Violence and mass arrest at Critical Mass

Hundreds of cyclists were arrested on Friday night after trying to take part in a Critical Mass event. Critical Mass takes place every month and has been going for eighteen years however on this occasion police clamped down heavily to prevent the cyclists from taking the intended route and the evening ended in serious violence and mass arrest.

In the first few seconds of this video British Transport Police Officer 4125 is shown grappling with a man in a Shopmobility scooter, and then aiming something at him. (Probably CS spray.) The man shouts several times “I am disabled” but is ignored. A police medic can be seen trying to wrestle him away and prevent him from using it. Further in at 1:06 he can be seen and heard striking someone with a baton.

Trying to use spray
Trying to use spray
Baton strike - the rebound
Baton strike – the rebound

The person who uploaded the video has written this account:

27th July 2012 19:30pm In the early stages of the Monthly Critical mass Bike ride a British Transport Police Officer PepperSprayed a Disabled Man in a shoprider who had been apparently hit by a car along with several others. During the melee as the officer is pulling out the pepper spray , A fellow Female police medic attempts to stop the action, but is struck back and the officer sprays the Disabled man and most of us in the crowd, not satisfied, he then whips out his telescopic truncheon and trys to apply a wrist lock / neck Lock on the Disabled man using the truncheon. Eventually a real Police officer arrives with 3 vans and about 50 Backups. The disabled man is arrested and the British Transport Cop is led away by some other officers. 27th July 2012.

From earlier in the evening:

https://twitter.com/IzzyKoksal/status/228908475969830912

FIT recording Critical Mass
FIT recording Critical Mass. Photo by @IzzyKoksal

https://twitter.com/hrsyofgrmnghst/status/228909745216561154

https://twitter.com/ThereziaCooper/status/228912127216345088

https://twitter.com/BrixtonHatter/status/228912357668159488

https://twitter.com/IzzyKoksal/status/228961930855981056

View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics
View from inside @MetPoliceEvents kettle of #criticalmass. Photo by @OurOlympics

 

#criticalmass arrest buses
#criticalmass arrest buses – Photo by @indyrikki

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229005065602600961

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229005296079622144

https://twitter.com/aaronjohnpeters/status/229010072796291072

Update

Here is the event shown in the video above from a different angle.

Bail conditions imposed on those arrested:

Bail Conditions on Critical Mass

https://twitter.com/JasonNParkinson/status/229136354758520833

News Coverage

Russia Today: Mass arrests as London police attack ‘Critical Mass’ cycle ride during Olympic ceremony

BBC: Arrests made at mass bike ride on Olympic Ceremony night

ITV: Protesting cyclists ‘detained’ (Lots of pictures)

Guardian: Critical Mass cyclists arrested near Olympic Stadium

More Information

Critical Mass London

Wikipedia: Critical_Mass

Guardian: Critical Mass police ban blocked by law lords – 2008  article. Critical Mass ruled lawful and attempts by the police to ban it were overturned.

Public Communications Networks and Menacing Messages

This morning Paul Chambers won his #TwitterJokeTrial appeal and was acquitted of sending a menacing tweet under the communications act 2003. Paul had been found guilty of sending by a public electronic communication network a message of a “menacing character” contrary to s.127(1)(a) and (3) of the Communications Act 2003. The tweet in question read as follows:

“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

For those who haven’t been following the case, Paul’s solicitor, David Allen Green, has written the background for New Statesman.

The High Court overturned the conviction on the basis that the tweet was not menacing, however the judge found that twitter IS a public communications network and is therefore subject to the communications act 2003. While I celebrate the decision of the court I disagree in part with their reasoning.

A key part of the original defence was that Twitter was not a public communications network, because a tweet read outside of the context of being a follower of the tweeter is content rather than a message.  I think this point was perhaps misunderstood by all sides. I would not argue that Twitter is not a public communications network, but that Twitter is both a public communications network and something more. Tweets that are not aimed at any one individual are a different usage which requires different treatment to that specified in the Communications Act 2003 and the original 1935 act that it was based on.

Paragraph 25 of the judgement says:

25. In our judgment, whether one reads the “tweet” at a time when it was read as “content” rather than “message”, at the time when it was posted it was indeed “a message” sent by an electronic communications service for the purposes of s.127(1). Accordingly “Twitter” falls within its ambit.

