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.
Government and police hate protest. Protests are inconvenient. Protests tell them that they are wrong. Protests can attract attention and tell other people that the government is wrong. And so the right to protest appears to be under attack by the police and the government. The authorities recognise the right to protest and always claim to facilitate it, it 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.
However they always include and emphasise the word “peaceful” with 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. It is often the idea that a protest has not been peaceful that is used to justify clamping down on the protest. The police have a number of laws at their disposal to minimise or prevent protest.
Section 14 of the 1986 public order act gives police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, keep the numbers down, and tell them when to stop.
Section 60 and 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allow the police to stop and search anyone in the specified area with no reason necessary, and to demand that people in the area remove all face coverings so that they can be identified.
Breach of the peace is a commonly quoted law. Not actually a criminal offence, it still allows a police officer to threaten someone with arrest unless they leave. I believe that the police use this at far too low a threshold since it must be “conduct severe enough to cause alarm to ordinary people and threaten serious disturbance to the community.” and “something substantially greater than mere irritation is involved, what is required… is conduct which does present as genuinely alarming and disturbing, in its context, to any reasonable person.” (Smith v Donnelly 2001 SCCR 800)
Recently the police have charged people with Aggravated Trespass – a law intended to be used against raves – to place more restrictions on where a protest can take place.
Dispersal Orders may be put in place, creating a Dispersal Zone in which a police officer may order a person to leave the area with no reason necessary.
In addition to these laws, governments in the last fifteen years have placed more restrictions on being allowed to protest at all. The law now requires organisers to apply for a permit six days before any protest march. Any protest at all near the houses of parliament now requires a permit from the police, again, six days in advance. Permission may be requested one day in advance if six days is not reasonably practicable. Quoting from DirectGov again:
If you are organising a march, you are legally required to notify the police six days in advance, or as soon as it is reasonably practical to do so. If you are organising a protest rally that will not involve a march, you are not obliged to notify the police, but you may still want to let them know.
Police always insist on agreeing in advance the route that a protest march will take. They talk to organisers or representatives of the protest to find out the proposed route, often imposing changes on it, and then any protesters leaving the route are used to justify clamping down on the protest. This is especially problematic in protests where there are no central organisers or where many additional groups have joined the protest but do not accept that any people represent them when talking to the police.
The normal response to protesters not doing exactly what the police want is containment. Containment, or kettling, involves enclosing the crowd with lines of police officers, vans, horses, buildings or barriers, and holding them there for hours. Often the police attempt to close in on the crowd and crush them. It is quite deliberate and police can be seen pushing in towards the crowd in a very deliberate and organised way in various videos taken from previous protests. When the people are treated like this it is almost a certainty that they will get angry with the police and people at the edge will be pushed towards the police by those being crushed in the middle. The police response is to hit people and scream at them to get back and so it should be obvious that containment will only ever cause and inflame violence, mostly starting on the police side.
The purpose of containment, apart from keeping protesters away from other people, appears to be to destroy people’s will to protest. The containment usually only ends when people are tired, hungry, cold, and prepared to submit to being photographed and giving their details to the police. It is arguable that this is a deliberate deterrent against protesting in future. People fighting in court the use of containment have argued that it is a form of collective punishment. That is, it unfairly punishes all who are at the scene instead of just those that may have been causing trouble. Many other people are also intimidated by the threat of containment and put off of attending protest by it.
The collection of photographs and identities seems to be another intimidation tactic. Forward Intelligence Teams video and photograph people at just about every protest. It seems to be routine now for police to gather names and addresses from any protesters that have been caught up in containment, threatening arrest if the person is not cooperative and even arresting and then de-arresting in order to circumvent the law and get details. I believe that this is intimidation by the police. They build up a database of people who have attended protests and this can only be for use in identifying people at future protests – the idea that attending lots of protests makes a person a trouble maker – and the implication is that attending protests is a crime when it is not.
Apart from intimidating people out of protest, people can also be prevented from protesting by the courts. People who have been arrested at Fortnum & Mason and at Dale Farm but not convicted of anything have been banned in their bail conditions from the City of London and from Essex respectively. People who were arrested ahead of the Royal Wedding were also banned from London even though they had not even done anything to justify arrest. In September three activists were arrested for suspending a banner from a bridge in Birmingham while protesting at the Liberal Democrat conference. Two of those arrested were released on bail, (and banned from Birmingham) but the third was held in custody for ten days because he had previously been arrested at the Fortnum & Mason protest. He has not been found guilty of anything at that protest, and yet because of it he spent ten days in prison while not being found guilty of anything at the latter protest. This is definitely intimidating to potential protesters.
As if that isn’t enough, many people who had previously been arrested at Fortnum & Mason and at Dale Farm received letters from the Metropolitan Police warning them not to commit criminal or anti-social behaviour, to move away from any violence, and stating that they could be arrested at the earliest opportunity should this advice be ignored. I believe this to also be intimidation designed to keep protesters away from protests – both those who received the letters and others that saw them.
Now ahead of several protests on Wednesday the 9th, Commander Simon Pountain of the Met police – who is in charge of policing during the protests – has given several interviews and in each has explicitly mentioned baton rounds. (Also known as plastic bullets.) He has stated that he will have units armed with baton rounds parked nearby and on standby to be used in policing the protests, and that he wanted them on standby so that he would not have to wait an hour or two for them to be deployed. He expressed a willingness to use them in certain situations which do not seem so unlikely. This is yet more intimidation by the police. Both their announcement that baton rounds will be on standby and the mere fact that Pountain talked about them to several journalists is very worrying and will intimidate and put off yet more protesters.
Taken as a whole, I believe that all of this shows that the police have far over-stepped their boundaries and are illegally curtailing the right to protest. Governments both Conservative and Labour have introduced authoritarian laws that also overstep the mark. This intimidation cannot be allowed to stop protest. Governments and police are not supposed to like protest, it is designed to make them uncomfortable so that they change their policies. Obviously it is working.
Simon Pountain, who will be in charge of policing protests in London on the 9th of November, has told journalists that officers carrying baton rounds (rubber bullets) will be on standby. From his interview on Sky:
In terms of baton rounds, baton rounds is a valuable tactic for me to be able to have available, should the need arise. At the moment, I have asked for it to be available to me. Those units will be parked away from the area, and they’ll be on standby, should the need arise because the last thing that I want is if any of my staff are coming under sustained attack, as we saw in previous demonstrations, I need the ability to protect them and to make sure that they don’t sustain serious injuries, or even worse. And so I want to have those units available to me so that I can deploy them if necessary and not having to wait for an hour or two hours to get them to me.
The important thing to note here is that the firearms officers carrying baton rounds will be on standby in a van waiting somewhere near to the protest, rather than in their normal headquarters, and that Pountain says that he wants them to be available quickly. This is a significant step up from the normal situation and indicates that he is more likely to use them. Secondly, he said “if any of my staff are coming under sustained attack, as we saw in previous demonstrations, I need the ability to protect them.” That wording is very significant. “As we saw in previous demonstrations” suggests that the police will need no more reaction from the protesters than we have seen before to open fire on the crowd.
On the plus side, he says that no officers will be carrying tasers. Woo.
17:57 Some video from about 1pm, taken by Kate Belgrave
17:55 Pictures from @bigmouthedwoman
17:50 “Police (…) were thanked for not hitting people.”
17:45 There was some confusion because there are protests on two bridges. There are still people on one of them.
17:42 Channel 4 news is reporting in depth on the protest and the Health and Social Care Bill.
17:37 Most people appear to be free to go now.
17:31 Updates from @HeardInLondon
17:25 Updates from @Marmite_
17:18 Tim Hardy reports on the video that police will arrest remaining people under the public order act for breach of the peace, and that they will be searched. Met police announced that journalists should identify themselves to the police now. @bc_tmh telling the police arresting him that 168 people are watching them live.
17:16 Some tweets from @marmite_ about people being held back.
17:12 Message from UK Uncut: “We’ve had questions about the protest. To clarify: The protest is over and UK Uncut is leaving via the SOUTH side of Westminster bridge.”
17:07 Met Police have kept back a group of people from leaving, and claimed that they are not associated with UK Uncut. Live stream camera man included. Some brief shouting as police told people to stop filming and some shouts that police were man-handling people with cameras. Keep watching the live stream here. http://bambuser.com/channel/bc_tmh/broadcast/2030568
16:56 Reports via live stream that some people are being kettled by the police.
Met police claim some people “not associated with UK Uncut” are attempting to march.
16:55 People blocked from leaving from Westminster end.
16:22 Protesting is a family event!
16:18 More ugly rumours…
“Have been informed that police are only letting tourists on & off the bridge. ”
16:15 Rumours of police movement too.
16:11 Rumours that protesters are marching to Parliament Square.
16:09 MP John McDonnell tweeted “Series of stand up comedians on Westminster Bridge entertaining and inspiring couple of thousand demonstrators.Inventive mobilisation.”
15:57 “Private medicine is un-British”
15:51 Police on the bridge (15 minutes ago.)
15:50 Mark Thomas
I have just written to my MP to object to the use of Section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers and to the banning of protest marches by the home secretary. If you think that these powers are excessive and dangerous then I urge you to do the same. Remember, if you are ever arrested for protesting, the judge will ask you if you wrote to your MP first. Make sure that you can say that you did.
