On one of the demos I worked on the other day the topic of flag burning was raised during the initial briefing, in response to the huge number of people in Trafalgar Square on Saturday holding a veritable bonfire before they started off towards the Israeli Embassy. At present in the UK, flag burning is not a specific offence in criminal law and there is case law that states simply burning a flag isn't enough to charge or convict for racial incitement of violence or to charge or convict for any public order act offence. The high court decided that the act of burning a flag was nothing more than destruction of personal property, if the person doing the burning owned the flag.
A couple of years ago some officers from ACPO suggested making flag burning a specific offence in order to prevent groups deliberately causing extreme offence to others and unnecessarily escalating demonstrations into violent conflict. There are always going to be people at demos who will try and provoke other people or have a go at the Police to get some 'good' images on Indymedia, and they really don't care how they go about it. I've worked on plenty of demonstrations that have been rather pleasant and perfectly legal, as well as a few others where a minority have been there to do nothing but start a fight.
Personally, I find flag burning extremely offensive. It's more than just a piece of cloth with dye on it, it's a symbol of identity and history and burning it is intended to cause offence and intimidate people into reacting. I've been at demos where some people do it just because it's the 'in thing' to do and they don't care or can't understand why some people are extremely offended, because they (by their own admission) don't care about their own country, flag, its meaning or its history.
A couple of the demonstrations over the last couple of days have been extremely heated but ultimately peaceful, and even as the thousands of people rallied around speakers they didn't get the flags out to set them on fire and they all (for the most part) dispersed afterwards without any incident. The longer the trouble in the Middle East carries on, the longer the demos about it over here are going to continue. Most will be passionate but peaceful, others will be violent. The large demo on Saturday turned pretty ugly after the protestors left Trafalgar Square and Police officers were pelted with bottles, bricks, banners and anything else to hand until it was later brought under control.
After the unbelievable indecisiveness by senior officers at the Notting Hill carnival this year to relieve untrained and unprotected Level 3 officers with properly equipped and trained L2 or L1 officers after they were subject to sustained attacks with bottles and bricks (and were literally begging for additional assistance and support) it was actually quite refreshing to hear a ground commander on the radio pull the officers out and send in the specialist riot teams of the TSG along with L2's within a few minutes of everything going pear shaped. I've no doubt one of the commanders taking a direct hit to his own head influenced the speed of the decision making.
With more demos planned for the foreseeable future including advertised rallies of the same nature on Saturday and Sunday, we're going to have some interesting days ahead in the Capital, along with the usual day to day Policing requirements and requests from the public!
After 12-15,000 people had a relatively peaceful if somewhat heated demo in Trafalgar Square, here's what happened when most of them decided to march to the embassy via Pall Mall and St James's Street -
This vid was footage after it kicked off from around Kensington Gardens -
And yes, those officers on core response teams were still answering 999 calls, despite having had most of their public order trained officers stripped from normal team strength for the day!