Some of the responses to the rioting in London over November and December 2010 showed up quite how ill-informed some of the British population are about both what went on at those protests and about the damaging effect of the government removing one’s civil liberties. Let’s start with the former. The bigoted and knee-jerk reactions of some- even those who had previously said they support the students’ cause- was to call those who defaced property a disgrace and advocate the use of some quite barbaric police responses such as water cannons, tasers, vicious dogs and even rubber bullets. But these people don’t realise the can of worms they would be opening by giving the police the rights to enact such measures. Giving the police the lawful right to utilise extreme violence against protesters, by definition, creates a police state; a state where the police have ultimate power- where they are the law. Not where they enforce the law and act as impartial referees, as they should be, but where they are the law. If those advocating harsh replies had actually thought their points of views through, then surely they couldn’t possibly deem that an appropriate response to the conditions we currently face. Are they really willing to give up their basic human right of protest and the right to go wherever they like on public land whenever they wish, just so the police can maintain a totalitarian hold on society and stifle all protest with an iron fist?
This brings me on to my second point. Many of those witnessing the British media’s biased coverage of the protests responded by alleging that the majority were protesting peacefully but an aggressive minority just went out to cause violence and attack police officers. This is wrong on two counts. Firstly, almost all the cases of violence and rioting at these protests were caused by the tactics of the police officers; what started as a peaceful and even jovial protest ended with hatred being poured at coppers all around- and they were all around, because of kettling. Secondly, if everyone protested like these people seem to want them to (i.e. following all police orders, not causing much disruption and certainly not pulling up any political trees) what would that achieve? What did the ‘Not in My Name!’ protests, where no-one did more than chant and walk in line where they were told to by the authorities, accomplish? Nothing tangible whatsoever; British troops were still sent on illegal and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New ‘Labour’ simply gave lip-service to the views of the majority and still completed the latest task ordered onto this country by America, providing more evidence for the UK being the 51st state. It is also interesting to note that the biased media coverage is a milder form of that which the people had to suffer during Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, where the British media actually edited footage of the police attacking miners who were protesting, and the miners retaliating, to make it look like it was the other way around. While there were no edited pieces of footage played to my knowledge at the 2010 protests, the newspaper reports falsely made it sound like a group of anarchist were simply going out to attack police officers, who responded in kind.
Kettling is an illegal tactic, officially called ‘containment’, and its supposed effect is to calm down the protesters, which is absurd in the extreme; would you calm down if you had riot police keeping you in a horrendously confined space for seven, eight or nine hours, not letting you eat, drink, move or go to the toilet? No, of course not; it would breed resentment and anger, which is exactly what happened. Even worse, this is exactly what the police want to happen, as it gives them an excuse to use the kind of tactics advocated by more simple minded people (and the delightful Miss Theresa May) to quash protests. In the long run, this allows them to create an atmosphere where people are afraid to protest against the government that is supposed to represent them- a totalitarian state. But we MUST not let that happen. I wouldn’t like to meet the person who remains apathetic, or even positive, towards the police after being made to wet themselves in the middle of a packed group of people in central London; believe me, that happened to some of the protesters, who’s reactions to this are fully justified, as they are being treated like animals- like scum- by yet another arm of the fascist British state, the police. Not only is direct action morally justifiable, it is also the most effective way to make changes. The horrific poll tax was beaten by fighting back against the police, smashing things, burning things and blowing things up. Women acquired the right to vote in a similar manner. Would those criticising the London protesters also have condemned the Suffragettes in a similar manner? Even more shockingly to some, tactics such as covering your face so you can’t be identified are not exclusively the actions of protesters against the establishment. In the 1980’s, where the police were really going out looking for a fight, they took the numbers off their uniform, meaning that they too were free of the risk of being identified. Whatever the police do in the future protests- in January and in March around the time of the upcoming general strike- we must not get put off, we must not give in. We must keep going back and fighting for our basic human rights; the moment that attendance at big protests goes down or these events get more placid, that is when the capitalist state and the police have won.
The reason the government and police can get away with such tactics is because they slip under the radar of the majority of the population and are taken for granted, or even deemed as a positive thing by people who don’t understand their full effects. Take one example aside from kettling and violent police tactics: protests have to follow a pre-assigned route, like some grisly parade, with police on either side, hemming everyone in. That’s normal, right? Of course not! The police are stopping people from entering many plots of public land; why is this viewed as normal, as acceptable? Certainly, it is the rights of population to use public property and go wherever they want to on public land, even within the capitalist system. Yet it has slipped into the consciousness of the British population that it is the police’s right to stop people from going somewhere, just because they feel like it. A similar thing can be said to New Labour’s law of detaining supposed ‘terrorist’ suspects without charge. But that’s OK, isn’t it? Terrorists are a threat to national security! But not only is the term ‘terrorist’ subjective, as one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, but these aren’t proven terrorists, these are people the state has decided, for whatever reason, to brand with that label. Detaining them is as unlawful as holding all those innocent people in Guantanamo Bay. And we all know that the British government’s record at recognising terrorists isn’t the best- take the case of Jean Charles De Menezes, not to mention Harry Stanley, who was shot dead outside an East London Pub after police mistook a table leg he was carrying for a gun. And those are just the tip of the iceberg! I won’t go into this in more detail, as this article is about the student protests, but these are more examples of our basic civil liberties being retracted as this country lurches closer and closer to being a fully fledged police state.
Before Christmas, my friend Paul Saville was detained by police on trumped up charges of affray (in truth, all he did was stroke a police horse). He was denied two of the three meals he has a right to by law, the right to a solicitor and a phone call. The Guardian article about the incident can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/26/student-protester-stroked-police-horse This is an example of the police not allowing people their basic human rights. In Nazi Germany, the people had no rights, which was why it became a brutal totalitarian state. We are much nearer to that here than most people think, especially if Theresa May manages to bring water cannons, police dogs and rubber bullets to future protests like she wants to. What we can definitely be certain of is the notion that Britain is a ‘free’ country, hasn’t been accurate for years. To launch a successful revolution, the support of at least one of three groups is required: the police, the army or the overwhelming majority of the population. As the first two are looking increasingly unlikely (though not impossible) the need to educate people and bring them into the burgeoning movement becomes even more pronounced. This goes beyond student politics. This is about our basic human rights. One solution: revolution.