Response to Policing of Climate Camp
1. A letter to The Times
Sir, Last week a parliamentary report recognised that police tactics against dissent have become “heavy-handed in recent years”. This week the police provide another example of an approach towards protest that is primarily about repression and not about public order (report, April 3).
The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggests that “the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests”. On Wednesday riot police were sent into peaceful crowds, hitting people with truncheons and riot shields. Aggressive dogs were used to intimidate. The report is concerned about the “improper use” of Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 to prevent photographing or filming police. When the police broke up the climate camp, people were forced to delete images and film that showed the police in action.
The report states that “inconvenience or disruption alone are not sufficient reasons for preventing a protest from taking place”, and that the police need more human rights training. Claiming that indiscriminate tactics, such as “kettles” to contain and break up protests, were employed in order to deal with “a small number of people” is an admission that the rights of others to protest can go to the wall. Parliamentarians have yet to address the legality of the police database in which information on thousands of protestors is held. On April 1 climate campers were unable to leave unless they gave names and addresses and had their photos taken. The database has just got much bigger.
2. A piece in the Independant
The (very) heavy hand of the law
It was clear from early on, in the City of London on Wednesday, that two very different protests were being staged. One, centred on the Bank of England, sheltered masked agents provocateurs, who were intent on clashing with the police. They succeeded in their aims.
But the other, the Climate Camp on Bishopsgate, harboured no such elements, and continued peacefully all day. Yet the 800 people at this street party were still attacked by riot police very suddenly in the evening. Footage has been posted on the internet showing officers repeatedly hitting unarmed civilians
The attack on the camp by the police is being described as "unprovoked" by protesters. This is not, strictly speaking, the case. It is provocative, of course, to block a road without permission, and the aim of the protest was to block that section of Bishopsgate for 24 hours.
What is downright sinister, however, is that all those who were visiting the Climate Camp at that time were violently attacked and then trapped for many hours by the police. They were not allowed to leave between 7pm and midnight, even if they had been injured. Even a woman in a wheelchair was held.
If the concern of the police was to clear the road for traffic, then their action was certainly counterproductive. They succeeded, after all, in blocking the road to pedestrians as well as vehicles for five hours. The tactics of the police smack of collective punishment for everyone.
It is possible that had a warning of an impending shutdown been given to the campers, the news may have attracted more aggressive visitors. It's true also that had the police put in place a policy whereby people were allowed to leave but not to enter, there was no guarantee that those leaving would quietly disperse.
Yet these factors only make it difficult to understand why the police became so confrontational so early. Why could the police not just keep the protest under observation, while they concentrated on quelling the violent skirmishes in other parts of town?
Their claim is that they corral groups of protesters so that they can isolate the anti-social elements. But by the time they mounted their attacks, the police had had nearly seven hours to assess whether any such element had ever been present. The fact that the Climate Camp protesters mounted no violence in response to that meted out to them suggests that their intentions of mounting a peaceful protest had been successful.
Most worrying of all, when legal observers advised people who had been hit by the police, or who had been witnesses to it, to take down the numbers of their assailants, the line of police all covered their badges. It is much more terrifying that the police are hiding their identities as they take part in violence, than that the self-styled "anarchists" we have heard so much about are doing so.
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