A tweet addressed to to one or more people with an @ mention is a message to those people. However, a tweet which is not addressed to anyone can be expected to be read by some or all followers of the person who makes the tweet. In general it would not be seen by those outside of this group unless either the tweet is “retweeted” – copied to the followers of one of the readers – or someone has searched through twitter for key words like “Robin Hood Airport” as happened in this case. The outsider had to make an effort to find it through search or by looking at the person’s profile. This is more like speaking in a group in a pub – what you say is meant for the group but others could stand nearby and listen too.

I believe that it is important that the difference in context between these types of tweets should be understood by the legal system. People frequently make jokey threats and statements, but there is a vast difference between making such a comment in the context of a group, and in aiming said comment as a message at the person or organisation who is the subject of those threats. Had Paul Chambers tweeted his statement directly to Robin Hood Airport then it would clearly have been a threat, but he did not do that. Instead he tweeted it to his followers who presumably would laugh or commiserate or both.

As to why it is important that people can joke around with ideas like bomb threats and suchlike, these tweets from Edwina Currie are a good demonstration. If Paul Chambers’ conviction had been upheld then Currie would be guilty of the same offence.

https://twitter.com/Edwina_Currie/status/218437050255413248

https://twitter.com/Edwina_Currie/status/215860912253440003

For now the important thing to note from the case is that as of this ruling, anything that you type on social networks will be subject to the Communications Act 2003 and anything considered menacing could be a criminal offence.

Further Reading

The appeal judgement in full [PDF]

Twitter joke trial: Paul Chambers wins high court challenge to conviction [Guardian]

Edwina Currie’s Comedy Connections [Storify]

Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

Hugh Robertson MP, minister for sport, has a message for you.  Here it is:

“If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.”

He said protesters targeting the Games will be “letting down” Britain.

Mr Robertson said the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in English law but added: “If people get involved in illegal activity we expect the police to crack down straight away. This is an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain and the last thing I want is that ruined by Occupy London protests or anything like that.”

Does this sound a little bit… familiar? Fear of informants among family, friends and neighbours is a characteristic of most totalitarian regimes. When the state is so authoritarian that everyone is guilty of some crime or another, everyone must fear being reported by everyone else, perhaps in return for some government favour or some hope of immunity. I note that Mr Robertson implies that any dissent, any protest should be reported, not just illegal behaviour.

General clampdown on protest

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at what happened at the last big event. Prior to the royal wedding last year the police arrested people pre-emptively, people who only wished to protest in a perfectly legitimate way. Some of them merely had signs expressing their objection to the public spectacle. I suggest you read my blog post on this, The suppression of dissent. Protesters have often been intimidated by police in the past, and it has been happening a lot recently too. A protest in November last year was heavily intimidated in the days before with talk of rubber bullets and water cannon, and with letters sent to warn people away. In the end it wasn’t as bad as that, but the police effectively silenced the protest and kept it out of sight.

Protesters have routinely been kettled, including “hyper-kettling” and beaten with batons. Alfie Meadows was injured so badly by a police baton that he needed emergency brain surgery, yet he was charged with violent disorder instead of the police officer that did that to him. The Met deny responsibility even when innocent bystanders are unlawfully killed (murdered) such as in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Kettling has recently been found legal, although hyper-kettling was not considered in that judgement. We have seen armed police at protests recently. Austerity is causing massive dissent. NHS cuts, service cuts and closures, welfare cuts have all been controversial and provoked protest. Despite all this, most protests go unreported by the press unless there is violence.

I would expect peaceful protest around the Olympic games; something of that expense and magnitude and with so much corruption will of course be a focus of unhappiness from those who see what is happening. I think that it is highly likely that we will see pre-emptive arrests before the Olympic games, and in all likelihood it will be worse than those at the royal wedding. I seriously doubt that the police will care whether or not a planned protest was going to be peaceful and obedient or was going to break the law. In fact the last government already made arrangements to make even peaceful protest, a vital right, illegal around the Olympics.

More Information: How protest is being outlawed [New Statesman] From kettles to courtrooms: The police crackdown on protest [Red Pepper]

Olympic Security

It is the security operation around the games themselves that worry me though. The Met police have been acquiring new toys recently. Water cannon are still a possibility, but these CBRN barriers will certainly be used.

