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Our campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches


4:44 pm - April 29th 2009

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Guest post by Guy Aitchison and Andy May
Tomorrow morning the Metropolitan Police Authority meets for the first time since the policing of the G20 protests. We will be there along with other members of a new campaign group, Defend Peaceful Protest, to question the Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson on how he plans to ensure the kind of brutal and intimidatory police tactics used in the City on April 1st, which resulted in the death of one man, hundreds of assaults and the systematic violation of the rights of thousands to peaceful protest and assembly, aren’t repeated.

We now have had confirmation that the Chief Executive of the MPA will receive the following questions submitted by us:

1. Why were many police at the G20 demonstrations not wearing shoulder ID or deliberately concealing ID when categoric assurances had been made by Silver star commander Broadhurst to MPs that this would not happen?

2 Will there be a wider independent investigation into allegations of systematic use of excessive force by police against individual protestors?

3 Will there be a broader review into policing strategy at protests in general, in addition to the review of policing at the G20 protests?

4 Will the chair of the MPA meet with Defend Peaceful Protest and other groups who were at the G20 protests to ensure that any review of the tactics deployed at the G20 includes the experiences of the protestors themselves?

We believe the Met’s handling of the G20 protest reveals the danger to the democratic rights and safety of protesters when aggressive police tactics are deployed. The police’s decision to indiscriminately detain thousands of individuals (including passers-by) without access to food, water, toilets or medicine, fomented a dangerous and unpredictable atmosphere.

So far, unfortunately, Sir Paul Stephenson has given little indication that he grasps the severity of the problem. He was silent until the release of the most damaging footage of the police attack on Ian Tomlinson a week after his death and has failed to offer the public strong reassurances that a culture of violence will not be tolerated in the Met and that his force is committed to protecting and facilitating the right to peaceful protest. In an article in the Evening Standard last week, Stephenson praised the “astonishing effort” of the G20 operation and urged Londoners not to judge his organisation based on the actions of the “handful” of officers now being investigated for assault.

Alongside similar remarks by Sir Ken Jones, president of ACPO, Stephenson’s comments suggest that senior police commanders will attempt to evade responsibility for the systemic failure of leadership within the force and refuse to carry out the reforms needed to win the confidence of the public, 59% of whom now judge the policing at the G20 “too violent”.

Defend Peaceful Protest campaign
Defend Peaceful Protest will work alongside other campaigns, including other groups which came out of the G20 protests like the United Campaign Against Police Violence, to ensure this doesn’t happen. Defend Peaceful Protest is a young organization, both in terms of how long it has been going and the age of its members. We aim to be non-aligned, working with individuals and groups from across the political spectrum – the right to protest is, after all, common to each of us.

Our focus so far has been on bringing the brutal policing at the G20 to the attention of the media and politicians and we hope to build on initial successes in getting some of the shocking video footage of the protests into the mainstream.

But we are also clear that the threats to peaceful protest come from many sources and not just from police brutality towards protesters. Within the last few weeks alone we’ve had news of the police operation at a school in Nottingham at which 114 individuals were pre-emptively arrested for planning a protest at a nearby power station as well as the infiltration and intimidation by police of environmental groups. We believe such tactics are part of a wider trend towards the demonization and criminalization of protest, itself an aspect of growing state authoritarianism.

These threats to our democratic rights and traditions can be overcome, but only by concerted effort and campaigning beyond the initial furore surrounding the policing of the G20.

Here we are publishing a provisional list of our aims with the hope of getting ideas, feedback and support:

  1. Investigation
    We’re calling for a fully independent, effective and impartial investigation into the tactics and methods employed by the police at and around the date of the G20 protests to include an investigation into individual allegations of police brutality, the use of the “kettling” and other techniques, the deliberate obscuring of police identity badges, the disproportionate use of force and the allegations of improper use of police equipment. Any inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 will not satisfy the criteria for a genuinely effective and impartial investigation. The hearings and the methods of the investigation must be made public and there must be public disclosure of the evidence and findings.
  2. Dialogue
    We would like to propose the running of a forum with the Metropolitan Police; a transparent dialogue in which all interested parties could respectfully exchange views and discuss this important agenda. We believe that an unambiguous and respectful dialogue will be tremendously beneficial to all parties involved.
  3. Reform
    Active reform of both policy and practice and where applicable legislation to ensure that all methods and tactics employed by police reflect and promote the right to peaceful protest. Reforms should include:
  4. – An immediate ban on the “kettling technique” at peaceful protests.
    – Greater accountability for senior management, changes in the way tactical decisions are made and a review of training and recruitment for riot police.
    – New human-rights based guidelines for the policing of peaceful protests: we believe that the police should protect and facilitate peaceful protest, rather than seek to shut it down.
    – An end to the intimidating and probably illegal practice of filming peaceful protesters and adding their profiles to a central intelligence database along with those of criminals.
    – An end to the use of catch-all anti-terror powers, such as stop and search, to harass and intimidate protesters.
    – A repeal of all laws which interfere unduly with democratic rights to protest and assembly, such as the restrictions on protest within 1km of Parliament (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005)

