In the last few days there have been a number of news stories about how the police intend to respond to riots this summer. It seems that the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are suddenly convinced that there are going to be riots, and they plan to respond quite harshly.
The Express announced on the 5th of May with a headling of “Water cannons on standby for summer riots” that the Home Office and the Met Police were holding talks about allowing the police to buy water cannon “in case disorder arises from protests planned for London before the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.”
Then on the 9th and 10th of May The Independent and The Telegraph published a story about the Home Office testing a “Discriminating Irritant Projectile” – a cartridge that is fired from a baton gun instead of “rubber bullets” that sprays CS gas or tear gas when it hits. This is the kind of weapon that we have seen being used against people in awful footage from repressive regimes like Egypt.
The BBC has reported that “An entire prison block at Maghaberry jail in Northern Ireland has been set aside to house protesters convicted of disorder at the G8 summit.” In the same article the NI justice minister told the BBC that they were also changing the law to allow people to be tried in places other than the usual court rooms so as to speed up dealing with people arrested at the summit.
Preparing for potential protests at the G8 summit does seem sensible, but the scale of this preparation is questionable. The acquisition of water cannon and new CS gas bullets by the Met is a whole new step in the war on the public. Combined with the massive jump in the use of Tasers by police (and non-firearms police at that) this is a very nasty shift against the safety of the public and against the right to protest. What jumps out to me about all these stories is that police and government have sought out the press to make a point of talking about the measures.
It is hard to tell what the intention of the government is by talking about all of this in public. It is likely that the intention is to intimidate people into staying away from the G8 summit and other protests. I wonder though, if by talking about riots as a certainty they want to provoke a protest so that they can brutally suppress it.
The announcement about preparations of jail cells and extra court capacity seems like an act of intimidation towards those people who intend to peacefully protest at the G8 summit – perhaps they are worried that a whole new segment of society will be protesting for the Enough Food For Everyone campaign. The announcements of water cannon and other measures with specific mention of protests in London preceding the G8 summit are even worse. Whatever they are scared of, these announcements are likely to put people off from exercising their right to protest, just as previous police violence has prevented thousands of people from protesting against welfare cuts and NHS privatisation over the last two years. I think that talk of these measures in the right-wing press like The Express and The Telegraph is designed to both intimidate potential protesters and to scare the readers of those papers into voting the Tories in again at the next election as “the party of law and order”. It’s a tried and tested formula for the Tories – when in doubt get violent towards the downtrodden and tell the scared electorate that you will protect them.
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.
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.
“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.
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 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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 aboutmany times before. As yet the mainstream media outlets have been silent about the protest and about the policing of it. Read on for some images, videos and tweets from the day. For a detailed personal account with many pictures and videos please read This blog post by Cai Wingfield, and see the links at the end of this post for more.
Despite being completely peaceful, the protest received significant police attention within an hour. Large numbers of police vans arrived with Territorial Support Group (TSG – riot police) as well as armed police. The police surrounded the protesters, possibly with the intention of containing (kettling) them – that was certainly how it was perceived. The presence of armed police and being surrounded raised tensions among the protesters significantly.
Let me describe the atmosphere at this point, because in a second things get nasty. COMPLETELY peaceful. The crowd is sparse and moving at a fast walking pace. There is a little chanting but no aggro. The yellow-uniformed police are walking at the same pace of us, and have not (that I’ve heard) requested that we don’t march. The mood is very upbeat. People are smiling and laughing, happy to be doing something positive and perhaps get a little attention (there has been almost no media presence that we’ve seen, unless you count the Socialist Worker as media). The crowd is made up of people of all ages. There are young children and babies, medical students, young adults, up to middle-aged and some elderly people. There is a high proportion of people who have reduced mobility. I spot several people walking with sticks or crutches. I see someone in a wheelchair wearing a V mask, there with their V-masked family.
Now someone shouts something. I’m within a few people of the front of the march. Suddenly, to my right, tens of baseball cap-wearing cops stream out of concealment, running. They’ve obviously been waiting for us.
The mood of the crowd turns quickly to dismay. This is completely out of the blue. These new cops are highly organised and running quickly. They have helmets and truncheons on their belts. People are suddenly scared. There are shouts of “KETTLE! KETTLE!” and “RUN!” from those who see what’s about to happen. People start to run (including me). But it’s too late, they’re already blocking the way ahead of us.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Many of you reading will already know what I was doing on Saturday, but I want to get this written up anyway. So here goes.
My alarm went off at 6:30am. Being a chronic insomniac, it was pure luck that I had actually got to sleep by about 2am and so had had some sleep before hand. Strangely I find it easier to function after four hours sleep than after seven, if not for very long, and so I forced down a double dose of painkillers and coffee and managed to get washed and dressed – no small feat for me at any time of day. The I bundled myself into my powerchair and we were off.
