The perils of protest

From The Guardian / UKuncut:
Fortnum & Mason protesters filmed by UK Uncut – video
Footage filmed at the anti-cuts protest was shot by Green & Black Cross legal observers and handed to UK Uncut, which passed it on to the Guardian. It shows a police chief inspector telling demonstrators inside the Fortnum & Mason store they would be allowed to leave. After being led outside, Guardian footage shows the protesters being kettled and then arrested:”

Now I’m not going to get into the whole debate about ‘anarchy’ vs. ‘thuggery’ vs. ‘protest’ but personally I find this video evidence of the police telling seemingly peaceful protesters at the UKuncut sit-in at Fortnum & Mason on Saturday that they would be able to leave and go home (only to then find themselves arrested once they exited the building) totally disgraceful.

Unfortunately I was ill on Saturday and unable to attend the march, or the boat race for that matter as I thought it would’ve been good to infiltrate the Tory party from within by the banks of the Thames! (NB – if a certain someone is reading this then you know this is in jest – and you know who you are!) However watching this video obtained by The Guardian this morning I was appalled by the clear evidence that the police tricked protesters into believing they were being let go home.

It was then that I noticed several faces I knew, aquantances and people I had worked with recently on other NGO events and activities. People who in my experience would never cross the line from protest to vandalism or thuggery or do anything that would warrant arrest. The scenes of the sit-in from inside F&M didn’t seem outrageous, nor was any great damage done from what I can see so surely being forced to go to trial is an unnecessary weilding of police power – a threat to future actions perhaps? I also believe from those who were arrested (and then held in custody for 24 hours) that they not only had their mobile phones withheld but also their clothes – and are not being given them back until after the trial – surely a little extreme?!

The scenes in the video reminded me of the protests during COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 when hundreds of peaceful protesters were caught up in a kettling of Black Bloc anarchists and held for more than 5 hours in the sub-zero temperatures.

Police holding protesters during COP15

This actually happened right outside the apartment block I was staying in and we were unable to leave – the student residents above us were playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ out of the window at full volume to the crowd of protesters awaiting arrest seated below with their hands tied in handcuffs. They also beamed messages of support through a projector onto the building above them causing the police to storm our building (and terrifying us as to what would happen as 4 Australian NGO workers with an apartment full of filming equipment!).

Police holding protesters during COP15

It was a pretty harrowing experience, not least witnessing the brutality of the police and how they stormed the group with little regard for mothers carrying their children in the otherwise peaceful protest. I’m not excusing the actions of those who deliberately vandalise and attack buildings and symbols of power, it’s a shame that these actions are what make the news despite being only a small percentage of what happens at protests. It’s even more of a shame that groups intent on damage and vandalism use these protests to wreak havoc and damage the cause – are they even aligned to the cause or just to the excuse for violence I wonder – although I don’t know enough about them to say.

Nonetheless in the case of those arrested from the sit-in and comparatively peaceful protest last Saturday this really does seem like an overreaction and putting police and court resources into the wrong targets.

One response to “The perils of protest

  1. I was too busy being the Big Society on Saturday (digging the school garden with a small army of child labour as it happens) to make it all the way up to that London, but I’m pretty horrified at the way peaceful protesters were treated by the police – a friend of mine was released 22 hours later, in Surrey (she lives in Oxford) minus both her phone and her CLOTHES. What on earth do the police want with those, other than to intimidate and humiliate? I cried when I read this account, by a teenager who took part in the protest:

    I did have an argument (in the library!) with an old lady who was haranguing the librarian (!) who had been on the march… She appeared to think that all 500000 marchers were dangerous TopShop smashing anarchists, and that her son works very very hard and shouldn’t have to pay any more tax. I felt this was a bit rich coming from a pensioner in a public library…

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