I write to express my extreme concern about the use of section 60 and 60AA stop and search powers across the whole of London, and about the banning of protest marches across five London boroughs for an excessive period of 30 days.
I strongly object to the use of section 60 stop powers granted under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which enable the police to stop and search anyone across the whole of London. I believe that in being applied to the whole of London they are being applied excessively in a way that was not intended when this legislation was created. In addition I am concerned that the use of these powers can be abused by the police and used to intimidate people and suppress protest. Everyday powers to stop and search people under suspicion are ample for the purposes of detecting crime and public safety and should suffice in all circumstances.
I also object to the use, in any circumstances, of section 60AA Powers requiring the removal of disguises. The forced removal of masks or clothing in order to identify people is excessive and again only used to intimidate and to build up a visual record or protesters, particularly by Forward Intelligence Teams. Should a person be arrested then the police may check their identity. Otherwise, the police are abusing their power by building up this visual record of innocent protesters.
Finally, and most of all, I object to the banning of marches by the home secretary under the Public Order Act 1986. While I am glad that the home secretary recognises the unalienable right to static protest, I believe it to be a severe violation of rights to ban protest marches. Most of all I object to the fact that this ban is 30 days in length and applies to all marches. I believe this to be a massive abuse of power by the home secretary and a gross violation of our rights in a democracy.
I dislike the EDL intensely but their right to protest must not be stopped. Should they be violent or commit some other crime then by all means have them arrested, but in suppressing political messages the government and the police have crossed a line.
Today several thousand people rallied in London and marched (or wheeled) on parliament to protest against the way the government is attacking the sick and disabled and ruthlessly cutting their income. The Hardest Hit was organised by charities and campaigners working together to mobilise thousands of disabled people to tell the government that this is not acceptable.
[This post contains several videos which will not show up on a Kindle]
What would happen if we suddenly lost access to Twitter? This could happen for any number of reasons, either with activists accounts being shut down, or with Twitter itself going offline or being blocked by government.
A friend of mine is worried that if she lost her Twitter account then she would lose contact with the few thousand people that follow her and she has enquired about backing up the names of those followers. There are tools that are able to download and save the names of contacts from Twitter but there is a problem; if the only identifier that you have for someone is their Twitter name, that may not be enough to find them in a post-twitter world. They could easily have used a different name everywhere else even if you knew what service they had moved to.
So how would the anti-cuts movement cope with the loss of Twitter? I suspect that while many people could still stay in touch, whole networks would become fragmented and information would not flow nearly as quickly. Many people that do not use Facebook and perhaps do not use the relevant web pages would be unable to get information from their usual contacts through twitter. They may well eventually find out what they need to know, but it would take much longer.
I do not think that there has been a problem so far with Twitter accounts; I am only aware of spammers being evicted from Twitter, although inevitably there will be some other examples. I think that this will change and it is quite likely to follow the example set by Facebook.
Facebook is not your friend. Facebook is a privately owned business which encourages you to post updates and share information so that it can profit from you. As a private business, Facebook has no obligation to honour the principles of free speech or to provide a service. Facebook can remove pages for any reason it likes. Sometimes it removes pages because they contain discussion of illegal actions or if enough people report the page for containing spam or offensive content. Pages have been removed in the past because of fake copyright claims. The default action in this situation is to remove pages now and ask questions later. Pages could also be removed purely because staff at Facebook don’t like them and being a private company, they don’t have to have a reason. Last week Facebook removed more than fifty anti-cuts and protest related pages without warning. The removal of these pages meant that these groups of people were suddenly fractured and the lists of members and interested people were lost. This is not the first time that protest-related pages have been removed and previous removals have caused massive inconvenience to both organisers and followers. A partial list of affected pages is available here. http://anticutsspace.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/political-facebook-groups-deleted-on-royal-wedding-day/
Clearly, then, we cannot trust Facebook when organising events, especially if the event might make them nervous or if they fear legal action for facilitating it. I think the same applies or will soon apply to Twitter, and to services such as Livejournal, WordPress, Blogger and others. Even websites are not safe. Websites are hosted by a provider and that provider can be subjected to pressure from lawyers or law enforcement agencies, and when that happens they usually cave in to pressure and pull the website. The safest option is likely to be a privately owned server in a small datacentre but not many can afford that.
Ultimately, my advice is do not trust Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network or service that serves as a point of contact. If there is a person that you wish to stay in touch with even after losing access to these networks, I suggest making sure that you have at least two different methods of contacting them apart from social media. Email and phone number are probably best. Ideally we should organise a phone tree or an email tree as a backup within our protest movements, or perhaps a combination of both.
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.”