Defend our right to protest!

Submitted by Matthew on 16 December, 2010 - 10:19

Police brutality and violence matching the vicious, unrestrained ideological attacks of the Tory-Liberal government was dished out in ample portions to protesters at the student demonstration on Thursday 9 December.

Trained in the brutal arts of defending the state, wearing the best protective head gear and steel toe-capped boots public money can buy, and brandishing offensive weapons, the police lunged into crowds of protesting students, randomly and indiscriminately beating anyone in their way, including a protester in a wheelchair.

Young people, untrained, not wearing riot gear nor wielding offensive weapons, tried to push forward their march in Parliament Square, raising the demands of “No education cuts!”, “No rise in tuition fees!” and “Save EMA” (the Education Maintenance Allowance.)

Alfie Meadows, a 20 year-old student from Middlesex University, suffered such a savage police beating he had to undergo three hours of emergency surgery to stop bleeding on the brain.

The demonstration mobilised 30,000 protesters on the streets of central London. It was part of the biggest wave of student protests in Britain in decades.

Inevitably, as a serious movement against the Cameron-Clegg government cuts takes shape, the strong arm of the bourgeois state — the police, the law, the secret police — will start to flex its muscles.

On 9 December mounted police were using the brute force of their horses to break up the demonstration in order to defend the interests of the capitalist class.

As on other demonstration days, thousands of protesters were “kettled”, that is, “imprisoned” on the streets in freezing temperatures for hours on end.

Young school students, “kettled” by a solid row of well-kitted-out and uncompromising police officers, have had a clear lesson in the nature of the state and its police force.

As they stood around, or huddled together, victims of or captive audience to the intermittent baton charges of the police, they will have been astonished and aggrieved by what they were witnessing. Few could have left that demonstration doubting that the police are organised thugs in uniforms and that civil liberties are under attack.

Was all the “thuggery” on one side? Yes. Eyewitness accounts confirm that the demonstration was peaceful before police started “kettling” large groups. The kettling and the baton-charging left many protesters facing the charge justifiably angry, with no choice but try to defend themselves, and provoked gestures of retaliation (almost all against property, not people).

The right to protest, along with the right to freedom of speech and the right to free association, can be found in the most mainstream, universally accepted legislation — Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act, for instance.

The police thuggery and tactics like “kettling” show that the government and the state have no regard for this right.

The attacks on our civil liberties are going to get worse as resistance to the cuts develops — unless we make a stand now.

The police and the government are still stinging from the so-called “security debacle” when a Rolls Royce carrying Prince Charles and Camilla was accosted by protesters leaving the demonstration, and paint was splashed on the car.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has threatened to use water cannon to break up future protests. David Cameron has called for the arrest of members of the “feral mob” and said, ominously, that “it’s no good to say this was a very small minority. It wasn’t”, thus branding the majority of demonstrators as a “mob” to be suppressed.

The government will deploy their laws and their police — and even, if they have to, the army — supported by their propaganda machine, to try to quell resistance to their deep spending cuts.

This wave of student protests has to be the beginning of a movement that grows to unite students and workers in defence of jobs and services, to demand that the rich must pay for the capitalist crisis, and to articulate and fight for demands that beyond what we presently have.

To begin with, we need to mobilise the solidarity of the student and labour movements behind those who have been arrested — demand that all charges be dropped!

We need to fight to defend our civil liberties — our right to protest, our right to organise together, our right to freedom of speech.

Labour should commit itself to a ban on “kettling”. Labour MPs should support an early day motion calling for its banning. This issue could be the immediate focus of a campaign around civil liberties. “Kettling” is an attack on our right to organise and protest.

The Tories in this millionaires’ government understand perfectly their historical role in protecting capitalism. In this they are being aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, who are nothing more than Tories by another name.

The labour movement has been less conscious of its historical role of defending working-class people against capitalism. But there are signs of a fight back and growing political confidence.

