Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:
Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”
Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.
Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:
@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.
Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:
Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:
During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van. I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.
At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.
[But] there is something really interesting about this van.
- It has no number plates
- It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
- It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.
He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:
Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.
The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.
So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.
In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.
Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:
And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:
@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?
But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.
Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.
As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.
Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:
Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:
@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.
@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned
For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:
“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.
So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:
Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.
Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:
But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.
“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.
But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:
Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.
Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.
Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:
He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.
and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:
Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.
Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.
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