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.

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?

 

Heavy handed police threaten NHS protest

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.

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181040095707672576

Video taken by Kate Belgrave

"Outside the department of health!" - photo by @thinktyler
"Outside the department of health!" - photo by @thinktyler
"protest in Whitehall" - photo by @COPDdoc
"protest in Whitehall" - photo by @COPDdoc

 

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.

https://twitter.com/#!/WailQ/status/181048809189679104

Armed police at Save the NHS protest - photo by @heardinlondon
Armed police at Save the NHS protest - photo by @heardinlondon
Armed police officer at NHS rally - photo by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN
Armed police officer at NHS rally - photo by MELPRESSMEN MELPRESSMEN
Armed police leaving NHS rally - picture by @WailQ
Armed police leaving NHS rally - photo by @WailQ

https://twitter.com/#!/Brixtonite/status/181040965920886785

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181046914572226560

https://twitter.com/#!/chris_coltrane/status/181047579600097280

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.

Riot police appear suddenly - photo by Cai Wingfield
Riot police appear suddenly - photo by Cai Wingfield
Police kettling the protesters - photo by Cai Wingfield
Police kettling the protesters - photo by Cai Wingfield

Video 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.)

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181041462295789570

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181041678721892352

 

The protest moved away despite being surrounded by police.

https://twitter.com/#!/hangbitch/status/181048011328196608

https://twitter.com/#!/MediocreDave/status/181048591966674944

https://twitter.com/#!/piombo/status/181049537429905409

https://twitter.com/#!/directreaction/status/181050507840860160

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181052438780985345

 

The police have not come out of this looking good.

Video taken by Kate Belgrave

https://twitter.com/#!/LosTheSkald/status/181045205229780992

https://twitter.com/#!/Ade_on_drums/status/181056068716208128

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181052526882332672

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181059824249876480

https://twitter.com/#!/JoshAJHall/status/181060643674267648

https://twitter.com/#!/JoshAJHall/status/181063903575408641

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181058210319433728

https://twitter.com/#!/HeardinLondon/status/181058624251113474

https://twitter.com/#!/Beckiebroccoli/status/181067934825844736

 

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

 

 

 

https://twitter.com/#!/stavvers/status/181068695160897537

 

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.

https://twitter.com/#!/_gmh_/status/181091702361169920

 

More:

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]

Twitter timeline and photos – Storifed by @DrNoCuts [Storify]

Blog and videos by Kate Belgrave – Save our NHS demonstration London 17 March 2012 [katebelgrave.com]

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.

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

 

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.

Police increase their chilling effect on protest

There is a big march of protest coming up on the 26th of March, March for the alternative. It has been called by the TUC, but will be attended by many other groups opposed to our governments ideological choice of deficit reduction through savage cuts.

This march is looking to have at least two hundred thousand people attend, hopefully more. I encourage everyone reading this to go along. The less-mobile are well catered for too with special gathering points and a shorter route if required. You can even hire a scooter for the day.

There is an aspect that I am unhappy about though, and that is the way that the march is being policed. The guardian explains in its article Police prepare for more kettling at cuts protest.

First of all we learn that the police have designated a “Containment manager.” On the face of it, this is a positive move to make sure that the police are doing everything correctly. But actually, it’s a scary move. It shows that they expect to use containment (kettling)  at these protests. Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens is quoted as saying “Containment is only used where there had been violence or where there is imminent violence.” Is there anyone left that believes this line? Containment has been used on too many occasions in recent months, in inappropriate conditions, adults and children alike, and even on people that were obeying orders to leave. (The Westminster Bridge kettle, 9th December 2010) It has certainly not been used as a last resort unless the police had no other plans at all!

We also learn that the police are providing training to 2,800 TUC stewards on how to defuse conflicts to delay getting the police involved, and how cope with sit-down protests. Defusing conflict is a useful skill, but I am confused who they expect to use this skill on. Do they think protester will be fighting protester? Or are they expecting to defuse conflicts between protester and police? Because if a police officer is ordering someone to move, kettling someone, shoving someone away from a picket line or hitting someone with a baton, I’m fairly sure that neither protester nor police officer will be inclined to listen to a TUC steward.

As for coping with sit-down protests, what do they mean by cope? If the TUC aims to prevent such things from happening, I expect a lot of unhappy people. If trying to protest and make a point without being violent, sitting down and linking arms with others so as to avoid being moved is just about the only option left. The police seem to think they have a right to order protesters to move, and so it seem, do the stewards.

The police have also announced that they will once again hand out leaflets to “inform people of the official march route.” As we have seen before, deviating from the official route is seen as reason to introduce kettling. But why? The leaders that agreed the route do not speak for everyone. Many protesters do not want to simply march from A to B, or follow the route that they are ordered to. They may well want to spend time in an area where certain politicians are more likely to see them. What right have the police and the TUC got to order people to follow their route? What right have stewards, who have no power, got to tell people what to do?

The police have taken a small positive step in that the TUC and Liberty will both have representatives in the MET central operations room and Liberty will observe the event. Remember though, that policing at previous protests was considered flawed enough that there was an inquiry by a parliamentary joint committee on human rights. In the face of this, Hugh Orde, chief of the ACPO, wants to see “more extreme” policing, and Lynne Owens, assistant commissioner of the Met, promises to act “more robustly.” CS spray has been used at protests twice now. Section 14 notices have been used to arrest people that refuse to leave. The police have introduced “hyper kettling” where they actually reduce the space available to protesters until the are crammed so tightly that they cannot breathe. Their moves are authoritarian, continuing the chilling effect that policing is having on our right to protest. I have heard from many people who say that they will not go to protests and certainly will not take children, because of the actions of the police. If that isn’t a chilling effect, I don’t know what is.

