Exclusive: leaders ask police not to victimise students at protests


11:07 pm - December 8th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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This letter – signed by a range of student leaders and commentators, is published here exclusively and will also be sent to the Metropolitan Police.

There have been several recent incidents, highlighted on Liberal Conspiracy, of police heavy-handedness at student protests.

The police have charged into protesters on horses, punched students without provocation and sprayed dangerous chemicals in their face.

Jon Cruddas is the only MP to sign the letter, though it was organised at very short notice today.

* * * * * * * *

Today, tens of thousands of students and school pupils will march on Parliament to express our sincere and strongly held opposition to the coming public sector cuts, and in particular to the higher education bill upon which the Commons is set to vote. We will be marching in the best traditions of British representative democracy.

What we ask is that our voices be heard, and that we not be victimised by the police.

After being comprehensively let down by the Parliamentary process we have resorted to the last recourse available to concerned citizens in a democratic country: direct action. We intend to march on Parliament square, as any other destination would be inadequate to our purposes. We are asking ACPO, the Metropolitan police and the executive to respect our right to do this, as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 5, 10 and 11).

The police response to recent anti-cuts protests and to non-violent direct actions such as flashmobs has employed what many consider excessive force, from holding teenagers against their will for hours in sub-zero temperatures to unprovoked physical attacks on young protesters, one of whom has already been hospitalised following these tactics on the part of the police. Such violent tactics are not adequate responses to public disorder – rather, they actively provoke public disorder. We are asking the Metropolitan police to protect the children and young people of Great Britain as we gather to make our voices heard.

The current Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were elected, if barely, on a platform of protecting civil liberties. Less than six months into this government, however, we have already seen police horses charging at children at the symbolic heart of the mother of democratic parliaments. If they do not want to be complicit, as our elected representatives, in fatally undermining the right to protest, a right which is part of the constitutional foundation of any democracy, they must ensure that we can reach our Parliament safely today.

Moreover, following the emergence of compromising video footage of police protest tactics in recent weeks, the relationship between officers of the law and the public, a large proportion of whom support the students and school pupils in their cause, is already imperilled. If excessive force is perceived to be employed by the police against minors today, it may disintegrate entirely. As law-abiding citizens, we would not wish to see this happen, and so we implore you to help us reach our Parliament safely today.

We are peaceful, and we are determined to be heard. Many of us are frightened of how the police may react to our non-violent action today, and fearful for our safety and the safety of our friends, but there is something that frightens us more: the prospect of a future where public education and welfare provision are distant memories, where secure jobs and places to live are the sole preserve of the rich. Yesterday’s ‘concessions’ in the tuition fees bill are as much use as offering a flannel to a drowning person. We fear the destruction of educational opportunities, social security, jobs and public services more than we fear the police, so we will march today in spite of prior intimidation, and we will not be cowed.

We are peaceful, and we implore the police to respond to our action in a peaceful manner. For the sake of democracy in Britain, we urge the police and the executive to refrain from any and all punitive tactics and to respect the provisions for our safety and free expression guaranteed us in the European Convention on Human Rights by not detaining young people against their will in the open air, assaulting protesters with batons, or by employing police horses or dogs intimidate us. An outrage may happen inside Parliament today: we ask you to ensure that another does not occur on the streets outside. We ask you to help us reach our Parliament safely today, as we gather to take a stand against the violence being done to our future.

Aaron Porter, president, National Union of Students
Clare Solomon, president, University of London Union
Wes Streeting, former president, National Union of Students
The University College, London occupation
The King’s College London occupation
The London School of Economics occupation
The School of Oriental and African Studies occupation
The Manchester University occupation
The Royal Holloway occupation
The Oxford Education Campaign
The University of Cambridge occupation
The University of Warwick occupation
The University of East London occupation.
Sheffield University Occupation Stop The Cuts
Camden School for Girls occupation
Acland Burghley School occupation
Billy Bragg, activist and musician
Jon Cruddas MP
Johann Hari, columnist, the Independent
Suzanne Moore, columnist, The Daily Mail and Guardian
Laurie Penny, columnist, New Statesman
Sunny Hundal, Editor, Liberal Conspiracy
Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Telegraph
Clare Sambrook, novelist and journalist
Professor Keith Ewing, King’s College London
Anthony Barnett, Open Democracy
Stuart Weir, Democratic Audit
Graham Turner, Economist and author

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Quite shocking that school kids have to appeal not to be clubbed, gassed and kettled by the Coalition forces as they walk the streets in a demonstration. The strong on civil liberties farce did not last long.

