Water cannon, CS gas bullets – government intimidating the public

man blinded by water cannon

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.

Riot policePreparing 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.

 

Blasphemy, protest and the fight for free speech

You’ve probably noticed that there have been protests all over the world about a film called The Innocence of Muslims. These protests have resulted in the death of  the US ambassador to Libya and the deaths of at least nineteen people in Pakistan as well as others around the Middle East. Yesterday there were protests about the film in Birmingham, fortunately without the deaths that have accompanied protests in other countries. The film in question is laughably bad. It is ultra-low budget with bad acting and plastic toys as props. It is however extremely offensive to Muslims, and seems to be deliberately so.

The film seems to have acted as a trigger which has been added to all the anger already there about past interference and wars by the US and other western states. The protesters attacked US embassies and burned US flags perhaps because they blame America as a whole for the existence of the film. This is wrong however. The film makers are in a country where they have freedom of speech. They have the freedom to believe what they want, talk to who they want and say what they want and the government cannot lawfully stop them. The same applies to the group that wanted to burn the Koran  last year which caused similar uproar, and to the French magazine that printed cartoons of Muhammed. It also applies to protesters here. In fact in Birmingham here in the UK the police said this:

“West Midlands Police have no power to ban a static protest – in fact the right to protest peacefully is a sign of a healthy democracy and we have a positive duty to facilitate that right.”

(I wish our police forces were so enlightened about other protests.)

Under the European Convention on Human Rights here in Europe we have a specific set of freedoms around the topic of free speech: freedom of conscience and religion, (Article 9) freedom of expression, (Article 10) and freedom of assembly and association. (Article 11.)  It is exactly these same rights that apply to both those who wish to adhere to a religion and those who do not believe; to those who wish to speak publicly about their religion and to those who wish to publicly criticise it; to those who wish to protest on the streets and those who wish to protest in opposition to them.

There is an argument that when something such as this film is likely to  inflame such a vast and violent response that the freedom of expression of the film makers should be limited to prevent the response but that cannot happen. While we could ban idiots from provoking riots, banning idiots would only lead to oppression because someone has to decide who is the idiot, and that decision is not guaranteed to be trustworthy or correct.

These protesters need to realise that banning the film means violating freedom of expression, and that in doing so they are endangering their own rights to talk about their religion or to protest. They are not thinking in those terms, however, and merely wish to enforce their own religion at the cost of all other opinions. Preventing such a scenario is the very reason why in the US and Europe we  have freedom of expression that is meant to apply to everyone.

The protests about the film The Innocence of Muslims have taken a darker turn today. A Pakistan government minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has offered a bounty of a hundred thousand dollars for the murder of the makers of the film.

https://twitter.com/AleemMaqbool/status/249563621590462464

This is not freedom of expression or freedom of conscience and religion; it is the exact opposite. It is someone wishing to force their religious view on other people by any means necessary including murder.

In the end these people are only allowed to protest because they have the same freedoms that they demand be taken away from the film makers. (Or at least the protests are being tolerated, in countries where such freedoms are not enshrined in law.) It’s all or nothing. If I want freedom of speech then people I disagree with also have to have it. Demanding that they don’t would be stupid. Something that has escaped a great many people.

 

Protests in Birmingham against American anti-Islam film [Birmingham Mail]

YouTube under new pressure over anti-Muslim film [BBC]

Pakistan film protests: 19 die in Karachi and Peshawar [BBC]

Anti-Islam film: Pakistan minister offers bounty [BBC]

 

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.

Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report

My report from the Invisible Invincible protest is now on The Pod Delusion podcast. Unfortunately it had to be cut by quite a lot to fit the available space, but you can read my original text below. It is largely based on a previous blog post with some added explanation.

My report starts at 15:17 in to the podcast. An MP3 file is available for download via The Pod Delusion website.

Continue reading “Invisible Invincible – Pod Delusion report”

Poppies, police and protest

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

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

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

Silencing protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

Police leaflet given out to protesters (PDF)

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

BBC: Thousands march in student protest over university fees

Channel 4 news: Police out in force for student protests

 

Shutting down protest through intimidation

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.

Letter sent by Met warning about behaviour at protests

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.