CBRN barrier

CBRN barrier - rear

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear. That’s right, the police are so scared about rebellion that they are using steel cordons designed for use around nuclear accidents and incidents of a similar level. Pretty intimidating, don’t you think? They have also acquired these nifty watchtowers:

#operationtrafalgar #totalpolicing on Twitpic No running, no heavy petting, no bombing. on Twitpic

These towers will be dotted around London so that the police can make sure that you are being watched, and that you know it. Lest you forget, though, we are being offered some Olympic merchandise to remind us about everything. Here’s Olympic mascot Wenlock in his police uniform:

Wenlock in police uniform, Photo by Dan Hancox
Olympic mascot Wenlock in police uniform - Photo by Dan Hancox

More information: Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures [Games Monitor]

Absurd security around the Olympics

Even with all the security equipment the government are obviously scared of dissent. During the games there will be 13,500 troops deployed as security staff, in addition to an unknown number of police officers. MI5 has recalled 3,500 agents and cancelled holidays around the games. HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames estuary with Royal Marines on board, and HMS Bulwark will be present for events around Weymouth. There will be Surface to Air Missiles around London ready to bring down any threatening aircraft. There will be an SAS unit nearby. So that these can all be deployed quickly to quash any naughtiness, 290 CCTV cameras have been moved from Birmingham to London.

More details: Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London [Guardian]

Draconian clampdown on Olympic terms and symbols

Just what is and isn’t allowed has also been tightened up. The last government introduced a law to make all the changes for the games. The no marketing right protocol says that businesses are forbidden to associate activity with the Olympic Games. No Olympic Rings can be used in any signs or displays, the phrase “London 2012” is protected and enforced, and you can’t use “2012” either because the enforcement got a bit over-zealous. First we have the case of Cafe Olympic, a fairly generic name and innocuous enough, you would have thought. The name had to be changed. A butcher in Weymouth had to remove display of Olympic rings and the number 2012 made from sausages.

Section 22 of the Olympics Act 2006 gives police power to enter private property including homes where they believe that an advert referring to the Olympics is either being displayed or created, and to seize materials. Although intended to prevent businesses from associating themselves with the Olympics, it equally applies to political posters or banners made in protest. Questions have been asked about that: The law and the Olympics [BBC] Police powers for 2012 Olympics alarm critics [Guardian]

Surveillance state

In a slightly bizarre move it seems that border control at our airports and ports have access to information on people involved in the Olympics – even torch bearers. When Bryony Gordon was stopped on entry to the UK she was questioned on what she was doing at the Olympics – who knows why – because the person checking her could see that she is going to be a torch bearer.

All of this security clampdown is really just the last straw. I have already written about how the Olympics are full of corruption, taken over by corporate involvement, hugely expensive (Possibly as much as £24 billion in reality) and has many more problems. See my previous blog post, Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread. Even the BBC published an article with 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics which I recommend that you read.

I wouldn’t object to an Olympic games that focussed on the sport and the athletes. These Olympic games, though, are an expensive, corrupt, authoritarian farce. Are you sure that they are worth the price?

 

Free speech isn’t just for you

Jeremy Clarkson has upset people. Nothing new there. Commenting on the strikes on November the 30th, he said:

“I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.”

Later (not in the clip below) he said: “‘I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading. It’s always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst. You just think, why have we stopped because we’ve hit somebody? What’s the point of stopping? It won’t make them better.”

 

So here’s what I think of what he said. First of all, it is clear to me that the comment about shooting people is not his serious opinion. It is hyperbole. This is just how Clarkson is, he says stupid things that he doesn’t mean to make some people laugh and make other people outraged. To me, it’s not funny, to some unpleasant people, it is. His comment about “gilt-edged pensions” is plain wrong. Public sector pensions are not gilt-edged, gold-plated or any other phrase that implies that they provide enough to live on.

1.11 The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated.’ The average pension paid to pensioner members is around £7,800 per year, while the median payment is around £5,600.

From Page 26 of the Hutton Report [PDF]

Clarkson is also a hypocrite for calling pensions gilt-edged and claiming that “the rest of us have to work for a living.” I don’t know what his pension is like, but he definitely earns above the average wage – including approximately £1 million per year from the BBC. And I am fairly sure that he doesn’t work as hard as the average teacher, nurse or other public sector worker. As for his comments about people who fall under trains inconveniencing him, that just shows how detached and insensitive he is.

Last week another example of offensive speech made the news. A woman on a tram let out a tirade of racist speech, argument and abuse, and it was all captured on video. That video caused enough outrage to be viewed over 7.5 million times on YouTube. Since that incident the woman has been arrested and charged with racially/religiously aggravated intentional harassment.

