By Mitch Mitchell
Recently, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the head of the Metropolitan Police, put forward a request to the police committee at City Hall for permission to request the use of water cannons on mainland UK for the first time.
It is a lengthy process. It has to be put to Londoners as a referendum, which, if that passes then has to go before the London Assembly and if that vote decides to go forward, it will then be put to that well-known ‘liberal’ Home Secretary, Theresa May for her assent.
Last night (February 18) the process began at City Hall with a public meeting, chaired by the Deputy Mayor with responsibility for policing and attended by three senior police officers (one of whom did not speak). An audience of 200 was there, and there many more who could not get in.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor, was not in attendance, but he has already made it known through statements to the press that he is in favour of the deployment of this blunt instrument.
Amongst the audience was a German Pensioner, Dietrich Wagner, who was at an environmental demonstration in Stuttgart and was knocked off his feet and blinded by a water cannon which hit him directly in the face. He told his tale of how, naively, he thought the weapon just made you a bit wet, but when in hospital, he was told that had the blast gone on for a few seconds longer, the bone around his eyes would have been shattered and bits of it could well have travelled to his brain which would have resulted in his death.
He received a standing ovation for his intervention. The police’s attitude seemed to be “we can’t comment on how the German police work”. One of Dietrich’s main points was that the German Police have strict rules about water cannon usage, but they seemed to have ignored or forgotten them in his case.
Also very well received by the audience was Susan Matthews, mother of Alfie Meadows, the student nearly killed by the police. She said that although Alfie was found not guilty, the family still has not received an apology from the Met and so she asked for one at the meeting. Her request was ignored.
Other interventions from the floor pointed to the police’s record with stop and search which is unfairly weighted against black and Asian people; the deaths of Mark Duggan and Jean-Charles de Menezes and others who died in police custody or at the hands of the police.
A photo-journalist who was kettled at the G8 protests in London, had his press card ignored (he was told by an officer to “fuck off with that”) and had his arm broken by the police, for which he successfully sued, asked how a water cannon would be able to discriminate between people legally demonstrating, members of the press covering the event and a few ”trouble makers”.. Again, this point was not properly answered.
The police seemed to want to stress that a water cannon would only be used as a last resort and showed three video clips to try and illustrate this point. One was of the G8 day when people were filmed chucking bricks at a line of coppers. Then they showed the Student Demo of 2010 where people were trying to break out of an illegal kettle. Finally they had footage of the 2011 riots, which another police force had said “using a water cannon in this situation would be like trying to use a chocolate tea-pot”.
I, for one, recall the police making similar assurances about the use of tazers and the tactic of kettling, both of which are now commonplace.
It is known that Johnson and the Met are trying to rush this legislation through before the summer and another unanswered question from the floor was “Why? What do you know that we don’t?”
The meeting descended into some disarray as feelings from the floor were becoming heated and the Deputy Mayor (who has the added indignity of looking just like Nick Griffin!) struggled to hold it together.
There is another meeting on February 24, called by Defend the Right to Protest. It will be at Queen Mary CCLS, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Room 3.1 and is timed to start at 6.30. I urge all who can, especially London comrades who will have a vote on this issue to attend.
This is another example of the state cracking down on those who wish to exercise their legal rights by demonstrating, withdrawing their labour and picketing, and otherwise showing dissent. We must fight it at all costs.