First stop was a bus into Evesham. Karen and I walked/rolled to the bus stop and waited in the cold. Eventually the bus arrived (We knew it would be wheelchair accessible this time because Karen had phoned to check the day before) and we travelled twenty minutes or so into town. Then we had to go on half a mile from the bus station to the train station. I had pre-booked assistance to board the train but not tickets, so we went via the ticket office to buy the tickets. £74 of tickets, which went on credit. Protest is costly, in more ways than one. Trains to London actually depart from the other side of the platforms and my chair wasn’t going to go over the footbridge and so we left the ticket office and went around to the other side via the main road, which took a few minutes. After a few minutes wait in the very cold waiting room (people in wheelchairs are told to arrive half an hour before the train is due, as well as to book 24 hours in advance) the train arrived. Unfortunately when I found the car which I had been booked into, it turned out to be beyond the end of platform. The train manager looked a bit harried as we walked all the way to the other end of the train so that he could put us in first class where there was another wheelchair space. The next hurdle was that there was hardly any room to manoeuvre on the way in to the train and I got stuck trying to get past the luggage space. I had to get out of the chair and the train manager actually lifted it clear of the obstruction, all 90KG of it. Once we were underway I settled down with a coffee and tried to eat the bacon roll which we had brought with us, and I wrote a blog post to explain why I was protesting.
In London I got off the train after a brief delay while the ramp was taken to the wrong end of the train, and we made our way out to catch a bus to our meetup location. I must say that I am very impressed with the wheelchair ramps on London buses. There is a button next to the middle door to alert the driver of a wheelchair, and then after passengers have disembarked the doors close again while the motorised ramp is lowered. Then the doors open and allow the wheelchair to board, with plenty of space to get to the designated wheelchair spot. I wish these buses were everywhere.
We got to the McDonalds where we were meeting far earlier than we needed to but we started to bump into other people arriving for the protest anyway. I was pleased to recognise someone that I had seen at a march in Birmingham the previous June, and even more pleased when I realised that it was in fact @pseudodeviant who I knew from Twitter. It turns out that we had met, and had been talking to each other online but not realised who we were! We were approached by John Domokos, a video journalist from The Guardian who interviewed us both about our reasons for protesting. The first of many interviews I would do that day. After a few minutes I met and talked to one of the organisers of our protest about our plan. The number of wheelchairs and other disabled people hanging around outside was making us a bit conspicuous so he suggested I go to meet up with another group a short distance up the road. I was really please to find people from UK Uncut waiting there to assist us, including some people that I had been talking to over the internet for more than a year but had never met. There was much chatting and smiling.
Then just before twelve we all moved off towards Oxford Circus. Volunteers from UK Uncut waited for the lights to go red and then ran across the Regent Street crossing with a chain, locking it at both ends. A line of people disabled people followed rapidly and took up their places along the chain. I was near the back of the line as I was waiting for Karen to return with food for me (I’m diabetic and had realised that I would miss lunch) so I rolled into place right at the end of the line across Regent Street, actually still on the pavement. We all locked on to the chain with D-locks and a cheer went up. We had done it!
After that events were hectic and a bit of a blur to me. Being on the end of the line I was the prime target for hoards of journalists. I did interviews with more than I can remember. I did pieces to camera, for podcasts and radio, talked to journalists scribbling notes, to people from the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, LBC, to more than one team from each of those. I talked constantly for two hours, and my head was spinning. I did a live piece for the One O’Clock news on BBC London radio. The noise of the crowd and the samba band was quite overwhelming and it was only adrenaline from the audacity of what we were doing that kept me going. In between the journalists I met people who I had been talking to on Twitter for months. A great many people seemed to recognise me, which frankly I found quite scary! I also was very pleased to meet Laurie Penny, if only for thirty seconds or so. Throughout the protest people from UK Uncut and others constantly checked if we were OK, offered tea and coffee, and kept us updated with what the police were saying.
I was quite impressed with the police, the Met were calm and pleasant and smiling, which was unexpected. They did pull up with sirens blaring, but then who doesn’t like a good excuse for blues and twos? Two police vans stopped in front of the line and blocked us from the rest of the junction and a row of police lined up in front of the vans facing us. Police did try to take down a banner that was being held across the Tube entrance, and there was a Met cameraman carefully videoing us all, no doubt for the database of protesters that they deny keeping. After about an hour the police made an announcement. I haven’t got a clue what they said, because it was completely incomprehensible, even without the sign-language interpreter that one of the other protesters asked for!
As we neared half past one it seems that the police were getting a little impatient. They informed some of our group that they would tolerate us if we moved aside to only block one side of the road, otherwise they would “take appropriate action.” I almost wish I could have seen what that appropriate action was, because I don’t think the police had any idea. No doubt they had disturbing visions of what the many journalists there would say about police dragging away people in wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches. And it’s not as though their vans had wheelchair lifts or spaces.
By the time the police had made their feelings on this matter known many of us were quite cold and uncomfortable. This protest was extremely draining for most of the people involved. Although many of us wanted to stay until forced to move, the fact is that most of us could not, and so we all agreed that we would leave at 2pm. In the end it was really chaotic. We all unlocked from the chain and a speech was made, but then no one quite knew which way we were going. Some people had mentioned adjourning to a pub to get warmth and food but as no one knew which one that didn’t happen quickly. We actually ended up milling around in the road and chatting until the police started to look quite stern at about quarter past two.
