Sunday, 18 January 2009

Is peaceful protest possible?

Of course it is. I've worked on loads of demos over the last few years ranging from calls for life to mean life, children's charities, anti war, anti capitalism etc and only a very small number have ever deteriorated to the stage of people being arrested, and even less turning into large scale public disorder. The vast majority have been attended by dozens to hundreds of people, and even a couple where a few thousand have turned up and there have been no incidents or problems. Compared to last week at the Israeli Embassy, I can attest that the 'flash mob' protest at Heathrow Terminal 5 was a considerably more jovial affair.

As usual the differences on numbers were wide apart, 500 from the organisers, 250 for the official Police estimates, from where I was standing we estimated the number to be around 350. The protest was reported by some media outlets as creating 'chaos' at the airport but it was anything of the sort - there was an area set by for the protest to be held in, security at the terminal was out in force and we had plenty of level 3 officers and a couple of level 2 serials to prevent anything getting out of hand.

We were briefed that BAA had actually given permission for a protest to be held within the terminal, contrary to existing legislation, which made things considerably easier for us to plan around. An area was set aside by the airport staff (which wasn't used eventually), level 3 officers were patrolling the terminal and the level 2's were in place behind the security access to the departure lounge. If the protestors got through us there, the terminal would have been shut down and we would be looking at a 'search to contact' of the entire terminal (and possibly even 'airside' which would have been an absolute nightmare) and every nook and cranny until everyone who wasn't supposed to be there was accounted for and removed. As we did that, the airport would be shut down which is why there is specific legislation prohibiting demonstrations within airports.

It was a gesture of 'goodwill' by BAA to allow the demo to go ahead but if it went wrong, the disruption would have been enormous to both passengers and the airport, and a number of people (including some of our senior officers) would have been out of a job by the late afternoon. A point which we were made aware of and reminded constantly about in the run up to our deployment!!

We were told to expect the demonstrators around 12 noon, and that they would be there for between 15-90 minutes, depending on how many turn up and how emotive they are. From where we were at the departure lounge entrance we could see a few people in the distinctive red t-shirts underneath coats milling around, the vast majority seemed to be women and children. There were a few men around but it seemed to be more of a family atmosphere to everything and not in the slightest bit hostile. When the time came all the coats came off and the crowd that had gathered near the main exit began jumping around and singing, there was quite a bit of jeering and throwing red balloons and sponges around, and at one point a few people got half-nekid and did the congo. All in all, a reasonably loud, relaxed and very friendly demonstration

After a few more songs and chants the group started to thin out quite quickly after about 30 minutes, by 45 minutes they had all gone. Once the bosses were happy that the demonstrators had left or that there was no threat (from them anyway) of a security breach, we were stood down. We waited for redeployment to central London to assist with the anticipated demonstration at Trafalgar Square but as there were only a couple of thousand people there we were 'dismissed with thanks' and headed back to go home.

I spoke to a mate who was at the demo as we headed back to our nick, "I've seen a few of the knobbers who kicked off with us last week, but apart from that there's hardly anyone. Most of them are loud but alright, looks like loads have stayed away because it kicked off so badly last time" I got a text from him not long after I left to go home "as expected, a few have kicked off, going to be a long one, laters"

And so, as expected -

Telegraph

Daily Mail

Ealing Times

FIT Watch

ITV

Yahoo News

Metcountymounty.

14 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

I am very much of the opinion that people who riot at demos seriously undermine their own cause. They do it to get into the headlines and to undermine - in the minds of the ruling elite - confidence in police ability to bring such situations under control.

I think most "neutral" observers probably think to themselves "why can't they just protest peacefully".

Protests and demos are an important freedom, but nobody has the constitutional right to throw things and fight. It is classic "tribe" mentality: when people know it is difficult for individuals to be identified they do all sorts of things they would not dream of normally.

Of course, peaceful protests don't make good headlines so the media will never miss a chance to blow things out of all proportion. That is why I avoid newspapers and TV news...

Damo Mackerel said...

I believe that people who riot at demos are not there for any particular reason other than to cause violence.

Is it true that some protesters (particularly the green variety) often march up to the police line, waving placards and kicking the police into the shins?

Metcountymounty said...

Damo - yep, got loads of that down at the climate camp at Heathrow when they were shouting "armed with science" with great big placards whilst kicking us.

Damo Mackerel said...

That must be sore. I suppose you would be wearing protective gear? Still they shouldn't be kicking you. I know if I was to do that to a Garda in Ireland, they'd kick the sh*t out of me. You should kick them back? Lols.

Metcountymounty said...

Damo - we didn't have any protective gear on and were ordered very specifically to leave it in the carrier because it looks aggressive, even under coveralls because swampies know that we're practically in full kit if we've got them on. They kick, we shove them back, really really hard. My legs were bruised for a fortnight after the day of action on the sunday.

bentham said...

@Metcountymounty
(I'm referring to comments here and on the fitwatch blog)

"There were NO pens at the march on the 10th. They had planned on the entire road being taken up by people (which of course it was) and had planned on allowing the entire march to be able to leave the street back in the direction of the parks."

