Monday, 28 March 2011

18 What is violent disorder?

March 26th saw the biggest demonstration against government policy since the Stop The War marches in 2003, when I was 10 years old. Half a million people marched from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park to be lectured to by the likes of Ed Miliband and Brendan Barber. Meanwhile a group of activists took some more direct action against the establishment that is necessitating unprecedented cuts to public services.

We've all seen the news coverage and the videos of "anarchists running rampage around Oxford Street". We've seen the headlines of "Anarchist group UK Uncut run riot in Fortnam & Mason". Some of us may even have seen Diane Abbott's rare attempt at humour on twitter . This post is a very personal one, because on Saturday I stood with friends being beaten by police, watched friends being violently arrested for doing nothing wrong, slept in a hospital chair looking after a girl who's arm had been broken by police thuggery, and in the aftermath watched the 50p tax rate abolished, watched Vince Cable tell us that no amount of action would make a difference, watched as Theresa May informed the country that all of the violent demonstrators had been arrested and charged when this couldn't be further from the truth.

201 demonstrators were arrested on Saturday. Of those, 138 were arrested after exiting the UK Uncut sit in at Fortnam & Mason. UK Uncut is possibly the politest and most well-behaved activist collective this country has seen in a while. They're the sort who clean up as they leave, who have civil conversations with the police, who turn banks into comedy gigs. They are not the sort of people who smash up £15 easter eggs and smoke inside. They are in fact the sort of people who would trust a police officer if she told them that they would not be arrested upon leaving the store, and whose main protest to actually being arrested is chanting "you promised us you wouldn't do this. You promised".
So it shocks me that these people, these friends, were arrested and labelled as "violent anarchists" by Commander Bob Broadhurst. It is not so shocking that the police were so callous as to lie on film to the activists, nor is is so shocking that they kettled them outside the doors.
My friends have now been released, facing court dates and charges for aggravated trespass, while up and down Oxford Street banks were trashed and The Ritz smoke grenade'd. My opinion on smashing up banks and fucking up The Ritz is fairly relaxed actually. A few smashed windows are nothing by comparison to the mess the banks have created for us. I am slightly pissed that the police went for the easy, peaceful, unarmed and polite targets as they were duped straight into a kettle and claims to have dealt with "violence". But let's define what violence actually is. It's a very easy word to bandy around if your name happens to be Theresa May. The law defines physical violence as an act of harm against other persons or animals. This conflicts with the establishment's line on "violent anarchists", because I've always been fairly sure that shop windows are inanimate objects. Even if we turn to the injury figures, it's worth pointing out that far more demonstrators were injured by police, than police injured by demonstrators. That's mainly because police have batons and shields while demonstrators have placards and megaphones. The odds are stacked in favour of the boys in blue already.

I got home on Sunday morning and explained to my parents how I'd been to Trafalgar Square and their instant reaction was "you went looking for trouble". Funny how the media has so easily spread the idea that people on Trafalgar Square were there for a riot. That could not be further from the truth. There had been a peaceful occupation of the Square planned months in advance, just as there was a peaceful occupation of Hyde Park. We were aware of the presence of police snatch squads who were looking for "trouble-makers" from earlier in the day. Having found none, they attempted to arrest a young man for putting a sticker on the Olympic Clock. This was the damage Commander Bob Broadhurst spent 10 minutes raving about on BBC News 24. Attempting an arrest in this crowd was a tactful decision to spark something to make an example of. As soon as police had grabbed this lad, he was dearrested by a surge of around 20 people against 4 police officers. This was all they needed to spark a police response. Within 2 minutes there were lines of police advancing from both sides of the square. The atmosphere of partying and laughter had dissipated. People chanted "Shame on you! Shame on you!" as police used their shields to bat people back towards the southern edge of the square. I would define this as violence. Unfortunately Theresa May defines it as legitimate public order policing.

It's around 10:30 in the evening and we're being hemmed in as batons rain down on our arms and bodies. I find myself standing beside a blonde girl who must be around 19. She's on the phone to her mum and doesn't seem the baton above her head through the tears in her eyes. The next few minutes happened incredibly slowly. I see two friends about 10 metres away from me and I want go over to them. As I move away the baton comes down on the girl's shoulder and she screams and drops her phone which is immediately stepped on by police boots. The officer responsible begins kicking her and screaming at her to get up and move. I count as the kicks rain down on this defenseless girl lying in pain on the ground. 5 kicks and then I hear a scream of absolute pain as I realise that the final kick was in her arm. I know I can't pick her up without being subject to the same brutality so I push forward and stand in front of her, arms crossed over my face to defend myself from the subsequent barrage of batons and shields. I shout at the top of my voice at the officer in front of me to call an ambulance and point to the girl he's just been kicking. It takes about 8 attempts but eventually he steps back, and I bend down and drag her out. He follows us and pushes me to the ground with a swift baton to the nose as he takes a look at her arm. I remember shouting at him to apologise to her and explain why he'd done it.
He never did, but two minutes later I see an ambulance backing up to us and I help the paramedics lift the girl inside. They take a look at my nose and tell me I better come with them, and it's only at this point I realise that my face is covered in blood.

