no coverage by any mainstream media as yet, but I will provide links here when I find any.