Riot police, kettles and violence were used to break up yesterday’s #FuckTheTories protest in London with 17 people arrested. Several thousand people had taken to the streets to protest “another five years of Tor(y)ment”. The mood was buoyant and marched without incident for several hours from the assembly point at the Conservative Party Campaign quarters through Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge. One police officer was over heard telling passers by “they’ve said they will leave –when the Tories leave.”
However not long after 4pm the police provoked a confrontation by attempting to snatch arrest a protester as people marched up Whitehall. Hundreds of demonstrators were then surrounded and kettled for several hours whilst police pushed and punched at protesters, wielding extendable police batons and snatching people out of the crowd.
As Brick Lane Debates, who organised the protest alongside London Black Revs and others, put it: “All escalation was down to the police. They pushed us, threw us and kicked us. We were kettled, our sound system was seized and we were threatened with baton charges for simply standing our ground.”
Georgie Robertson, Co-President of Welfare and Campaigns at SOAS said “Despite it being a non-violent protest, the police decided to randomly seal off a whole area outside Downing Street with everyone still in the area, including tourists, getting kettled.”
One protester, Imogen Tyreman posted an image on Facebook: “This is from me, something I saw, not as a retaliation to the violence of the person involved; they, like us, were just trying to leave at that time. This is simply one example of many of how the police reacted when we tried to exercise our democratic right and show that we were unhappy with the results of the General Election.”
The heavy police presence, kettling and use of targeted violence against protesters is something that became increasingly common during the coalition years. (See for example DtRtP’s recent briefing on Threats to Freedom of Association and Assembly) As David Renton commented in Protest and the Coalition: “There is no single statute at work here, no authoritarian legislation masquerading Blair- or Cameron-style as reform, no single policy that could be opposed by a well-targeted petition, but the incremental way in which an extra dose of iron has entered into the soul of the state.”
It was also noticeable yesterday how the initial silence from most media outlets was very quickly replaced by over the top reports of “riots”, “vandals” and “mobs” taking over central London once the riot police were deployed.
The size and determination of yesterday’s protests - called at such short notice - indicate such policing and media hype is not going to be sufficient to stop on-going protests against a full-blooded Tory government. As one protester quoting Audre Lorde put on her banner: “Protest – your silence will not protect you.”
However it is also true that the expectation of routine kettling, violence or arrest can have a deterrent effect, whilst those who are arrested, charged or bailed can find their right to protest removed or inhibited in a process that can take many months, even years.
Defend the Right to Protest was first established in the wake of ferocious police violence and attempts at wide-scale criminalization of student protesters in 2010. (see campaign launch statement and We need Unity – Defend the Millbank Protesters) Although defence campaigns were largely successful, and many of those affected continued to be involved in the movement, 12 people were sent to prison and many others were intimidated from getting involved in future protest because of their experience of kettling, police abuse and the court system.
So it remains essential that we continue to build effective support around any arrested protesters and refuse a narrative which seeks to turn disruptive protest into “riot” or “mob” whilst campaigning to push back these continued attacks on our right to protest. With Michael Gove now Justice Secretary and holding a brief to dismantle the Human Rights Act (following an onslaught of legal aid cuts) this must be a vital part of building opposition to the new government.
Solidarity to all those arrested or injured yesterday – and big up to GBC and all those involved in arrestee support yesterday.
If you witnessed police violence or arrests or sustained injuries get in touch with Green and Black Cross on 07946 541511 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want advice/resources for a defence campaign or are happy to share you experiences of policing yesterday please email us email@example.com
Defend the Right to Protest Bust Card
Green and Black Cross advice for going on demonstrations
NETPOL Guide to Kettles