Following his comments, Unison said today that they are considering reporting Clarkson to the police for hate speech. What Clarkson said was offensive and vile in my opinion but for all that I disagree with him, I cannot agree with those who say that he should be prosecuted or sued for what he said. I believe that freedom to say what we want is absolutely essential. Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights give us the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – to think what we want. Article 10 gives us the right to Freedom of Expression – to say what we want. Those are rights. They are not supposed to be negotiable; we must be allowed to think whatever we want and to speak our opinions. People who say things that are popular don’t need those rights enshrined in law because nobody will try to stop them from speaking. It is people who say things that are not popular that need the protection of those rights. And it isn’t just the freedom to say something hurtful or hateful, it is also the freedom to criticise those in power and to protest against government policy. It is very hard if not impossible to clamp down on any expression without providing excuses to clamp down on all expression.

That isn’t to say that there is no way to avoid what people say. We don’t have a right not to be offended by what someone says, but we do have a right not to listen. If offensive comments are left on a private blog or website, I see no reason why they can’t be removed. That’s not censorship, that is refusing to listen. The person who left the comments is free to get their own blog to say what they want. In the case of the woman on the tram, I think if she is found guilty of harassment then that is probably fair – but that is not for what she said but for who she said it to and how she said it. I think it would have been quite reasonable for the driver to ask her to leave the vehicle so that the other passengers did not need to be exposed to what she was saying. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson many people don’t want to hear what he says and don’t want to pay him to say it. I think it is fair for people who pay the BBC license fee to demand that the BBC not pay those fees to Clarkson as a salary for saying offensive things, and quite fair for the BBC to sack him. I don’t think that will happen though. I certainly don’t think that he should be prosecuted for hate speech. I’m also not saying that such offensive speech cannot be opposed. I think it is right to speak out against such opinions and there is nothing to stop other people criticising what was said. It is common for campaigns by the BNP and rallies by the EDL to be opposed by counter-protests by people who feel that they cannot let such political views go unopposed.

Where is the line as to what people can say, then? I agree that there must be a line. I think this because at some point a person using their right to say what they want can cross into abusing other people’s rights. In the case of freedom of speech I do not think that the line should be drawn to prevent offence, but should be drawn at the point where it becomes a threat to other people. I think the charge of harassment for the racist lady on the tram is probably the right charge. I would have disagreed with the charge if it had been hate speech.

This is a difficult problem though. A few months ago Kaliya Franklin (Bendy Girl) had comments left on her YouTube videos that advocated that she be killed because she is disabled. The comments were threatening and a horrible experience for her, and she reported them to the police. I don’t doubt that the comments were a crime under the rules about hate speech. The question is, should they be? I wouldn’t want to allow such comments but at the same time I believe that people should be free to think such things if they are that nasty. I don’t have an answer to this problem.

In the end I think the laws that we have on hate speech are unnecessary. When hate speech becomes threats or harassment it is covered by other laws.

 

Links

My Tram Experience [YouTube]

Jeremy Clarkson: ‘execute’ public sector workers, says BBC Top Gear host [Telegraph]

Sack Jeremy Clarkson over strike comments, Unison urges [BBC]

How rich is controversial Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson? [This is money]

Speed limits and risk

I like to follow the MotoGP. MotoGP involves riding incredibly powerful motorbikes around a track at extremely high speeds in very precise racing lines in close proximity to other bikes. It takes a hell of a lot of skill and no small amount of luck. Sometimes it goes wrong, as in the recent accident when Marco Simoncelli died following a collision during the race.

Is racing fun? Definitely. Is it dangerous? Hell yes! Why, then, do they do it?

Simple. Because they want to.

Step back now and look at the roads that we drive on every day. They are definitely not to be compared to a racetrack, and yet they are still dangerous. In 2008 in the UK there were 228,000 injuries in road traffic accidents. Of those, 26,000 were serious injuries, 2,538 died, and the remaining 202,333 were minor injuries. In air travel, globally there were 884 people killed in 2008 in 156 accidents. I couldn’t find statistics for injuries compared to deaths, but I’m assuming that nearly all aircraft accidents are fatal. (Statistics from Wikipedia, links below.)