Good letter. (Why publish it at LC “exclusively” – is the national press not interested? If not, why not? They should be…)

There’s something in all this about the role of the establishment and the state in suppressing dissent, whether New Labour, Tory / Lib Dem or whatever. That said, I’m quite surprised to see how quickly the coalition has abandoned any pretence of defending civil liberties…

I suppose it’s easier to sound self-righteous in opposition.

There are questions to be answered about the aggressive and indeed provocate stance being taken by the Met.

Who is Bob Broadhurst taking his orders from? Whose interest is it in to be able to portray the demonstrators as violent thugs? What do the police feel they have to gain by behaving like this?

Quite shocking that school kids have to appeal not to be clubbed, gassed and kettled by the Coalition forces as they walk the streets in a demonstration.

Let’s not start this by talking of Coalition forces.
The Met would probably say that they are just doing their normal policing.
Like they police EDL verses UAF protests for example.
They are often thuggish and heavy handed it cannot be denied.

Let’s not start this by talking of Coalition forces.
The Met would probably say that they are just doing their normal policing.
Like they police EDL verses UAF protests for example.
They are often thuggish and heavy handed it cannot be denied.

This. The Met was acting like a law unto itself long before the coalition came to power.

I don’t know about anyone else but it has always seemed to me that the Police, at a political level, have no real authority. We, you and I, expect at the very least due process from the Police, and by and large, where it is not political, we get it.

But it flips into some sort of different ball game entirely when groups of people disagree with the settled will of the government in power. Any government in power. It seems to me that that side of policing gives up on balance between the individual and the state and adopts, perhaps for pecuniary reasons, perhaps just because they can, a peculiarly different view of what we, you and I, should expect or demand. I think that it is us that should insist that policing is perhaps more of a balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of the state to suppress protesters. I think we need a more neutral Police Service.

I would really like to see the Police stop killing or maiming innocent people. Then we could adopt them as ‘our’ Police Force and not see them, as some do, as state agents.

But that is almost impossible when citizens are killed without due process and the cops get off Scot free. It is the impossibility of bringing any successful prosecution against a force that is supposed to be protecting us that bumps off the occasional innocent. As if that is the price we have to pay. As if.

There ought to be a better way of dealing with this, other than Police Forces wrapping themselves around their apparent right to be more brutal to you than they would allow me to be.

I understand the counter arguments. I understand that there are some incredibly bad people out there. But we are policed by consent, and they are burning that up by attacking peoples sons and daughters.

V good point @Douglas Clark

I recollect a school friend wishing to join the police who was great but really didn’t have a clue. And from what her experience is-she sees it as a noble act which differs from our perceptives and not sure she is entirely to blame however much I loathe the ‘force’.

Again, it’s back to culture, education etc folks!

The police have charged into protesters on horses, punched students without provocation and sprayed dangerous chemicals in their face.

How many police officers did those things? Out of how many police officers at the protests?

I suggest characterising all police as thugs might be unhelpful.

NOTE:
For the hard of thinking: no, I don’t support disproportionate force; kettling for hours seems excessive…

I would really like to see the Police stop killing or maiming innocent people.

I know, the mass slaughter of innocent people, day after day, is pretty sickening. It’s been a while since I could walk through London without getting blood on my shoes.

Leaders?

ukliberty,

There are sufficient cases for it to be a bit worrying.

Though i have to say it is worth a try i don’t think it will get the students any where,

The police have been used as a state army for years now the first i remember as a child was in the miners strike when i saw my friends house raided by special branch.

Then the pitched battles of miners striking and the police raking it in on over time.
some even getting enough to buy a house while the people who they where fighting ( and it was fighting ) have to ask people for food.

Thatcher used the police as far as i know first in this type of action.

Then the poll tax and Yes i was their with three 70 year old ladies.
I did not riot but i was called a rioter I saw a police van drive in to people.
and the girl ran down by a load of police on horses.

