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Little blood on the streets but plenty of urine - a response to the policing of the G20 demostraions in London

By Simon Childs  Posted by Simon Childs (about the submitter)     Permalink
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"If it bleeds, it leads" -- so the saying goes, and this certainly proved to be the case when it came to the mainstream media’s coverage of the G20 protests in London. Newspaper front pages and TV bulletins inundated with images of furious protesters shouting at riot policemen in scenes reminiscent of the poll-tax riots or the miners’ strikes of the 1980s were accompanied by alarmist headlines: "Blood on the Streets!" shrieked the Daily Star. In reality the amount of blood on the streets was far outweighed by the amount of urine.

Allow me to elucidate. Having been at the demonstration for more than an hour, my friend inevitably needed the toilet. On his behalf I asked a policewoman if any toilet facilities had been provided. “No,” she replied. Were we allowed to exit the protest area and then re-enter was my next question. Again the answer was no. Britain is not, as some people contend, a police state (yet), but it does seem that our democratic right to protest is subject to our bladder control.

The upshot of this is that along with many others my friend had to choose between leaving the protest or urinating in the street. Along with hundreds, if not thousands of others, he chose the latter. The police can try to justify their heavy handed approach by pointing to the uncivilized behavior of some protesters, but they refused to treat us as civilized human beings long before things turned nasty.

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It is important to stress that even in the area where the most disruption took place -- around the Bank of England and RBS -- most protesters were completely peaceful. Nevertheless, the thoughtless actions of the few who were intent on violence, coupled with the fact that I soon realized that I disagreed with the agendas of most of the people at that demonstration, made me decide to have a look at the nearby  "Climate Camp," which was basically a street party against global warming. The atmosphere was that of a music festival at night time, with vandalism and disorder far from peoples’ minds (so not Reading or Leeds on the last day).

Before I got the chance to ring my friend, who was still around the Bank of England, to tell him how brilliant the Climate Camp was and that he should come and join in, he text-messaged me to inform me that he had been prevented from leaving the protest completely. About five minutes later the Climate Camp was also locked down. From around 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., nobody was allowed to enter or exit the protest. For five hours the police hemmed in 4,000 people including young children, elderly people and a few unfortunates who had simply come to have a look at what was going on at the wrong moment. Everyone whom I talked to just wanted to go home.

During this time we were denied access to drinking water and toilet facilities. In vain we raised questions over the legality of this detention, bringing many to the conclusion that the police themselves did not know the law. We were given no clear reason for our detention. I heard three different explanations from individual policemen: The police were protecting us from violent protests elsewhere ... We were being prevented from joining in the violence elsewhere ... Violent protesters had infiltrated our peaceful demonstration and the police were trying to find them.

None of these reasons added up to me. The first reason is clearly rubbish. Is it likely that protesters would attack other protesters?  The second reason suggests that the police had completely failed to take into account the peaceful nature of the Climate Camp protesters, which I suppose is conceivable. The third points to woeful police intelligence -- why did it take them five hours to find the violent elements? I believe it is most likely that the police were using this opportunity to discourage casual supporters from future political actions.

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Early on in the five-hour detainment various protestors raised concerns with the police that this treatment would anger people. This warning fell on deaf ears. Low and behold at around 10:45 p.m., people started shoving and chanting “Let us out! Let us out!” It is a testament to the calmness of the crowd that it took so long for the atmosphere to turn sour. Perhaps the name of this containment tactic -- "kettling" -- points to the fact that its victims’ anger inevitably boils over.

We were slowly allowed to leave soon after this disorder broke out. This suggests one of two things; either the police respond only to violence and not reason, or that they had sought from the beginning to create the angry mob which they were ostensibly supposed to prevent, and were happy to let us go in the knowledge that they had achieved this objective.

It’s not only the police who are responsible for stoking up violence. The media has a hell of a lot to answer for. By predicting violence in the days before the protest they probably frightened many moderate people away, making those intent on violence a more significant proportion of the demonstrations. Columnists then act as apologists for the police from the comfort of their offices.

Most importantly, the sensationalism of the media makes violent stunts inevitable. Andrew Gilligan of London's Evening Standard Newspaper exhorted readers to “imagine the impact that a disciplined, dignified demonstration of hundreds of thousands -- perhaps led by bodies that actually represent people, such as trade unions and churches -- could have had.” Anyone paying attention doesn’t need to “imagine.”  Such a protest took place, admittedly with tens rather than hundreds of thousands, but it was led by trades unions, churches and pressure groups. It took place the Saturday before the G20 summit under the moniker "Put the People First."  

Gilligan can perhaps be forgiven not for noticing it though. The marches’ “impact” was limited by its comparatively poor media coverage, explained by its non-violence.

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