Most people are aware of the risks, but nearly everyone will sill travel by road and by air. I think that is for two reasons. Firstly, the actual chances of an individual being in an accident are pretty small. Secondly, we make a trade off – we all take risks everyday, either for convenience or for fun. Those risks extend to most aspects of life, and yet I think road safety is subject to far more campaigning and legislation than most things. I think making the roads safer for us all is very important and I am grateful for all the additions that help with that – seatbelts, airbags, ABS brakes, MOTs, and thousands of other improvements. I think that the campaigning goes too far though. For one thing, I think that the effect of speed on accident rates is exaggerated by safety campaigners. When there are accidents that could have been avoided I believe that the problem is usually not speed, but other failings of the driver like following other vehicles too closely, not concentrating on the road or looking before manoeuvring, or misjudging weather conditions. Safety campaigners argue that the national speed limit should not be raised from 70mph to 80mph because it would cause more accidents, but would it really? I suspect that actually it will make no difference and I think that unless the speed limit were reduced down to 30 or 40mph then the severity of accidents wouldn’t change either.

We should not forget that when motorways were first introduced they had no speed limit. There were many accidents, however those accidents for the most part were not caused by inability to control a car at speed, but the inability of the cars to maintain those speeds without falling apart or exploding. Cars then were rickety, had few safety features, and many unsafe design decisions, and their engines and parts could not deal with high speed travel without overheating or wearing out. In addition cars in much poorer condition were allowed on the road. Modern safety features and MOT checks have changed all that and cars are far safer and more capable now and so I believe the 70mph speed limit to no longer be necessary.

Numbers killed on British Roads 1920 - 2010
Numbers killed on British Roads 1920 - 2010 and relevant changes

Many bikers are increasingly worried about new and proposed regulations affecting motorbikes and especially regulations coming from the EU. Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) and other groups have even staged protests against many of these laws which would mandate taking away absolute control of the throttle and ban home maintenance or making changes to parts of the bike, among other things. There are even some who are calling for an outright ban on motorbikes.

I believe this to be absurd, and not just because I ride a motorbike myself. When riding, people again make a choice between risk and convenience or enjoyment. These rules would remove that choice from people. A great many people ride motorbikes for enjoyment, but most also ride motorbikes because bikes and scooters are the cheapest and simplest way for many people to get around. These changes would destroy that advantage and make motorbikes costly and complex.

I think the arguments against raising speed limits for safety reasons are null and void. If the rise is unsafe, and if motorbikes are unsafe, then so are cars. Where does it end? The only logical conclusion is to ban road travel. And then ban kitchen knives and hot cooker hobs. And ban lawnmowers. And… well, you can see where I am going. We always take some risks just to get on with our lives, and we make choices about the amount of risk and the trade-off made.

Finally, I should point out that many people are against a speed limit increase for environmental reasons. That’s fine, but you should note that it is a separate issue from speed, and that it also rules out speed increases that are more environmentally friendly. If an electric car were charged by wind-power, why shouldn’t it travel at 80mph?

And so I’m in favour of increasing the speed limit. Actually, I’m in favour of abolishing speed limits on motorways altogether. It works for Germany.

All of the above is my own opinion and is changeable subject to rational arguments or actual research and statistics.

Links

Reported_Road_Casualties_Great_Britain [Wikipedia]

Aviation_accidents_and_incidents [Wikipedia]

EU Hands Off Biking! [MAG]

Ban motorcycles, safety expert says [Telegraph]

The end of home servicing? [MCN]

Poppies, police and protest

The messages shown here were all sent out to the public through twitter today by the Metropolitan Police. All I will add to them is this:

Protest is a right stemming from freedom of speech, assembly and association. The Met are suppressing it. People do not have a right not to see anything upsetting. And most of all, human rights exist in part not to protect the popular opinions, but to protect those that are hated by society and are at risk from them.

https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134927822333542400
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134928477819371521
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134933010033291264
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134939558814035968
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134940638813753344
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134975106672902146
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/134975543916494849
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/135020192702009344
https://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice/status/135021436120207361

Silencing protest

The right to protest is an important part of our democracy. Since we have a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy, (We elect MPs to make decisions for us rather than voting on every issue)  it is even more important to have the right to inform our MPs that we disagree with what they are doing and push for change to their policies. We get to vote for a representative every four or five years but we must be able to influence their policies in between elections, and sometimes writing a letter or meeting an MP is not enough. The government recognises the right to protest, and even says so on the DirectGov website:
The right to peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy, and it has a long, distinguished history in the UK.
Although protest stretches far back in to history, the right to protest is not explicitly stated in law. Instead, it is protected by the rights recognised in the human rights act. Specifically:
• Right to Peaceful Assembly – Article 11
• Right to Freedom of Expression – Article 10
• Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – Article 9
• Right to respect for private and family life – Article 8
(List taken from The Liberty Guide To Human Rights.)
The authorities recognise the right to protest and always claim to facilitate it, but they always include and emphasise the word “peaceful” in that phrase. Of course the laws against vandalism, violence, and other behaviour remain in place during protest so in some ways the word peaceful is redundant. The reason that word is included is to provide an excuse for curtailing the protest as soon as it is perceived to be disobedient.
March against tuition fees and education cuts, from the front
A protest march from the front - but where are the protesters?

