Defend our right to protest

Crippen's cartoon of riot police

Crippen's riot police cartoon

I’m not so naive as to imagine that all police officers model themselves on Dixon of Dock Green (yes, I am old enough to remember him!) nor have I ever challenged the belief that there are a few bad apples in the constabulary barrel. But I must confess to having had my view of the local friendly bobby severely challenged of late.

I’ve spoken to a wide variety of people of all ages over the past several weeks who have taken part in the various protests organised against the cuts to services. These are ordinary, law abiding citizens who feel that the Coalition is doing too much damage to our society without them making some kind of protest.

Some of the people who have been on both local and national protest marches have spoken about the aggressive tactics employed by the police when ‘controlling’ these events; the officers seemingly viewing each protester as a potential trouble-maker, and treating them all accordingly.

One middle aged woman I spoke to had attended a local protest rally and had stood listening to speakers whilst holding a banner that read ‘no more cuts!’. When she decided to leave, her protest having been made, she approached the cordon of police who had surrounded the protesters and asked to be allowed through. A young woman officer, in full riot gear started to scream at her “get back you scum” and began pushing her back with her riot shield. The woman, who works as a support worker for a disabled person, told me that she had never encountered such violence from a person before, and that it had left her shocked and in tears.

Immediately after this encounter, she told me that the whole police line began surging forward and pushing into the crowd with their shields, starting a movement that resulted in all of the protesters being corralled into a nearby cul-de-sac. When people tried to leave they were forcibly pushed back.

When a small group of older protesters went forward to try and reason with the officers, they were confronted with batons being beaten against shields and officers shouting at them. The whole period of being ‘kettled’ in this way lasted for over two hours and resulted in our woman protester feeling that her right to peaceful protest had been torn to shreds by the people that she believed were there to protect her!

She told me: “If I hadn’t been there to witness it myself, I wouldn’t have believed how aggressive and abusive our police have become.”

This is not the only story relating to ordinary people who have tried to assert their right to peaceful protest and have been on the receiving end of what another protester described to me as these ‘storm trooper tactics’.

As another person commented to me: “It seems so hypocritical when our government is the first to point its finger at other regimes where the right to protest has been removed and violence inflicted upon ordinary people by soldiers and police.”

For further accounts from people who have attended some of the anti-cuts protests around the country, and who have experienced similiar treatment you can visit the ‘defend the right to protest’ web site by clicking here.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chris gwynne on 16/05/2011 at 11:20

    i put up a post on the guardian website to support the marches as i couldn’t be there as i live too far away and got a post back from a young man, a student who told me ” if they’re well enough to protest they’re well enough to work”. after i sent him history lesson about nazism and the rights of the disabled to protest he took his post down. the press and politicians have demonised us to the point where the public are attacking disabled people in the streets and the police are now just enforcers for a government that isn’t even legitimate and the bully boy tactics are typical tory style.


  2. Posted by rikki reid on 04/06/2011 at 10:31

    it’s not just the disableds right to protest but civil socity as a whole unite and fight the condem butchers


  3. Posted by Rob M on 04/06/2011 at 12:39

    Police violence against protestors is nothing new. During the student protests at the end of last year police charged peaceful crowds with horses, regularly ‘kettled’ large numbers of schoolkids for hours in the freezing cold and hit one student, Alfie Meadows, so hard with a truncheon that he had to undergo emergency brain surgery to save his life.

    In 1990 police attacked peaceful crowds protesting against the poll tax in Trafalgar Square provoking a riot that caused millions of pounds worth of damage to the posh shops in the West End of London and throughout 1984-5 police terrorised mining communities, protests in support of miners and miners picket lines. It’s widely believed that police killed Kevin Gateley and Blaire Peach following anti-nazi protests in the 70s. This is only a tiny fraction of their violent history.

    The police are not there to protect ordinary people, their claims to do so are laughable-look at how low their clear up rate is and how often they pursue, persecute and prosecute the wrong people. Their only real function is to protect the rich and powerful against the rest of us. That’s why they are paid inflated salaries with huge amounts of overtime for mostly sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

    I believe that society would be a much better place without them.


  4. Posted by deusexmacintosh on 13/06/2011 at 13:58

    Although to be fair, when I got lost on the London March I asked for directions from a policeman in full riot gear and he was very polite and helpful – but then he was guarding Topshop rather than kettling people.


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