DTRTP has its roots in the student protest movement which ignited in 2011 after the Coalition government tripled university fees and scrapped EMA grants. Horrified by the brutal policing tactics deployed against principled individuals standing up for education, we campaigned extensively in defence of protesters who found themselves wrongly caught up in a vindictive justice system.
We provided advice and support to arrestees who found themselves turfed out of police stations miles from home, disorientated and scared. We have campaigned on alongside protesters including Alfie Meadows, Zak King and the Hilliard Brothers, all of whom have been acquitted of any wrongdoing in the face of brutal and unlawful policing. Over the years since, a clear pattern has emerged showing that the overwhelming majority of those arrested in the student protests who challenged their charges found them dropped by police, reduced to lesser charges or were acquitted by juries at trial.
We have campaigned against the use of mass arrest and imposition of blanket bail conditions to intimidate protestors en masse – from the 286 arrested protesting against the EDL in Tower Hamlets to the Westfield 84 arrested protesting in solidarity with Eric Garner’s family, and many anti-fracking campaigners. Again the overwhelming majority of these arrests have not led to any findings of criminality whatsoever. This is a vindictive strategy which needlessly stigmatises and traumatises innocent individuals by dragging them through the justice system; whilst at the same time poisoning the media narrative around protest with high numbers of arrests feeding myths that any and all protest inevitably leads to violence and criminality.
When former Mayor of London Boris Johnson ignored the advice of experts and paid for police water cannon to be used on our streets, DTRTP mobilised the voices and expertise of campaigners, lawyers, and politicians to oppose the further militarisation of a police force which has proven again and again that it cannot be trusted with lethal weapons. The Home Secretary eventually conceded and refused to authorise their use.
In October 2014 we produced a paper which was presented to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association at an international summit held in Kenya. The report shone a light on the British State’s disregard for protest rights through oppressive policing tactics and served as a warning to legal experts from around the world that the British model of public order policing in the 21st Century is far more insidious than our police would care to admit.
A whole spectrum of protest activity is now under surveillance via the domestic extremism database – which details the political activities of thousands of protesters, most of whom are not even suspected of committing any crime. We support Netpol’s campaign to shut this database down. We also support the victims of perverse infiltration by undercover police officers, and we are a core participant in the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing. The government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy is now also set to clamp down on protest groups, and the upcoming Counter Extremism Bill could see lawful protestors having their voices silenced.
Protest is embarrassing for any government. It is a loud, visible manifestation of dissent and discontent in a world where more and more people feel disenfranchised and forgotten by a greedy and out of touch political class. The right to protest is a cornerstone of any democracy and is recognised as a human right. Wherever police and politicians try to stamp it out we must do everything in our power to defend it.