Saturday, 11 December 2010

Girls v Riot Police in London

Girl v police, London, 10/12/10, BBC

I'm a feeling bit cross at the policing of the current protests in UK. In central Brighton Thursday (9 Dec 2010), I was passed by seven or eight police vans with sirens wailing. Someone said "it's the students". I walked down to the clock tower to take a look. A small group of young people was surrounded by a lot of heavy-looking police, who seemed to be manoeuvring around in files and lines enclosing and compressing the group, who were being addressed by a well spoken, young-looking girl. As I approached the students, three riot police stalked toward me, the lead one pushing his unshaven, grimacing helmet-clad face toward mine, staring me out. If he wasn't in a police outfit, I would think he was about to assault me. I said: "What's going on here, mate", in a matey but assertive way. He relaxed an iota. "It's the students," he affirmed, gesturing with his head. "Am I allowed to listen to them?" I said. His eyes hardened again: "You can listen," he said, and moved back to a position in front of a shop overlooking the scene, all the while keeping an eye an me. More police shuffled in behind me. It was scary. Did I want to be enclosed with the students (and any unsocial elements also enclosed)? Or was I going to be a good citizen and go off on my business? I moved about avoiding the police, and listening for a while on the edge of things, but the meeting was already breaking up.

This is all very different to the policing of the 1980s when I was student and joined protests against grant cuts, on the Westminster Bridge. Then, the police were passive and impassive, behind barriers or watching the protest, responding to aggression rather than initiating it. If the hot-heads wanted to, they went to the front and fought with police, leaping over barriers to do so. The peaceful protesters could go home.

This new policy denies the possibility of peaceful protest. Police seem to initiate physical confrontation by "kettling", enclosing and detaining the peaceful together with violent protesters (who, in these times, might be street people or people with 'issues' who have been released into the community from closed care homes). It is no wonder that protesters get scared - or angry. And no wonder that "innocent bystanders" such as the the Prince of Wales, who probably supports the protesters but can't say so, get caught up in violence far from the scene of the protests. If kettling of peaceful protests continue, peaceful protest may disappear and be replaced by hit and run actions of a more angry, direct nature.

What are people protesting about? Our rulers - mostly old men whose education was paid by the state - have decided that young people who have no money must pay up to £9,000 per year for university education. £9,000 a year? A class of ten will be paying £90,000 a year. Average wage in UK is £24,000. University professors now earn over £80,000 a year. So we have a privileged elite deciding to make the poor pay for access to education. Why? Is Britain really so poor it can't to give its citizens an education? We can afford Trident and invasions of Third World countries to secure mineral rights. Meanwhile displays of ostentatious wealth reach ludicrous proportions in diamond brassieres, luxury cars, and the like. As the privileged demand more materialist consumption they need more policing and arms to maintain their position. I can't see how the situation will get better until we end the pursuit of greed, and aim for a simpler Britain and less extravagant standards of living.

My experience in Brighton was really nothing, a squall at the edge of the hurricane. Take a look at what happened to some girls in London yesterday. Scary.