London: Day of the Stormtrooper

On the 11th of June, 10am, on the day of the G8 protests Riot Police surrounded the squatted Beak Street Convergance Space, kettling many of the days protesters before they even got out of bed. Some estimates put the number of occupants at 200. That is 200 people who were prevented from attending the G8 demonstrating, and excercising their right to protest. The excuse that was given; they were searching for articles likely to cause criminal damage on the march. Although there has been vandalism in the past we must ask, why could they not have searched people on their way out? A crowbar or a hammer is not going to cause any damage sitting in a squat. For many, it was clear that the massive police presence had one aim: to shut down the organisation of the G8 march and prevent them from protesting.

For those who were not in the Convergance Space there were similar difficulties. The first arrest of the day occurred in Oxford Circus. As the samba band played on, a disabled Black Bloc protester with crutches was told to remove his facemask. This is clearly not an easy thing to do. There was a struggle as police grabbed him, with demonstrators attempting to de-arrest him. This was followed by two more arrests, also for wearing facemasks. It was a return to old-fashioned provocation and bullying. There was no reason to single out a disabled protester except to get a reaction from the crowd, to provoke violence and an excuse to make arrests. We still have not forgotten when Jodie Mcintyre was pulled from his wheelchair and dragged along the street, nor the shameful attempt the BBC made to imply it was somehow his own fault.

There are plenty of good reasons to disguise your identity on a protest. For one it makes it much more difficult for police to single out a percieved organiser or ringleader when everyone is masked and wearing black. They also know that it is hopeless to try and charge a protester with no identifiable features. It is also well known that Police FIT teams are constantly gathering information about who is seen at protests, they often use this information to make snatch arrests. Section 60, the injunction which allows police to remove masks, and conduct stop and searches without justification is a serious infraction of civil liberties and can be invoked without oversight.

After temporarily losing the march, I saw a protester surrounded by a gang of cops, evidently awaiting a van. I asked them why he was being held, and where we was being taken to, I don’t think they realised I had been part of the march just minutes previously. They displayed a high level of arrogance, basically saying that I was a member of the public and it was none of my business. Right. That is how the police in 2013 see their role, not as accountable, not as something they need to justify to the people at large, but rather, as something that has nothing to do with us, and let them get on with protecting the businesses and banks which have put this country, and much of the world, into recession.

Outside Beak Street Convergence Space was a veritable army of cops. As they entered the building and took out occupants, cries of ‘solidarity’ and ‘let them go’ went up from the crowd. Some were indeed let go, the police were looking for any excuse to arrest. They made searches and even seized phones to see if they were stolen. But if they couldn’t find anything, they had to let them go. This, in addition to the warrant which said nothing about removing protesters or evicting the building, shows that the entire operation was illegal.

On the roof, one man almost leapt to his death, saying that he ‘didn’t want to live in a fascist state’, he was dragged away and sectioned. I for one don’t think you have to be crazy to share his sentiments. The actions of authorities today have not been those of a rights-based liberal democracy, enshrining protest at the heart of vibrant and open public debate. No, this day was a day of the stormtrooper state, of masked riot cops ‘ just following orders’, political policing designed to squash dissent.

It is likely the police will face questions and court cases over their severe civil liberties violations, underhand tactics and disregard for the rule of law.
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