Thursday, April 02, 2009
Police "kettling" tactic must be made illegal
Ricky Knight and the Cops (good name for a band, Ricky - next time we must bring a set of gazoos for them)
Ricky not getting his banner past the nice cop
Drawing of nice cop holding Placard reading "Yes we can abolish nukes"
The Guardian has a report on the police tactic of "kettling" - penning protestors into an area and preventing them from marching. They have done this several times before in London, and they seem to think it is a good idea. Anyone with a GCSE pass in psychology, or to whom the word Hillsborough is familiar, will know that it is a stupid idea. It leads to fear, frustration and violence.
The peaceful, lightly policed Trafalgar Square demonstration was told that there was no violence or breakages in the Bank demo until the demonstrators had been kettled for two and a half hours. The Bank marchers were trying to get to Trafalgar Square to join the peaceful Stop the War march. There was little or no coverage of the peaceful march and rally. The media only reward violence with coverage.
The man in overall charge of the operation was Commander Bob Broadhurst. He must be made to justify his strategy. So far the courts have supported the kettling tactic, but this time we must get a mass of witnesses and specialists in crowd psychology and civil liberties to court in order to discredit and ban the tactic.
I had an entirely different experience with the police. I smiled at one officer at the edge of the march, and his face lit up. I asked a line of cops if they would arrest me if I took their picture. They said no, and one of them explained that the law against taking police photos had been brought in because some actors were publishing police faces on the web and asking people if they knew who they were and where they lived. This is clearly wrong, and the right response would be to find these websites and close them down if they contain threats of violence. Instead, they have brought in a law to forbid taking pics of any policeman (so a lot of newspapers are in breach of the law today). It is a bad law, because we can all break it by simply pointing our mobile phones at police. They cannot arrest us all.
After the first photo Ricky and I set off down Whitehall to get to our bus. Ricky was stopped by a polite and civil young officer who explained that placards were not allowed down Whitehall. Something about it might influence the weak-minded occupants of the House of Commons, they might get the idea that there was more to politics than claiming expenses, something like that.
I tried to get a picture of the policeman holding Ricky's placard, but unfortunately I am not yet in full control of my mobile phone, and missed the shot. In order to avoid disappointment I have rendered a line drawing of what the missed photo would have looked like. I let our a cheer when I took the picture, the nice cop looked embarassed and Ricky and I skipped down Whitehall with gleeful hearts, past ranks of police who were all smiling and smirking.
The point is that there is good policing and there is bad policing. April 1st shows them both in stark contrast. Kettling must be banned for peaceful demonstrations: people must always be allowed a way out. The penned protesters were pissing on the street. Not to mention the poor guy who died. Was he an asthmatic without his inhaler? Did he have a weak heart? Whatever the coroner finds, Commander Broadhurst must shoulder at least part of the responsibility for his death.
The point of all this is not that I am some pathetic middle class professional sucking up to the police. I am not, although it does help that I have had professional encounters with the police on plenty of occasions as a casualty officer, psychiatrist and GP, and usually find them very resonable. The point is that if and when the people believe that the time has come for them to exercise their right to replace the Government because the present lot has lost the plot, as happened in Iceland recently, then we need the police on side.
Tiananmen Square was a massive force for good, and the Chinese Government had to bring in forces from way out because they could not rely on local police to attack the demonstrators. It is when the human being within the uniform begins to see protestors as fellow humans who have a good set of points to make, that change happens.
We need to make clear the point of our demonstrations. Briefly and in essence, we need:
1 reform of the world's monetary system
2 work to decarbonise the economy
3 cancel the third world debt
5 political and electoral reform
It is interesting that the police were at pains to break up the Climate Camp. It is only when demonstrations stop going home for a nice cup of tea at 5 pm that change comes about. And I confess that I was among those who did just that. But there will be other opportunities to assist in the coming months. La lutte continua
PS in chatting to the police, the issue of firearms came up. I mentioned the Green Party's policy of using more sniffer dogs to detect ammunition. He said yes they were great, but that dog units were expensive. I promised him that I would get the Green on the London Assembly on the case.
PPS Red Pepper Twitter reports that the police and ambulance crews who were treating the protester, in his 30s who so tragically died, were not pelted with bottles and sticks, as reported by the BBC. Who should we believe? In view of the police misinformation campaign around the Kingsnorth protest, when reported "police injuries" turned out to be wasp stings &c, not wounds inflicted by evil demonstrators, I feel inclined to believe Red Pepper.
I have just found this second eyewitness account that states that one or two plastic bottles were thrown from further back in the crowd, from people who were not aware of what was going on.
And here's a third testimony: My boss (yes, a senior manager at the bank I work at!) went over last night to see what was going on. He literally was next to the man who collapsed and died. He swears NO ONE was throwing a thing. And that the reason the police couldn't get to the guy was because the cops were using dogs against the protesters and the protesters were running away from them (towards where the guy was). Now interestingly, my boss said the guy looked about 50. The man who died went to the ground and started convulsing. So he seemed to think it was natural causes. But other than that bit, every single thing the police have said is wrong.
I will ask my boss to contact the solicitors, as he is a senior manager at the bank and a very unimpeachable source (in that the police can't say he was involved in any way or had any sympathies to the protestors - they can't just brush him off). But I won't hold my breath. He's a good man, but it may be too difficult for him to do (i.e. to stand up).
PPS Detailed, sound report here by the Big Green Factory. showing police provocation of peaceful demonstrators. I have filled in the card to join Liberty. I will send it off as soon as I am sure that they are going to take up the issue of police preventing demonstrators from exercising their democratic right of free assembly and freedom of speech.
More on kettling here.