We are in the process of preparing a submission to the Home Affairs select committee who are conducting an inquiry into the policing of the G20 protests, so if you were at the protest and would like to submit your account do get in touch before Friday. We are also lobbying MPs and establishing links with other groups and campaigns.

If you would like to be involved, please join the facebook group, visit the website, write to your MP and – if you live in London – your GLA member. Anyone with website building skills who’d like to help would be very welcome. You can get in touch with us at: no2policeviolenceATgooglemail.com We’ll feedback on the MPA meeting here tomorrow.

————
Guy Aitchison is a contributing editor at openDemocracy.net where he blogs at OurKingdom. Earlier this year he was one of the organisers of the Convention on Modern Liberty.
Andrew May works for major human rights organisation and is a founding member of Defend Peaceful Protest. He has previously worked as an MP’s researcher and Election Agent and now lives in East London.

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Reader comments


Great, but please remember that protests occur outside London. The excessive police actions at Kingsnorth and the outrageous pre-emtive arrest of 114 people at Ratcliffe (all released without charge) show that it’s not just a Met issue, it’s a national problem.

Hi Andrew, Good point. the immediate focus is on the Met who had responsibility for the G20 protests but the aims we list under “reform” are aimed at the police in general.

3. Chris Williams

This looks like a good thing to do. If you’re going to focus outside London as well, perhaps you need to see if you can find anything about police threatening to close down demonstrations by billing the organisers for the police time needed to control them. I heard this was happening in West Mids, but I’ve not had any hard evidence about it as yet. NB this practice is legal, and has been for over 200 years, so let’s now waste breath yelling about it in and of itself. The problem is if it’s being used selectively in ways that effectively close down freedom of assembly, which I don’t think would be legal.

By the way, last time I checked (and it was more than a decade ago when I was sure, so things might have moved on) yr man is ‘silver commander’ not ‘silver star commander’. Also, if you say ‘riot police’ they’ll quibble. Called the, ‘police in a public order role’ and they’ll have to address the issues rather than quibble.

If I were you, and really wanted to make it broad-based, I’ll phone up the Countryside Alliance (remember them? bless) who had some genuine greivances about the way that their demo at Parliament was treated: they might want to be in the room too.

Check out Lord Scarman’s inquiry in Red Lion Square, as well as the one he did into Brixton. It fudged the main conclusions, but it’s the kind of thing that you should be describing.

Thanks Chris. Yes, there was a recent case in Salford of pupils at a local school being charged by a Labour Council to march in protest:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1577665/Council-charges-pupils-for-protest-march.html

We will be getting in touch with the Countryside Alliance. I did mention their 2004 demo in the original version of this post. Similar police behaviour to that at the G20 it seems, just no camera phones.

Thanks for the Scarman suggestion – will check it out.

I think the underlaying problem with what we’ve seen is based on the fact that people who are aware and try to change and take a stand about our society and the way we pollute and destroy the planet as well as our human rights is that our civilasation is based on economic growth. This growth has to be defended at all cost and no consideration for people, animals, environment and the planet as a whole fits into that equation! Anyone fighting for either of those courses does a tremendous job and this should be respected and allowed becuase without these people we would all perish the way things are going now! The government is the ultimate body that can make these changes and their choice should be based on what is important, not on economic growth! It is time they began to listen to the people! It is time they start to care and take action! Not in 10 years but NOW!

Keep up the good work people.

I think the policing of the smash edo may day event in Brighton on Monday is likely to be yet another example of the disgraceful tactics police use across the country. Sussex police have already been using extremely inflammatory language in the alarmingly right wing local paper, The Argus. I hope some independent, national journalists are present.

