Thursday, 2 April 2009

*G20 protest - policing tactics


In 31 years of active participation in peaceful street demonstrations I have NEVER before been close to the threat of being 'kettled' in / trapped by police. This tactic has more often been used at stages much later in the day after the majority of protesters have left, and when small groups seem determined to continue with their actions, and possibly a few of these who could have plans to develop their actions beyond the lines supported by the demonstrators of the day.

Planning to leave the area of the Bank of England, with a few friends, having made our peaceful protests for about an hour, we headed down Queen Victoria ST only to be met at a fork in the road by a solid line of police. Beyond them was a space and we could see two further roads where police lines were 'containing' other crowds of people, just as determined as us to leave . It was very warm, bright and sunny and it was lunchtime. As we became further 'herded' together the police seemed to sip from their water bottles in a very provocative and sensual manner. Someone was heard saying that the police had declared that hey were paid to work through the night in reply to her question as to when they / we might be allowed to leave.

We were told that our detention was due to their anticipation of a breach of the peace. Legal advice sought while we stood held against our will, confirmed that such a threat of breach of the peace was a valid power that the police could use. Supposedly, as soon as such a threat has passed then people should be released. In our 'pen' the mood was fairly stoical / calm and we kept ourselves amused as best we could. As time pressed on I made several challenges to the police about our civil liberties/ about methods they could use to plan an orderly exit using the helicopter views and their ground forces / about the lack of any actual breach of the peace in view / earshot of any of the hundreds of people so trapped in this particular road.
On one occasion a senior officer was contacted to answer my concerns but as he came towards the line he simply 'whispered' to an officer and retreated. We were then told that we were to be held. Told that we would be held until they said so.
If anyone had been arrested they would have been entitled to water , food and the use of a toilet. After being detained for (?) a couple of hours, having arrived an hour or so before that, with no estimate as to the duration of our further detainment, this treatment of very peaceful people certainly seemed to be a provocative police action and not an 'intelligent' use of police or an acceptable set of tactics. Added to this, at various intervals we could see riot police, in full kit, rushing out of their vans , causing some panic and consternation in the hitherto still and mostly silent crowds. Just as suddenly the riot police seemed to retreat back to their vehicles. Was the agitation of the crowds the essential factor in justifying the fears of 'breach of the peace' ?

Being at the front of the crowd I did on a few occasions make calls for our civil liberties, , listing some of the important responsibilities that these individual people had the need and the right to carry out ( child care , jobs, care of relatives, simply choosing where to spend their time, or preparing and heading for AGM of local council........). These seemed to go down well and at least broke some of the boredom factor of the situation.

On two occasions I saw an individual attempting to demand their freedom by walking 'through' the police line. This action resulted in a very aggressive response each time with four or five police officers to tackle the individual to the ground.

Eventually, when a group of people pushed forward together they broke the line of police in front of us. There was a sudden movement of bodies that could have resulted n a crush, but people were mindful of each other and no-one fell under foot.

The impetus was however 'forward', and as I made my way to the edge of the crowd I could see that the police line had collapsed and individual officers were standing alone looking lost and without a plan. Continuing to walk on, the crowds dispersed. Peacefully.

I returned to find friends as we had become separated in the surge. As we prepared to leave we could see others still being trapped in at the far end of the road. We decided to turn down a side street. Calmly we walked to the tube station. Free once more. For now.

Is this a taste of things to come ?

We need to challenge these counter-productive and unacceptable police tactics now.

No comments: