Friday, 3 April 2009

This is the story of peaceful protest, disgusting police tatics and desperately tring to get to my band's first gig...

Copyright The Guardian

On Weds my self and friend went down to take part in a peaceful protest at Bank. We were there to display our anger at how modern capitalism has failed most people, and is seriously failing the environment. But for us, personally, our anger didn't mean we wanted to damage any property, let alone any people. We were there for a fun, lunchtime protest, for a dance, to use own free time to take to the streets and sing and shout our dissaticfaction.

As well publicised subsequently, by 1 o'clock the police, in heavy riot gear, had blocked off every exit. I had a dentist appointment (at two-thirty, as it happens), and so tried to leave. Little did I know we'd be there for many many hours more.

The atmosphere by 2 was still jolly, upbeat. The sun kept peeking out from behind the clouds. We couldn't leave, but we were brightly optimistic. Us, like many others, hadn't predicted that the police would behave this way. It was my first protest in such a situation, and hadn't heard of the plight of the May Day protesters a few years earlier.

It's absolutely crazy, flabbergasting, that the Police could do this. It was a peaceful protest, right until the exact moment the police blocked off all the narrow streets, with heavily armoured riot police, in their trademark intimidation outfits - all in neon yellow or black, heavy helmets, long batons held tightly in readiness for action, big shields and balaclavas covering all but their eyes. How surprising that violence happened as a result.

The police created, I would estimate, 90% of the violence on Wedsnesday. The protest was made up of 7% 'hardcore' anarchists, 43% peacful protesters, students and observers and 50% media. Do the maths - had we been allowed to peacefully wander home, the remaining 7% would have perhaps caused some damage elsewhere, but the situation would have been nothing compared to what it became- by 6pm getting very very nasty indeed. And with all their helicopters, long-range survellaince gear and CCTV, not to mention swarms of police camera men, photographers, and the estimated 8,000 police people present (out-numnbering protesters), surely they would easily have located and eliminated further violence from the hardcore few elsewhere.
But no, we were told by several police men and woman that we were being kept so that they could know where the trouble makers would be.

By 5pm we had been charged at by police whilst looking for a way out, we were severely dehydrated, very hungry, and my earlier optimism for getting to my first gig, at 8.30 in Shoreditch, was almost destroyed. We joked, half-heartdely, about faking illness, attacks, etc as our only way to get out for the gig.

I told a police lady that I was hungry, and that it was surely our civil right to have access to food and water. She replied that it was their right to prevent breaches of the peace. Yes, I said, but even under arrest you are allowed access to food and drink. She thought about it for a second, and then gave me a look as though to say 'fair point'. I changed tact and pleaded about getting to my gig. She then whispered that they were expecting to start letting peple out by half 7.

By 6 thirty we were very very bored. I overheard a policeman say:

"ah, the police love their boredom tactic. Your bored, we're bored. Senior management are happy". Which rightly points out that most of the police must have been as sick of the whole thing as we were. Except that some of the police were clearly as up for a fight as a minority of the protesters were.

We were also increasingly scared. The mass boredom had turned, unsurprisingly into mass anger. chants of 'LET US OUT!' accompanied stampedes around the varying exits at rumours of a way out. A near complete lack of communication from the police had left us all in a hyper, confused, doomful state, combining with the hunger and thirst (a hungry man is an angry man! as they say).

A flurry of phone calls from my band mates were supportive, but unable to hide their fear that we might have to cancel the first gig we had been so excited about.

At 7 the music had stopped, the police were pushing in, making the area smaller, and things had started to burn. Claustrophobia had set in.

My friend complained that he started to feel a bit ill, and very uneasy about the cowrds which were now contracting and retracting with every charge of the riot police. I told him to hang on in there, that all would be fine. Then he started shaking, the colour draining from his face, and I ran to get help, very uneasy about our only source of medical help being from our current 'opressors'. A nasty, squat riot policeman told me, with an air of complete distrust (in my tweed jacket and mild manners I couldn't look any less like a threat) no police medics would venture out. By the time I returned to my friend he couldn't talk, couldn't walk. It all got incredibly scary.

Out of nowhere some lovely lovely people emerged, one girl dressed all in green springing up with a bottle of (precious) water and comforting words, another helped him take off his shoes and got police help. I was so touched by the rallying nature of strangers, even in the face of personal threat. Some good good people out there.

In the end I followed my friend behind riot police lines, who was being dragged by two paramedics. Once safe they immediately ripped open his coat, took his pulse and gave him some water. I had no idea what was going on - I have only known this friend 2 weeks, and didn't know if he had a history of medical problems. I was grateful, at least, to be able to tell them he hadn't taken any drugs or drunk any alcohol.

Within 3 (scary minutes) they had worked out that it was the result of dehydration and lack of food (to which my friend later added severe stress at the situation). 15 minutes later (with 30 minutes to go til the gig) he was sat on the step of a police van, covered in silver cape, laughing with me about the irony of our intended fake medical problems as our ticket out of there. He insisted we skip the ambulance, and we jumped in a taxi. At that moment they had just started letting people out, one at a time, with police escorting each and every one, and taking names and address and photos of every single person. In reference to the above estimate of only 7% actual trouble makers this seems very wrong and brutally totalitarian. But the point being we never would have made it out of there before 10 at the earliest, had it not been for my poor friend's horrible attack.

But we made the gig, with ten minutes to spare, and never have I been so glad to see my friends, have a beer and have my freedom.

A very good article about the police tactics:

And a song from my band:

St. Francis - Autumn.

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