Hi,

Myself, Guy, Anna and Emma who just got back from the MPA meeting after submitting questions. Bit of a mixed message from the police really, at some points they were admitting that mistakes may have been made and that they needed to look at tactics. However at other points they were making inaccurate claims about the nature of the threat at the G20. They also claimed they warned members of climate camp with a loudhailer that they would be moving in to clear the protest. From all accounts i’ve heard this is untrue.

The good news is that most of the MPA members were concerned and supportive of our aims. However we need to continue to keep up the pressure on this, its absolutely crucial that people continue to defend their right to peaceful protest outside of events like the G20 to ensure when they might want to protest about something important to them in future, they don’t suffer the same abuses again!

Was told there was a live online feed of the meeting – if anyone finds this could they post it here I can’t see it up yet…

Should be able to watch meeting here

http://www.london.gov.uk/webcasts.jsp

What you need is a protest against the policing of protests that protest against the treatment of protests. Alternatively, you could grow up and stop wasting your life disrupting other people.

I’d like to ask the Met to get on with proper policing: preventing crime and catching the scum that burgled and trashed my in-laws place. Not wasting a huge number of personnel, resources and money on policing pathetic and pointless protests.

“This growth has to be defended at all cost and no consideration for people, animals, environment and the planet as a whole fits into that equation!”

Uhh… economic growth just means more people getting more things that they need and want (which, can include things like cleaner parks and rivers of course). So it is not surprising you find it difficult to challenge it as an idea! It is just the sum of what people pursue when they aren’t being forced to do something else. Now I realise you associate some activities involved in economic activity with damage to the planet, but it would be nice if you tried, at least, to disaggregate some of that activity. Setting economic growth as whole up as your enemy is not a good strategy. Otherwise, a lot of people might conclude not to bother adapting their behaviour on the basis of “better dead than smeg”.

“I’d like to ask the Met to get on with proper policing: preventing crime and catching the scum that burgled and trashed my in-laws place. Not wasting a huge number of personnel, resources and money on policing pathetic and pointless protests.”

Agree with that completely (apart from the pathetic and pointless bit, which is purely vindictive), and I think there’s a lot of mileage for the left pointing out that while working class communities feel like there’s no point reporting anti-social behaviour and vandalism of ordinary people’s property to the police because nothing seems to come of it, hundreds of police in riot gear with dogs are supposedly needed to protect the property of huge financial organisations.

“They also claimed they warned members of climate camp with a loudhailer that they would be moving in to clear the protest. From all accounts i’ve heard this is untrue.”

Even if they did, that doesn’t mean their action in clearing the camp violently is automatically ok. The police can request demonstrators act in a particular way, but they should not be seen as a law unto themselves, and it’s perfectly reasonable for demonstrators not to do something purely because the police have requested it, but weigh up the pros and cons on their own terms.

13. Sue D'Onym

Did the TSG and their role get a mention at the MPA meeting? Is it on the agenda?

‘Chavscum’ (lovely handle by the way) – as I understand it, the TSG’s own image of themselves, like that of the SPG before them, is of coppers who go sort out the real criminals. Like you, and perhaps even like some of them before the red mist descends, I’d much rather that they were nicking toerag scum instead of twatting hippies on Bishopsgate.

G20.Its fair to assume that the Police made a big mistake by 1) over-estimating the criminal element and 2) over-estimating the number of protesters (indicating the pointlessness of the protest).

Previous anti-capitalist, rent-a-leftie gatherings have become violent, so I can understand their planning. It seems that despite the hype of the Media the protesters were mostly whinging middle-class students and activists and they have been ignored by the disaffected that might have caused the Police serious problems.

There is no getting away from the fact the protest was organised to cause maximum disruption in a confined area of the City. The organisers of protests have a responsibility to police themselves and behave in a respectable way towards the public and property. If they cannot or refuse to, then the Police have a right to manage them aggressively, but without indulging in random violence (as with Ian Thomlinson).

As protesting has become a leisure pursuit for some people, perhaps organisers should in future apply for a licence and also provide stewards.

Isn’t the MPA full of lefties anyway?

“What you need is a protest against the policing of protests that protest against the treatment of protests. Alternatively, you could grow up and stop wasting your life disrupting other people.”