Now i respect the law i take a great deal of pride in this.
Unlike David our PM or the mayor of london i have not been chased around by the police for wreaking a restaurant
( if a working class guy or gal did that would he be the PM now ? )

though every thing i have done i have done so because i believe in it.

Belief is something that people don’t seam to have any more.

But as i see it the students have at least stood up like alot of us did once to change something then the press says their YOBs.

We should be proud of them.

douglas,

There are sufficient cases for it to be a bit worrying

I would agree that there appears to be a tendency to close ranks and obstruct investigations and justice when someone is injured or killed. That is something I dislike – I understand it, but I don’t like it.

But I don’t think it’s helpful or even true, for that matter, to suggest all police officers are thugs, go around punching innocent passers-by, galloping on horses at children! won’t somebody think of the children?, and spraying dangerous chemicals in people’s faces.

There has been, what,

One case of punching.

One case of chemical spraying (a fire extinguisher, I don’t know if there was a fire).

One case of striking a woman into unconsciousness.

One case of a group of officers on horse, some walking their horses, some at a canter, toward crowds of protesters – I’m not bothered about that, to be honest, unless someone was hurt, which AFAIK hasn’t happened.

Obviously that is four cases too many, and there ought to be investigations, but I don’t think we need to be too worried on the face of it, and I think so far it is an improvement on previous years. There are after all some 33,000 officers in the Met (36,000 if you include Specials) – I don’t know how many are involved in policing the protests, but I imagine it’s a lot.

I think protesters have a much, much better general case against kettling, than they do against “unprovoked physical attacks”, because there has been a lot of kettling and not a lot of “unprovoked physical attacks”.*

* Can we safely say there have been any wholly “unprovoked physical attacks”?

Fuck the protesters. I hope the police get them.

UKLiberty,

I was thinking about this from a far longer historical perspective than I think you are. You may be right that there has been an improvement in recent years, but I am still concerned at the lack of credible accountability.

@14 – You must be a Tory butler or somesuch, corporate masters blah blah blah fuck troll fuck troll

douglas clark,

Concerned about the lack of accountability in your police?

The coalition have just the product for you.

Elected police chiefs – answerable for their force’s actions.

Don’t like what they do, then vote them out.

And the best bit is, you don’t even have to vote for the coalition as the plans are in progress.

Yes. We’re setting fire to things *peacefully*, why are you victimising us?

Watchman @ 17,

Maybe there is a good point in there, but I have a problem with today’s policing.

The media appears to think that what we saw today was justified. How they reached that conclusion so quickly is beyond me. I have no idea, for instance when Parliament Square became a holy place that protesters had to be prohibited from going to. It is also pretty apparent, to me at least, that the attempt to control the narrative has been blatant and reminiscent of some of the stuff Gnome mentioned @ 12.

You may disagree and the analysis of this will go on for months, and the facts will be debated too. Did the police manhandle a wheelchair victim or not? What idiot thought a cavalry charge was a good idea? And on the other side of the fence, what idiot chose the Royal route?

But, for many folk, the Police are seen as doing the will of the state and not the will of the citizen. Nor are they seen as credible mediators. I think that is an imbalance in the society we have. I think we ought to think about it. For there is no point in having a law enforcement agency that doesn’t command our respect. (Well, there is, but I’d rather not go there.)

For it was argued years ago that when any democratic state comes under attack it mutates into a dictatorship. We are, obviously, not there yet, but we are on the famous slippery slope.

20. Chiase Guevara

@ 18 Jason

“Yes. We’re setting fire to things *peacefully*, why are you victimising us?”

Oh, great point, that. Next time someone standing near you or associated with you in any way breaks the law, I’m sure you’ll volunteer to go to jail.

Engage brain before posting next time, perhaps?

Chaise; you’re right – I was flippant and unfair, and I apologise. I do have some genuine problems with your argument, though.

It only really works if you (the wider cause) dissociate yourself from the “bad apples”. I’ve seen very little condemnation of the violence from strong supporters of the protest – here or elsewhere. The dominant themes have been “it just shows how angry we are”, “it’s a good thing because it gets us media attention” and “property doesn’t matter”.