I can remember sitting in the ambulance as we wove through police trucks and vans out of the trafalgar square area, holding the girls hand (I later learnt that her name was Hannah and that she was from Bristol) and trying to comfort her while keeping a tissue pressured on my nose.

We arrived at Royal Free hospital at around 11:15pm. I wanted food, a hot drink and sleep, but all I could do was sit in the A&E ward staring in disbelief at BBC news as it propagated lie after lie about the day's events. I felt physically sick, and I'm not sure if it was from the mild concussion or the nature of what I was watching. I must've fallen asleep at some point, but I remember waking up around 6:30 as Hannah wanted a cuddle, which is difficult with a broken arm and fractured elbow. I lend her my phone to call her parents, and realise that I have to see my friends. I didn't know at this point that a lot were in various London police cells.
We say goodbye at 8:30 and I get a kiss for my efforts. I can vaguely remember zombying my way home and crashing out, dazed and confused.

All I know is that the violence yesterday was not from demonstrators. If you know me, you'll know that I wouldn't hurt a fly. Yet somehow I've been labelled a violent anarchist yob.

I woke up at 2:30pm on Sunday to a host of texts, some from unrecognized numbers, asking if I was okay and if I'd like grapes. This made me smile. I know now that some of us really are all in this together, and we genuinely care about each other, that's why I headed to Charing Cross police station to watch my friends be released. At least I know they're safe, but I'm not so sure about how safe our supposedly civil society is to live in anymore.

I'm genuinely shaken.


Anonymous said...

Made me feel upset reading this so it must be good!
Am sorry you had such a bad experience, it really should not have happened like that.

lebor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heathcote Ruthven said...

Good stuff Sean. I like your stuff about violence, you should expand on that. I hope you're feeling a bit better now.

Anonymous said...

Section 8 Public Order Act 1986 provides that violence, except in the context of an offence of affray, includes violent conduct towards property.

Secondly, aggravated trespass and criminal damage are against the law. Both of these occurred at Fortnum's, although thankfully on a fairly minor level. Hopefully your better behaved friends will get off lightly at the hands of the magistrates.

I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience.

Anonymous said...

brave man our account is true of many unfortunatly it will be re lived many more times this year in London - Well done brother
united we stand - DIVIDED WE FALL
The media is servile to the condems keep writing keep on keep on x
deptford bloke

Anonymous said...

Wow i must say reading that made me shiver. I am an 18 year old guy and i have always been a rebel my favourite band is Green Day due to their anti-establishment lyrics. However me and my family were sitting in our living room flicking between sky and bbc news on saturday and even i thought wow what will violence achieve and that the fires and anarchy would silence out the voice of the earlier peaceful protest. I knew that police were heavy handed at the student riots as the innocent peaceful protestors were being mistaken for the organised gangs just going for a thrill of clashing with the police. But reading this has opened my eyes to the events at the weekend i read this out to my mum and she agreed with me and we both aggreed you could not of made this up due to the extensive amount of detail you went into. I want to help i feel pretty helpless reading these i would love to help people who get hit by the police. I am from Watford on the fringes of London do you know who i could contact to help in future demonstrations? Thanks and sorry for lack of paragraphs. My e-mail is

cath sunderland said...

Thanks for your honest and moving account. It's the first I have read from someone who was in Trafalgar Sq when the police moved in I was there til about 8.30 and it seemed reasonably peaceful then. I'm so sorry to hear about yours and Hannah's experiences. I'm a bit older and probably fear the police more, which I guessis why I left earlier as I kind of got the feeling that the day wouldn't be complete without the inevitable 'violent clash'. I'm hoping that accounts such as yours will help to continue discussion and raise awareness. We are going to need to keep demonstrating in the years to come and probably need to find ways of circumventing this brutality, without becoming too scared to stand up for each other and ourselves.
Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Well done mate for posting this. I was at the march and phoned home to my wife that couldn't come due to our twins being too young, she said all the BBC were reporing was windows getting smashed and London going up in flames. Couldn't have been further from the truth for most of the peeps that were there. I'd say 80% of the violence was caused by bully. Don't know who I hate more, the police or the media.

Anonymous said...

"My opinion on smashing up banks and fucking up The Ritz is fairly relaxed actually. A few smashed windows are nothing by comparison to the mess the banks have created for us."

Please explain how The Ritz and the global financial crisis are linked.

Mystery said...

Really good FR dude. Amazing that you kiss-closed an HB9 (Hannah, batonned) even with mess in your face.