Haha – good one chavscum! By “grow up” do you mean not question the status quo? Perhaps when you, chavscum, grow up you’ll realise that civil liberties matter. Maybe one day you’ll want to protest against something. And if you want to do it without “disrupting” people, do it in a field on your own and see how much effect that has.

tim f “The police can request demonstrators act in a particular way, but they should not be seen as a law unto themselves, and it’s perfectly reasonable for demonstrators not to do something purely because the police have requested it, but weigh up the pros and cons on their own terms.”

Agree completely. But if the police violated the proper procedure then that it is important too and should be looked at.

Sue “Did the TSG and their role get a mention at the MPA meeting? Is it on the agenda?” Yes several members of the MPA raised concerns of an aggressive culture within the TSG who it was feared may have become “battle-hardened” and hence desensitised to violence. We’ll post a proper report on the TSG soon.

16. louise fielder

I cant believe it has taken some1 to die b4 any1 has spoke up bout this. As a party goer i hav already witnessed police brutality first hand. When they go in t shut things down they never wear there numbers in there opinion as we shouldn’t be there its fine to batter people to the ground n trample on them. I am a young girl weigh no more than 8 stone obviously no big threat and was just standing in the wrong place apparently when i had my nose splattered across my face by a police shield. These are the people who are supposed to protect us, there presence is supposed to calm down situations n make them safe but often causes the opposite. In my opinion nothing will be done about this they’ll just get better at hiding it

17. louise fielder

and just a comment to chavscum who clearly has had a very sheltered life obviously the protest was organised to disrupt the city on that afternoon how else would any1 notice or listen to the opinions of ordinary people who actually keep this country running!! We pay taxes we should have the right to be heard

Sue,

Anna Bragga of the Greens has written a very good and detailed report on the MPA meeting which mentions the discussion of the TSG:

http://www.opendemocracy.net/blog/ourkingdom-theme/anna-bragga/2009/05/01/met-watchdog-critical-of-g20-tactics-0

19. Tom Millyard

This whole discussion upsets me! Not of course that its a bad thing… It simply shouldn’t be nessesary… As Louise states at the end, these are the people who are supposed to protect us. I remember hearing about that party incident Louise, I remember it disgusting me then.

It seems to me like for a while after the ‘battle of the beanfields’ the police were either too ashamed (i would like to think), or in too high profile (more likely) to take part in such overt violence towards innocent members of the public, but for some reason recently have been finding their batons again. This is surely as much a part of the current governments fault as it is that of the police… Its seems obvious to me that any organisation give SO MUCH power over the public should be INTENSELY regulated to the point where this kind of abuse cannot happen!

I worry hugely that there is a culture within the police force that drops every brown-combat wearing pedestrian into their ‘Viscious rebel scum’ catagory and therefore gives them the right to randomly ‘Crack some skulls’.

I will say one more thing before i sign out of this comment… My first reaction, when watching the news on the G20 protest in London and seeing masked protesters smashing banks windows and climbing inside was ‘Idiots… They’ve broken the FIRST rule of protesting, what can the police do now but get violent’, but the more footage i watch and the more reports i read, the clearer it becomes that the police were there with the intent of ‘letting off some steam’, I would love to know more for sure about who STARTED what… a childish sentiment?? no. Its the only one that matters. Ghandi was right ‘Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.’ We MUST NOT be seen to be putting the police in which they ‘have no choice’ rather we must stand tall with our heads up… but never our fists! That way when the police react like this the case will be open and shut!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Our campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches http://tinyurl.com/cvgeyh

  2. Chris Little

    RT @OnModernLiberty new campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches ahead of Met meeting tomorrow http://is.gd/vpgT

  3. John Goodwin

    RT @OnModernLiberty: new campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches ahead of Met meeting tomorrow http://is.gd/vpgT

  4. Brian L Johnson

    RT @OnModernLiberty: new campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches ahead of Met meeting tomorrow http://is.gd/vpgT

  5. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Our campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches http://tinyurl.com/cvgeyh

  6. Chris Little

    RT @OnModernLiberty new campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches ahead of Met meeting tomorrow http://is.gd/vpgT

  7. John Goodwin

    RT @OnModernLiberty: new campaign to Defend Peaceful Protest launches ahead of Met meeting tomorrow http://is.gd/vpgT





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