Given that trouble mostly seems to flare up when the police make contact with the protesters, here’s my suggestion to them. Stay away. Don’t go near the protests unless there is some actual violence or vandalism that you need to address, and even then, go away again.

Try it. It might just work.

Related Articles

Threats of more extreme policing prove that they still don’t get it

Section 14: Police try to order you around

The right to protest, even if it’s inconvenient

Related Links

March for the alternative

Police prepare for more kettling at cuts protest

Threats of more extreme policing prove that they still don’t get it

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.

Behind the police line

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?

Do we live in a police state? (Short version)

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.


A poster used in London in 2002

Social and economic interference

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 1 Link 2 Link 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 article is also available in a longer version.

The mystery van part 2

Following the completely unexpected popularity of my blog post about the van at the 24/11/2010 London protests, I need to clear up a few points.

I think these things are clear. I saw the sequence of events on live TV and it could be verified if anyone can get hold of a recording.

  • The police started blocking the route several minutes before the van arrived.
  • The van was driven in to the back of the crowd, (relatively thin at this point) pushing protesters out of the way. Some got angry at being driven in to or made to jump away, and pushed or hit, or sprayed graffiti on the van.
  • The police abandoned the van.
  • The bulk of the protesters arrived to find their route blocked and an already slightly graffitied van in the middle of the crowd.
  • Some (very few) people started smashing the van in spite of attempts to stop them.
  • The police justified their use of containment (kettling) by citing the attacks on the van, which happened after they started kettling.
  • The police claim that the van was following protesters to gather information on where they were going. They knew full well where they were going, since they had already blocked the route! There is a possibility that the van was in use by FIT (Forward Intelligence Team, explanation here)  to take photographs of protesters.
  • The police claim that the officers in the van abandoned it because they “felt vulnerable and decided the best course of action was to leave the van” (Source: The Guardian)

I have received information from a few people that have changed my mind on some of my original points.

  • It has no number plates
    • Actually the van did have number plates on arrival, although there are no clear photographs or videos of it. The best I have seen is this one from ITN.
  • It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
    • I am told that the police routinely use vans of this age.
  • It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
    • Several of their vans are rusty, and in fact you can see on this picture that it was rusty even in 2008. We should probably be concerned at the lack of preventative maintenance there.
  • It has a POLICE AWARE sticker on it, that has been there a while.
    • This one was true. Some people have suggested that the sticker was placed there as a joke by a police officer, or that it was placed there to mark the van for attention by a mechanic. I’m not sure I buy that.

I still believe that this van was planted as bait to incite vandalism and provide an excuse for kettling. The only alternative theory I can think of is that the police are really, really stupid. It could be that I suppose.

Via @a6ruled
Sky news video shows van accessible, police standing near it and crowd all calm. Busted!

The mystery van

Bait Van
Illustration by Maria Bovor

—UPDATE 26/11/2010—

Reposted here because hundreds of people are reading this but still not clicking through to my update post

I have received information from a few people that have changed my mind on some of my original points. I really don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, I just want to correct an injustice and set the record straight.

  • It has no number plates
    • Actually the van did have number plates on arrival, although there are no clear photographs or videos of it. The best I have seen is this one from ITN.
  • It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
    • I am told that the police routinely use vans of this age.
  • It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
    • Several of their vans are rusty, and in fact you can see on this picture that it was rusty even in 2008. We should probably be concerned at the lack of preventative maintenance there.
  • It has a POLICE AWARE sticker on it, that has been there a while.
    • This one was true. Some people have suggested that the sticker was placed there as a joke by a police officer, or that it was placed there to mark the van for attention by a mechanic. I’m not sure I buy that.

I still believe that this van was planted as bait to incite vandalism and provide an excuse for kettling. The only alternative theory I can think of is that the police are really, really stupid. It could be that I suppose.


—Sky news video busts police claims—

Via @a6ruled
Sky news video shows van accessible, police standing near it and crowd all calm. Busted!


ORIGINAL POST

PLEASE NOTE
I am not a journalist. I have simply gathered some observations that looked odd to me, and some of them have been refuted. Please read all of the article and the comments and then weigh up the evidence before you decide.

During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van.  I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.

At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.

The moment it started:

And some more brave people:

Alternative photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blinkofaneye/5204774374/in/photostream/

But there is something really interesting about this van.

  • It has no number plates
  • It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
  • It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.

Jump to 28 seconds in to this video to see what I mean. Look just under the windows.

The rust:

And thanks to @psweetman for spotting this. Does that say “police aware” ?

Front of police van showing Police Aware notice

Draw your own conclusions from that.

Despite all this, the protests were mostly peaceful.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/24/student-protest-largely-peaceful

In response to Rob W, here is the ITN video. There is a number plate visible at 6 seconds in, although not clear enough to identify a number.

This picture shows “POLICE AWARE” sticker is aged and has been there a while. (Thanks to Harry Watko for these.)

I think these things are clear. I saw the sequence of events on live TV and it could be verified if anyone can get hold of a recording.

  • The police started kettling several minutes before the van arrived.
  • The van was driven in to the back of the crowd, (relatively thin at this point) pushing protesters out of the way. Some got angry at being driven in to or made to jump away, and pushed or hit, or sprayed graffiti on the van.
  • The police abandoned the van.
  • The bulk of the protesters arrived to find their route blocked and an already slightly gratified van in the middle of the crowd.
  • Some (very few) people started smashing the van in spite of attempts to stop them.
  • The police justified their use of kettling by citing the attacks on the van, which happened after they started kettling.