On the way to the pub there wasn’t room on the pavement for all the wheelchairs, so they ended up in the road. We were in a walking pace procession right down the road in Oxford Street. Eventually it became possible to get on to the pavement but some stayed in the road and a few minutes later some police vans came speeding down the wrong side of the road and then crept along next to the crowd. Eventually everyone reached a pub and tried to cram inside, although it wasn’t possible for everyone in wheelchairs to get in. Several other people and I ended up in a pub next door for an hour or so before moving across to the first pub were we were finally able to get some food and seats.
We had a lovely time in the pub and I met yet more people who I previously knew only through Twitter. I stayed far too long for my own health but I had already condemned myself to days in bed in pain and not moving and this was a very rare opportunity to meet people and so I pushed through with help from copious painkillers.
Eventually Karen and I left the pub and returned to Paddington station. The train back to Evesham is only every two hours and we had more than an hour and a half to wait. We passed the time sitting in a coffee shop at the station and I began to zone out from exhaustion and the strong painkillers that I take. At this point the crowds and the noise of the station seemed like distant things and I was floating in a haze of opiates and tiredness.
When we went to find our pre-booked assistance for boarding half an hour before the train was due to leave the manager told us that Evesham station was unmanned after lunchtime, which we already knew, but he also didn’t think there would be any staff on the train who could place the wheelchair ramp for me instead of station staff. This caused me to panic a bit but the station manager called another manager who called the train driver who thought there might be staff on board after all. I went to board the train, which is where we discovered that the train did not have a wheelchair space at all. I eventually ended up blocking the door area with my wheelchair for the whole journey. I am quite surprised that the assistance booking line were not aware of the situation with the station staff, the train staff or the type of train. I was really uncomfortable so I moved to a seat next to Karen, and after Oxford I moved to an empty double seat where I tried to stretch out to relieve some of the pain. I crashed completely at that point with horrific burning and aching pain in spite of my double dose of painkillers. I was in so much pain that I was crying, and trying to hide it from the other passengers.
When our train arrived at Evesham sometime around midnight I had passed out from pain and exhaustion. Karen tried to get me to move back to my powerchair but was unable to wake me up. My memory of this is hazy but I know that I did stir a little and try to stand but could not, and I ended up on the floor of the train and then slumped across the arm of my wheelchair. I understand that a stranger on the train helped Karen to lift and drag me into my chair. Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket inspector could not unlock the ramp at the station. She had been given the code for the lock but it did not work. My family had come to meet me at the station to drive us home and so I was carried off the train into a manual wheelchair by my brother, mother and wife, apparently dropped near the edge of the platform on the way. They also carried my extremely heavy powerchair off the train. Between them my brother and my wife got me into the car and then from the car to my bed, although I was almost completely unable to move.
And so that is where we are now. I am still in bed at the end of Monday, 48 hours later. I have managed to visit the toilet a couple of times, and I eventually managed to change my clothes this afternoon, but I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t really do much. This is all completely in line with what I expected and I am doubtful if I will be spending any time out of bed before next weekend. This is what the protest cost me, what I knew it would cost me. All I can do is hope that the politicians notice and reconsider their policies.
This video is my personal update from Sunday afternoon.
This is my live interview with BBC London radio – 1pm 28/01/2012
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.
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.
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.
The tweet above is from Greater Manchester Police, tweeting as @gmpolice. It reads “Mum-of-two, not involved in disorder, jailed for FIVE months for accepting shorts looted from shop. There are no excuses!”
My problems with this are:
The sentence is disproportionate (Although that is a problem with the judge, not the police.)
The tweet shows enthusiasm, maybe even glee, over the length of the sentence. Particaularly with the emphasis of “FIVE months” and “There are no excuses!” It is not the place of the police to comment on, recommend or celebrate the length of a sentence or the defence used in court.
On social media it is a good thing to comment, converse and give opinion. This builds community, which is why it is called social media. In the case of the police, however, they should remain detached and professional when it comes to presenting information to the public – just as in any other time they interact with the public. We expect our police forces to be unbiased and therefore accurate in their administration of justice, and adding personal opinion to the information presented on social networks gives the impression of a bias of the whole police force, whether that represents their general opinion or not. It would have been more appropriate to tweet something like
“Mum-of-two, not involved in disorder, jailed for 5 months for accepting shorts looted from shop. Judges issuing tough sentences over riots.“
This would have conveyed the information to the public without adding emphasis, but while still warning of tough sentences in order to provide a deterrent.
Overall, I have been told that @gmpolice are making good use of social media. Perhaps the people (yes, real people with opinions and lives) behind the twitter account are overworked and tired, especially after a week of rioting and looting. And we can all make mistakes. However, they must step back and examine what is professional and appropriate for them to say on twitter. Revelling, or appearing to revel, in a long and harsh sentence is not appropriate for the people that are supposed to uphold the law. Their job is to find the criminals and present them to the court, not to gloat.
@GMPolice published this message within an hour of the one mentioned above.
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.”