In protests in London today (09/11/2011) the police controlled the march in a number of ways.

  • Prohibited protesters from leaving the route of the march.
  • Prohibited protesters from entering certain streets.
  • Prohibited protesters from assembling for more than two hours at the end of the march.
  • Stopped and search coaches on their way to the protest, delaying some beyond the start.
  • Overwhelming numbers of police who were intimidating to protesters.
  • Surrounded the march on all sides, making it impossible to see the protesters.
  • Forcibly removed protesters and their tents from Trafalgar Square.
  • Stopped and searched people at random.
  • Demanded that people remove face coverings. (Why? So they can build a database of protesters?)
  • Snatched certain people out of the crowd and removed them from the protest.
  • Had undercover police in the crowd.
  • Held protesters in place for some time at the end with no information on why or how to leave.
  • Frequently blocked the protester’s way and held them up.
  • Intimidation of would-be protesters with talk of baton rounds and warning letters as I wrote about in my last blog post.

The first three items on this list are courtesy of section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986. The more I find out about this legislation, the more I realise how draconian and evil it is. It does not seem to add anything worth having to existing laws, instead giving the police the ability to control and bully people. Section 12 allows police to tell people where they can and can’t go, and how long they can be there. Section 14 actually allows the police to order people to stay in one place, to restrict the numbers that can protest, and tell them to go home. Section 60 allows the police to stop and search whoever they like, without reason. Section 60AA allows them to order people to remove any clothing that might conceal their identity. This includes scarves, even if it is freezing cold. And for what purpose? The police would get a persons identity if they arrested them for a crime so the only reason to reveal it can be to gather details of who is protesting. Again, treating protest as a crime.

I will give some credit to the police; there was, as far as I know, no prolonged containment and no batons used. The march seemed (from my perspective via TV and Twitter) to be largely peaceful. This may in part be to the sheer numbers of police on the streets though. I know that some people would criticise the police if they did not have so many officers out but I believe this quantity of police to be overwhelming and intimidating. I have said before and will say again that if the police simply left people alone then that would remove the cause of most of the violence at previous protests. Yes, there might have been some vandalism, however police should target vandals if and when they do something wrong.

Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides said “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” If this is applied to protest, it is better to let a hundred vandals go free than to stamp on the right to protest of ten thousand. Police should leave protesters alone and stop trying to control them.

Further reading

Police leaflet given out to protesters (PDF)

Police notice under Section 12(3) Public Order Act 1986 (PDF)

BBC: Thousands march in student protest over university fees

Channel 4 news: Police out in force for student protests

 

The fragility of social networks

What would happen if we suddenly lost access to Twitter? This could happen for any number of reasons, either with activists accounts being shut down, or with Twitter itself going offline or being blocked by government.

A friend of mine is worried that if she lost her Twitter account then she would lose contact with the few thousand people that follow her and she has enquired about backing up the names of those followers. There are tools that are able to download and save the names of contacts from Twitter but there is a problem; if the only identifier that you have for someone is their Twitter name, that may not be enough to find them in a post-twitter world. They could easily have used a different name everywhere else even if you knew what service they had moved to.

So how would the anti-cuts movement cope with the loss of Twitter? I suspect that while many people could still stay in touch, whole networks would become fragmented and information would not flow nearly as quickly. Many people that do not use Facebook and perhaps do not use the relevant web pages would be unable to get information from their usual contacts through twitter. They may well eventually find out what they need to know, but it would take much longer.

I do not think that there has been a problem so far with Twitter accounts; I am only aware of spammers being evicted from Twitter, although inevitably there will be some other examples. I think that this will change and it is quite likely to follow the example set by Facebook.