The students who are at the forefront of fighting the Tory/Lib-Dem attacks have the right to support and solidarity from the labour movement.

Ban "kettling"!

The tactic of “kettling” was first used in Britain in 1999 at a protest at a World Trade Organisation meeting in London.

Developed from the “cordoning” tactic, “kettling” means detaining large numbers of protesters in chosen areas, sealing them off and immobilising them by surrounding them with thick lines of police.

Smaller groups are broken off from larger demonstrations and are held for hours on end, regardless of the weather and without food, water, or toilet facilities. Once the “kettle” has been formed, the cordon is tightened and baton charges can be used. The aim is to break up demonstrations, leaving protesters tired and demoralised.

The term “kettle” is a metaphor likening the containment of anger to that of heat and steam in a kettle. As with a boiling kettle, if there is no outlet for the steam and heat the kettle will eventually explode.

“Kettling” is used in a number of countries to impede legal protest. Some protesters have attempted to sue the police for wrongful detention, arguing “kettling” is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The House of Lords, the High Court and the European Court have all ruled in favour of a state’s right to detain protesters in this way. But how can “jailing” you on the street, just for demonstrating, not be an attack on the human right to protest?

Don't let them scare us!

The purpose of “kettling” is to scare protesters. To make us feel so miserable we think protesting is pointless.

To think that every time we protest what’s likely to happen is being “kettled” for hours, left standing, feeling cold and tired and desperate for a pee.

Police brutality on demonstrations is about showing who’s in charge and to put us off from daring to protest in the future. Protesting and demonstrating can get you in trouble — that’s the message the police want to send out when they land a size 12 steel toe-capped boot in your back, punch you in the kidneys, charge you with their horses and plant their batons firmly across your skull.

And they think those of us who have not been kicked and “kettled”, but have seen it happen to our friends, will be sufficiently frightened to be put off protesting as well.

We should not be put off. Mobilising in our tens, hundreds or thousands is more than important, it’s essential.

We have to build a movement to stop the Tory/Lib-Dem attacks. The student movement and the labour movement have to stand united, building solidarity across the two movements and beyond. And we have to decide individually and collectively not to be put off by police violence.

In the first place a disciplined show of strength and a forceful assertion of our rights could get the government and state to back off.

But in the end the only way public services, jobs and rights can be defended is through protests, demonstrations, strike action. Mass action scares the government and the capitalist class — that is why they use the police in the way they do. But when they’re scared we also know that we are on the road to winning!

"People could have been killed"

From an eyewitness report by Corine Dhondee (film-maker)

The riot police surged forward again… Below me a man had passed out, a woman was shouting that she had to get out because her friend was having an asthma attack, a few men and women held their arms up above their heads and were pleading with the police to help them get out.

A guy was helping the man who had passed out. Finally a riot policeman went and helped carry him out. But another riot policeman started to attack the demonstrator who was helping the one who had passed out.

The riot police below me re-formed and made a tunnel and forced people to walk down the tunnel towards the next kettle...

As I jumped off a wall I saw perhaps eight rows of riot police moving in and begin to lash out and beat people.

Reports from my friends today are that one man has had part of his finger amputated. He and a friend of mine were at the front of a kettle when a fence came over their heads. The fence went down, people pushed forward. As they went forward my friend fell into the fence, and the man tried to keep the fence up. As he did that the riot police smashed up against his fingers.

My friend, who ended up on the ground, said she was acutely aware that if someone fell onto her or if the riot police moved forward, her back could have been broken.

Another friend was arrested. His home was raided this morning and the police took his computer and his flatmate’s computer. My friend is out on bail. The police have said it was mistaken identity.

A 15 or 16 year old boy was grabbed by the throat and pushed up against the wall because he said the word pig.

A guy I met... who was on the bridge said the brutality was horrendous but he didn’t want to speak about what he had seen.

What happened [on 9 December] was brutal, people could have been killed...

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