There was a lorry parked across Kensington Road, near Princes' Gate, with a stage and bigscreen on the back, which formed an effective end to the loose pen leading from the embassy, especially given the repellent dullness of some speakers. The space left between the embassy, truck and barriers was ~4500 sq m, only adequate for at most 20,000 people tightly packed, and utterly impractical for a dispersal area.

Whoever was Gold for this demo has a lot more injuries to all sides to answer for as a result.

Also, in your blog post you say:
"One officer was knocked unconscious by a scaffolding pole, two received really bad facial injuries and the other officers (male and female) were kicked and punched repeatedly until a couple of PSU's managed to get to them."

while apparently talking about the North Gate, but this doesn't tally with the Met's PR about injuries (3 serious, 20 minor), and there's video footage (BBC?) of an unconscious officer being dragged away near the South Gate, but much later when full PPE was in use.

There appears to be no footage of scaffold poles or police casualties at the North Gate.

Are the Met's figures wrong, or were there two unconscious officers and four with facial injuries?

Fee said...

Like an awful lot of people, I lose respect for their message, however valid it may be, when they start chucking things at the police/wrecking private property etc.

We hear all about their "right to protest" but nothing at all about the responsibilities that accompany those rights.

Personally, if I was PM, I'd bill the organisers for the Police operation, and a bit more on top for the inconvenience!

PC Plastic Fuzz said...

Just been watching some of the videos of the Israeli Embassy incident. The protester should really be ashamed of themselves.

Area Trace No Search said...

Were you down there last night? I was and (although some of the stuff being broadcast by their 'guest speakers was utter drivel') was relieved how well it went considering.

All home in time for tea and cakes.

Bridge said...

"we didn't have any protective gear on and were ordered very specifically to leave it in the carrier because it looks aggressive..."

For the sake of the holy feck - what happens when people get promoted above Inspector rank, do they have their brains transplanted into their backsides to give them something soft to sit on? The whole point about a visible deterrent is that it should be a deterrent. You'd have thought they would have learned this in the Falklands when the Argies had a look at their radar screen, saw HMS Endurance and fancied their chances. If the US Fifth Fleet was parked outside Port Stanley, they'd have stayed put in Buenos Aries, happily munching on their corned beef sarnies.

The same logic applies to the Old Bill. If you've got 100 people on a demo looking for a spot of bother, who are they going to pick on - the cohort of coppers clad in pink shirts with fluffy rubber truncheons and open-toed sandals, or the phalanx of police officers in full Robocop gear with big cans of pepper spray, riot batons and a hundred plasticuffs per man?

My guess is that faced with the latter, most of the pro-Gaza peace oxymorons would have suddenly remembered that they'd left the gas on. In which cast, it'd probably be a good plan to have the water cannon standing by in case their kitchens catch light - good opportunity for some community policing there, helping put out the flames in Mustafa's kitchen.

Metcountymounty said...

Bentham - I wrote the post the next morning and gave you the information we were briefed about the night before. The truck was hired by the organisers and although blocking most of the road there was sufficient room on either side for people to leave and the road was not blocked by the Police at that point. When the crowd stopped it was of their own accord.

As for the update on injuries and what happened, at the North Gate one male pc was smacked around the head with a metal pole from a banner which dropped him and instigated the urgent assistance call. That was when the serial tried to stop people climbing over the gates and fence to the Russian Embassy to get through to Kensington Gardens, at least 3 other PC's were repeatedly kicked and punched including a female PC who was later pulled off duty because of concussion. In the photos of the north gate, they were the officers who had red paint thrown at them, all the other officers there were the relief serials sent in to help them out.

The PC reported as being knocked unconscious was a TSG officer who was severely injured after some cunt threw a brick sized metal bracket (that had been broken off of the barrier fencing) at his face from point blank range, it went through his visor and smashed his teeth and cheek, he was casevac'd whilst still unconscious. Another PC at the horse cordon end received a bottle to the face, also from point blank range which dropped him to the floor and caused cuts to his face, I think he is actually the one on the video being dragged off.

The latest update we've been given was 3 major injuries and around 25 minor injuries including concussion and severe bruising to male and female PC's. I know of at least another half dozen who had bruising from objects thrown at them on the cordon lines that weren't reported as injuries on duty.

Area - We tried to get our usual carrier teams there but duties weren't having any of it as were were at minimum strength as usual!!

blueknight said...

we didn't have any protective gear on and were ordered very specifically to leave it in the carrier because it looks aggressive..."
In my old Force, one of the Inspectors got hit on the head by a brick during football disorder. The net result of the incident was that we would kit up at the slightest sniff of impending violence.
Anyway it is PROTECTIVE gear and quite frankly looking aggressive in those kinds of situation is no bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the question you should ask is, "Is peaceful protest effective?"

You only need look at other movements throughout time to realise than in the face of such violent and intrusive state repression the end result can be only violence.

It is realistic to think that society only reflects the actions of those at the top layer of society, you cannot condemn violence whilst you send more soldiers into battle, do as I say not as I do...

Von Spreuth. said...

xxx "Is peaceful protest possible?" xxx

Aye, and it is pitty you weak kneed shower of "bosses back scratchers" do not try it instead of letting the bastards piss all over you wih "Equality tables" and "diversity courses" etc.

Get a fucking BACKBONE you shower of tossers.

Von Brandenburg-Preu├čen.