Facebook is not your friend. Facebook is a privately owned business which encourages you to post updates and share information so that it can profit from you. As a private business, Facebook has no obligation to honour the principles of free speech or to provide a service. Facebook can remove pages for any reason it likes. Sometimes it removes pages because they contain discussion of illegal actions or if enough people report the page for containing spam or offensive content. Pages have been removed in the past because of fake copyright claims. The default action in this situation is to remove pages now and ask questions later. Pages could also be removed purely because staff at Facebook don’t like them and being a private company, they don’t have to have a reason. Last week Facebook removed more than fifty anti-cuts and protest related pages without warning. The removal of these pages meant that these groups of people were suddenly fractured and the lists of members and interested people were lost. This is not the first time that protest-related pages have been removed and previous removals have caused massive inconvenience to both organisers and followers. A partial list of affected pages is available here.  http://anticutsspace.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/political-facebook-groups-deleted-on-royal-wedding-day/

Clearly, then, we cannot trust Facebook when organising events, especially if the event might make them nervous or if they fear legal action for facilitating it. I think the same applies or will soon apply to Twitter, and to services such as Livejournal, WordPress, Blogger and others. Even websites are not safe. Websites are hosted by a provider and that provider can be subjected to pressure from lawyers or law enforcement agencies, and when that happens they usually cave in to pressure and pull the website. The safest option is likely to be a privately owned server in a small datacentre but not many can afford that.

Ultimately, my advice is do not trust Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network or service that serves as a point of contact. If there is a person that you wish to stay in touch with even after losing access to these networks, I suggest making sure that you have at least two different methods of contacting them apart from social media. Email and phone number are probably best. Ideally we should organise a phone tree or an email tree as a backup within our protest movements, or perhaps a combination of both.

Further reading

Facebook shoots first, ignores questions later; account lock-out attack works

Stop the facebookpurge!

Political Facebook Groups Deleted On Royal Wedding Day

 

The suppression of dissent

Yes, I know I am writing yet more about the police and how much they have done wrong. It’s become something of a theme with me recently, but please, at least look through this article. In the run up to the royal wedding the police made a number of arrests for various different stated reasons. Many of these people were held until the wedding was over and then released without charge.

1) On the morning of the day before the wedding police raided five squats in and around London. They claimed that one of the raids was with a warrant to search for stolen goods. The claimed reasons for the others is not known. These raids were carried out by the Territorial Support Group, (TSG) – known as the riot police to you and me – and not by the usual police. The police claim that these raids were nothing to do with the royal wedding, however the simultaneous raids on five difference groups the day before the wedding is not what you would expect if that were the case. Many people were arrested, and only released after the royal wedding. Some of the squatters were environmental activists and / or anti-cuts, but there were no plans to disrupt the royal wedding. More information at Indymedia.

2) Police arrested a street theatre group who were planning to stage a mock beheading of Prince Andrew in London to mark the royal wedding. They were arrested on the 28th of April as they were about to drive their props in to central London. Their props were seized by the police. Equipment belonging to a Channel 4 film crew was also seized. You can read more on this at the Guardian.

[This post has several embedded videos which will not show up if you are reading on the Kindle]

3) Charlie Vietch from political activist group the Love Police was arrested on allegations of “conspiracy to cause public nuisance in relation to the royal wedding” and on suspicion of aggravated trespass at Fortnum and Mason during the 26th of March protests. He was held for 24 hours, 8 of those without anyone being told his location, and denied a phone call, before being released without charge after the wedding was over. As I understand it, he had no intention of disrupting the wedding.

4) A group of protesters, some in fancy dress, were standing in the park singing “We all live in a fascist regime.” Two or three heavy-built men in hoodies suddenly snatched away one of the protesters without warning and with only one shout of “Police.” People attempting to intervene were threatened and pushed by one of the men before any police identification was shown.

5) A crying teenager was arrested by the police because he was carrying a pen, which they said meant he had the potential to cause criminal damage.

6) A group of people dressed as zombies and intending to have a fun day out in London were arrested for potential breach of the peace and again released without charge later that day.

7) A man who was carrying a sign that read “Democracy not monarchy” was arrested on leaving his train in London. He wasn’t even planning to attend the royal wedding, but a “Not the royal wedding” party elsewhere in London. He was detained until after the wedding and released without charge.

In addition to all of this, many activists that have come into contact with the police in weeks leading up to the royal wedding were banned from City of London until after the wedding. These are not people that have been found guilty of any crime at this point in time.