There isn’t much the organisers and leaders can do about individuals determined to make trouble – but there *are* things they can do to discourage, control and mitigate. Maybe those things were done, I don’t know – but if not, the letter is a bit hypocritical in my view.

Finally, as #19 above puts it, it’s a “blatant attempt to control the narrative”. If you’ve declared your peaceful intent and violence happens, it must be the police’s fault for provoking it, right? It puts the police in a situation they can only lose.

(Just for context, by the way, I’m against the tuition fee rises. I think the anger is a bit out of proportion, given the genuinely shocking things that governments have done over the last ten years or so without a murmur, but absolutely support their right to a peaceful protest anyway. I’d absolutely condemn any violence by the police beyond what was necessary to protect themselves and maintain order.)

22. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 Jason

No worries. The problem is, it’s always easy to say that the mainstream aren’t doing “enough” to condemn extremists, because ultimately we’re talking about something that can’t be measured or defined. In my experience on this issue so far, most of the organised bodies have officially distanced themselves from the violence, as have many individuals, but I agree that a lot of people seem to be taking the “we regret the violence but will not condemn it” line. The people saying property doesn’t matter; well, I hope we can all ignore the hypocritical dribblings of idiots (if property doesn’t matter, why are you arguing about money?).

The EDL brings its own marshalls to events to keep order and chuck out anyone shouting racist slogans (in theory), and I haven’t seen any evidence of this policy being adopted with the student protests. Most likely an oversight, but it would have been better if something like that could have been organised.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the police are in some cases have either instigated the violence or behaved in a way that appears to deliberately encourage it (baitvan, kettling peaceful groups). In the latter case, that doesn’t get individual rioters and vandals off the hook, but we do need to question the cops’ motives.

I saw first hand what went on. There were some better examples of policing displayed, but on the whole, there seemed to be an atmosphere of panic among the police, no one on either side knew what was going to happen next, the police seemed really frightened of the students doing some massive attack on the govt buildings so responded with an agressive and totally uncontrolled cavalry charge with one rider being dismounted. From what I heard and saw it was only the quickness of the youths that avoided a fatality. It was a declaration of war for the already fired up element of protesters.
Kettling is used because it is an easy option for the police no doubt learned from countless training excersises, since they have control of the area of protesters, but in reality it is a vicious circle, the more you trap them in, the more they will become violent. At the end of the day the police will always defend the government over the human rights of protesters, you know there’s a revolution near if the police start letting protesters attack govt buildings.
Britain is the closest thing in the west to a police state, they watch us all day on cctv and are even informing on us writing here. They authourities have no right to arrest russians for spying when they treat each of our own citizens as a threat to the State.

The most probable result of all these measures imposed by the government will be that a great number of students will leave the UK and continue their studies in the USA.

Laurie Penny is a fantasist. She is deluded. She prostituted herself as a 14 year old crack addict. FACT.

25 I hope you feel better for that brutal tirade. One small point – you make three assertions i.e. ‘Fantasist’, ‘deluded’ and ‘prostitute’ yet teasingly refer to only one FACT – which one is it? – I suspect you cannot substantiate at least two of your claims but that’s just me being optimistic perhaps.


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  63. hilary

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  64. Duncan Hothersall

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  65. zorburt

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  68. MrAJSmith

    Aaron Porter's done a good thing. Well done him. Letter to police about today's protest. http://bit.ly/dXn8ZC

  69. Noxi

    RT @sunny_hundal: Student leaders from @AaronPorter to @solomonsmfield call on police not to victimise students http://bit.ly/eHujE8

  70. B.Seamus

    RT @solomonsmfield: RT @sunny_hundal @AaronPorter @solomonsmfield call on police not to victimise students 2day http://bit.ly/eHujE8 #d …

  71. Jenny Lloyd

    Exclusive: leaders ask police not to victimise students at protests | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/P7XVSUa via @libcon

  72. wmd-gnome

    RT @libcon: Exclusive: leaders ask police not to victimise students at protests http://bit.ly/eHujE8

  73. jwilliams

    This "letter" – http://bit.ly/eHujE8 – is looking a bit silly now

  74. The Battle of Parliament Square « The Boiling Kettle

    […] and since casualties on the other side were far greater (44 hospitalised, hundreds more injured, despite pleas of protest organisers), the gang must surely consider yesterday a […]





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