Hostage to the Law

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It was the morning of the G20 protest, and the capital was poised for action. The words ‘this day will go down in history’ were on everyone’s lips. Little did we know that the day would be remembered for the actions of the riot police, rather than the agenda of the activists. Headlines following the demonstration called it a bloody battle between ‘good coppers’ and ‘violent anarchists’.  Until the release of videos began, telling a different story.
I was among the thousands drawn to the epicenter of London’s business playground on 1st April. Some came out of curiosity, others out of a conviction for change, and a very few to incite chaos. I joined the ‘green’ arm of the protest, which left Liverpool Street at 11am.  There would be the odd blurting out of ‘Make love not money!’ from a hippy bunch, and sporadic calls of ‘Shame!’ from others, but most ‘rioters’ rambled on peacefully, holding banners and mock monster heads high. A girl next to me even passed out homemade cupcakes, with a cheerful ‘no protest is complete without cake’.
By the time we reached the RBS HQ, a florescent bulk of riot police had formed a ring around us, sending a tangible wave of resentment through the crowd. People around me had reacted to the bankers with some contempt, but that was nothing compared to the anger felt towards police. Chants of ‘Right to march!’ grew louder as the procession came to a halt at a wall of riot officers. Pressure grew, as those keen to be in on the action shoved past me to the front line. I stood next to a tiny, white-haired lady, looking positively terrified. Clutching packed lunch in hand, she had come because she believed that ‘authority should start at the bottom’. ‘Will this make a difference?’ I ask. ‘I hope so’. Her reply was automatic, distracted by a police helmet sent soaring over our heads.
As far as I could make out, police had become an uneasy representative of authority, the real cause of resentment. I chatted to a chap behind me, who became nervous at the sight of the fluorescent army. He seemed peaceable enough, despite the intimidating black scarf obscuring his features. When I asked him why he felt the need to cover his face he replied, ‘they’ve got me on record’ he said, ‘like all of us’, before disappearing into the pulsing crowd. Although this may seem paranoid, it seems he has reason to be worried. Recent investigations have revealed that police hold thousands of legal campaigners’ details on record. Names, political associations and photographs can be kept on the system for at least 7 years.
For a moment, when all four contingents of the march met at Bishops Gate, the menacing atmosphere caused by the over-heavy police presence was momentarily forgotten, and a carnival began. Some plonked down stereos and spontaneously started boogying; others simply sat back and enjoyed the sun, munching on sandwiches. Wandering through the now more dissipated crowd, I crossed the line from hysteria to hilarity. A couple of mums had collared their kids to take part in a role play of the ‘banker’s family’, and, complete with plastic champagne glasses and feather boas, were loudly (and ironically) championing banker’s bonuses. A group of excitable youngsters in black performed a ritualistic ‘hanging’ of a puppet banker on a traffic light, while others beat at the puppet vigorously with skateboards. Another sinister-looking trio meandered through the masses, two dressed as austere bankers, wheeling a barrow of fake money, the other a grinning cop with ‘vigilance control’ plastered on his uniform. But these were only gestures. With no knowledge of crowd control I could have picked out the real fire starters, those throwing themselves into the fray, apparently hell-bent on inciting chaos. These were a tiny minority of hooligans in an otherwise harmless crowd. Why then, in the name of ‘security’, did the police blanket-target us all?
They call it ‘Kettling’: jargon for keeping protesters penned in so violence is ‘contained’. This tactic contradicts Article 5 of the Human Rights Act, which sets out the right not to be deprived of liberty apart from in five well-defined, highly exceptional circumstances. There is certainly no mention of shouting and waving banners in the street.
The carnival mood soon turned sour as it became clear that we were prisoners. The situation was ludicrous. There we were, with little in common apart from a desire to make our voices heard, coralled like misbehaving cattle. Campaigners who had behaved peacefully up until that point became increasingly agitated by the onerous atmosphere, exacerbated by monosyllabic officers. The confined space suddenly became oppressive and, in the absence of a toilet, there were rivulets of pee in the street. ‘We’ll let you know when you’ll be released’, was all I got from one burly officer when I asked him what was going on. Another two young cops shifted nervously in their riot gear, as bemused by their orders as we were. Cries were heard of ‘I need to pick up my kids’, ‘I’m going to miss my train’; all met with the same embarrassed shrug of refusal. The lack of information added to the crowd’s frustration, turning into panic as violence broke out in one corner of the square.
The obscuring of information around the G20 protests has cast a cloud of doubt over police authenticity. It has now become clear that Ian Tomlinson’s death was due to internal bleeding caused by being hit by a policeman. The contradictions surrounding this fatality, which was initially alleged to have been ‘caused by  a heart attack’ are worrying. Why didn’t the outcome of the initial post mortem mention any signs of having been hit?
In desperation to be free protesters piled up against the lines of police, pushing. These were the same people who an hour earlier had been happy to do their bit and leave. Now they felt compelled to take the law into their own hands. As soon as the barricade was broken a mass of people made a run for it, and I joined the fray. As police blockades closed behind me, I felt like I was fleeing a crime scene. Those who had not managed to make a run for it were faced with another seven hours in captivity. When they were finally allowed to leave it was only on the condition that they gave their names and addresses and had their picture taken.
The men drafted in to police the G20 protests are no different to the rest of us, and shouldn’t be given specialist treatment. If a protester had attacked a passerby unprovoked he would have been handcuffed on the spot. Why has it taken irrefutable evidence for the police to finally face up to their faults?

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