There has been a variety of different charges thrown around by police in these various arrests. While there has been a mention of searching for stolen goods, most arrests have been for “potential breach of the peace” or for “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.” It strikes me that these are a catch-all, that can be used whenever a policeman wants to use them. They certainly allow for a person to be arrested for merely thinking about something, and that is not right. We appear to have two problems, namely that people are being arrested for actions that are not illegal using these catch-all terms, and that people are being arrested merely for intending to do these things, and in quite a lot of these examples, the intent has been a figment of the police’s imagination.

I know that there is still no comparison with some countries where political opposition disappears without trace and where protesters are shot, but this is a real threat to our rights and freedoms and it is here and now in our own country. When the police can and do hold people for hours or days because they have been told to prevent some opinions from showing, we have a huge problem. In the video above showing Charlie Veitch’s arrest, the arresting officer asserts again and again that there must be some reason, some evidence in order for the arrest warrant to be issued and for him to be sent to perform the arrest. He is just following orders, in the blind trust that his superior officers have made the right decision based on evidence and due process. But what happens when they have made a decision based on political pressure? Is that pressure even explicit, or was it simply something that senior police felt that they must do? Is this a “Make it happen” scenario where the people at the top don’t bother themselves about how it happens?

I have struggled to write my thoughts on all of this. Quite honestly, it was so depressing going through all of these stories that I can barely handle writing about it.  This is not China. This is not Iran. This is the UK. Where you can be arrested and held without charge, without a lawyer, without a phone call, simply for showing that you do not conform to the desired prototype or that you disagree. Where you can be snatched away by unidentified thugs. Many previous arrests and treatment of protesters by police can only be explained as political policing, and I can see no other explanation of the events mentioned here. I will be writing to my MP to demand an investigation into this and I hope that you will all do the same.

Here is a comment that a friend left on Facebook…

“While I wouldn’t say “there’s nothing wrong with that”, I was quite glad that the TV advert for UK tourism – sorry, the wedding – was beamed around the world without protesters or banners visible on-camera. A one day in 30 year event.”

…and a question: was it worth it? Really?

Peaceful occupation and arrest – An account of #ukuncut on #march26 by @magiczebras

@magiczebrasThis guest post is an account of UK Uncut’s actions on March the 26th by @magiczebras

 

Only a handful of people knew where we were heading on Saturday, I personally had no clue where we were going. Just before 3.30pm I was simply handed a card with a red dot on, a sign that I should follow the red umbrellas several people were holding. Once we arrived in Fortnum & Mason we spread out across the shop, and the vibe was pretty jubilant – I’d had doubts we’d make it and I suspect I wasn’t the only one, if you were in London you’ll know the day was quite crazy.

After about half an hour people started to settle, the majority of us on the ground floor. I talked to people I knew on twitter and sat around talking with my friend, who left at around 5 to get her train. People did drift out but the majority stayed. The police hadn’t asked us to leave and we were peaceful. A few people may have wanted to cause damage but were quickly talked out of it by members of UKuncut, we didn’t want to harm our reputation for being a peaceful protest group. I’m so proud of all my fellow members, we were all exceedingly careful not to break things and received thanks from police officers for tidying around before we left.

At around 6pm it was democratically decided we leave, so we all linked arms tight after being told we could leave peacefully together. We were kettled immediately. There was a lot of confusion, at first we thought they’d let us go in dribs and drabs, then we were told we’d be arrested. I was put onto a coach with 17 others and we drove around London until it was discovered Islington had 15 free cells and Camden had 2. I was first out, requiring medical attention because I had low salts. Everything was taken from me, I was stripped to my underwear, given clothes, put on constant watch because, due to anxiety, I kept absent mindedly clawing my arms and I slept when I got to my cell, still being watched. I was woken at 2am to see my appropriate adult, get my DNA taken and see a doctor (5 hours after I’d started requiring one). He gave me a sleeping pill and got them to feed me.

I slept more, was woken with breakfast which I threw up on my clothes – I didn’t have time to get to the toilet. They couldn’t give me clothes or a blanket so I lay in my underwear and slept more. My mother arrived sometime later, her nerves fraught and I waited to be charged. I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, they’d let us go, but obviously they didn’t. I was charged with aggravated trespass, made to promise I wouldn’t kill myself, or hold them accountable if I attempted, given my bag back (they retained my mobile, iPod and clothes as evidence) and we left. I’m in court on Monday, 12th April at 9.30am, where I will be tried. Looks like I’ll be joining to Armchair Army for the forseeable future.