Tell your friends not to bother, you clearly have grapes already.

Shout if you want to go sarging anytime. Your "violent anarchist" thing looks like a winner, and I'd happily play the "student socialist" wing.


Tyler said...

Tell me more about the girl getting hit with the baton? What did it sound like? And when you got hit in the face, what did it feel like?

I am Jack's enflamed curiosity.

celes said...

For anon who wants to get involved. You can either just look for protests to get involved in like UKUncut - they'll be organising more.

Or join a fabulous organisation called Green & Black Cross. They train up legal observer volunteers. Or medics if that's your fancy. Then each protest wearing organge bibs they go out and record what is happening so that it can be used in complaints and courts later. Or hopefully just get police to behave better on the day by their presence.

Anonymous said...

Sorry pal, as a cop who was a level 2 officer that day, I fee'l im going to have to stick up for myself and my colleague's here, regarding this non violent crowd you speak of.
Its correct that more 'protesters' were injured than cops. still 30 cops injured, even tho they are wearing helmets, face guards, shields, batons, leg guards, arm guards, shoulder guards, body armour,and flame proof overall's. Despite all that, still 30 injured. So I wont have it that the crowd were non violent in the slightest. I can certainly say that I was hit by objects that on any other day could have killed me! One such item was a military grade thunder flash wrapped in coins. Thats an IED by any other name. Light bulbs containing ammonia. You fancy having that thrown at you? I also witnessed protesters smash up a police car on Regent street, and then attempt to flip it! And re Fortnam and mason, what exactly did you exepect? By the admission of the protesters, you "caused a mess", which loosely interprets as you caused bloody chaos! I witnessed about a dozen of them climb out of the window onto the balcony were they stared enciting the crowd and throwing stuff at police. And the fact the Chief inspector managed to talk them out of Fortam and Mason was a stroke of genuis! it was either that all you all got dragged out. which would you have prefered? Anyone who was In picadilly after the protest, standing infront of police lines, knew exactly what they were doing that day. You cant turn up knowing there will be violence, and then whinge when there is violence!

Bottom line is pal, the cops cant win no matter the outcome. Lots get arrested, then we are being brutal and opressive. Or cops give you a free reign, and you smash up London! for which we are critisized for not doing our jobs. Remember the Tory HQ? Fact is, if you didnt want to get involved in all of that, then you should never have been there. MOST of the people in Picadilly were not there to protest, it was an excuse for a tear up!

End of rant, apologies for poor spelling!

Sean said...

Thanks a lot for your comments, it's certainly nice to hear your side of the story - something that a lot of officers on the ground don't often get to do.
Re: Fortnum and Mason - the chief inspector didn't talk anybody out. It was agreed amongst the group, many of whom I know, to leave autonomously. They were subsequently held in the store under the pretense of your colleagues dealing with a public order situation outside - this may well have been true - but I suspect it was also useful organising time to mobilise officers and form a "containment zone" in which to arrest demonstrators, a move that was both cynical and unnecessary as even the Chief Inspector admitted that the demonstration inside was both peaceful and good-natured. Those eating their crumpets inside were mainly intimidated by the demonstrators outside. As for occupiers throwing stuff at police from /inside/ the building, I am quite simply going to question the truth in that statement as I certainly don't believe that to be the case.
I'm by no means going to place the blame squarely at the feet of the met as an organisation. Mistakes were made on both sides and anybody who fails to admit this is by all accounts naive.
I will however place a fair proportion of blame upon individual officers' poor judgement and certain command tactics that I assume originated from bronze.
As for "if you don't want to be involved, don't be there" - I have a right to be wherever I like in London or indeed the UK without needing a reason. If I choose to be in Trafalgar Sq for what I and many others believed to be a peaceful occupation of the space for 24 hours then so be it. I certainly don't expect to be told that it was my fault I was injured simply for being there.

Once again however, sincerest of thanks for your account!

Alan said...

@Quintin Hogg above me: how many of those 30 'injuries' were bee stings or paper cuts like at Kingsnorth? Hell, how many were sweat rashes/friction burns/pulled muscles from wearing so much armour?

If I'd been at Fortnum I would have preferred a little honesty to be frank. Well I would have preferred you all to mutiny and join us like they did in Wisconsin but, you know, failing that...

'They knew what they were going in for' is essentially the same argument rapists use to excuse their actions, maybe I'm giving you too much credit but I'd like to think you don't believe a miniskirt is an invitation to rape

Kaze no Kae said...

(no, the irony of the sources isn't lost on me)

Anonymous said...

To the police officer above;

A bit leftish, but does capture some good footage of police officers striking protestors simply for arguing. Even a passerby got hit. And having done that, they hide so no one can get their number.

Yes. Because we're the thugs. [/sarcasm]

Anonymous said...

We need More people like you. Keep up the good work. :-)