G20: Police turned my dissatisfaction into angerTagged as: g20 repression
How disgusting police behaviour at G20 Meltdown turned vague dissatisfaction at the way our system works into anger and alarm - by a protest novice and former Special Constable
I am not a seasoned protestor, nor an anarchist. I went to the Bank of England on Wednesday morning to add my small presence to a mass of people who were trying to point out that we’ve had enough of the way we’re being governed. That’s it.
I hadn’t really worked out a finely-honed political message, I was just feeling fed up with the way our system works, or doesn’t. Not very sophisticated really.
It was close to one o’clock. I’d been there since 12 with a friend and frankly we were bored. There was nothing much happening. No speakers screaming impassioned anti-capitalist arguments into megaphones. No music or dancing.
“Let’s go and get a cup of tea,” my friend said. Others around us looked bored too and we started to drift towards the police line that had silently formed across Threadneedle Street.
They wouldn’t let us pass. We asked nicely, they said no. I got a bit annoyed. So did others in the crowd. People started shouting and jeering. The policemen – in ordinary uniforms not riot gear – looked tense and worried.
This stand-off lasted for a few minutes and during this time I can state categorically that all around us and as far back as I could see into the crowd there was no sign of any violence, disorder or disturbance. Just a lot of annoyed people, getting more annoyed by the second.
What on earth did the police imagine was going to happen next? It hardly needed a crystal ball. People were backing up behind us and someone started to push. Someone threw an empty plastic bottle over the crowd. A scuffle broke out.
The police tried to contain us with their hands and arms at first, and then they brought out their batons.
My friend and I were pushed through the police line by the force of people behind us – I did a kind of hands-off waltz with a policeman as I passed through, holding my arms up to show I wasn’t doing anything aggressive. “I know you’re OK,” the copper said to me as I stumbled over him. Then we were ejected into the crowd on the outside of the cordon.
We turned to see the police hitting people. A whole line of them lashing out indiscriminately again and again. Two officers close to me who had “Police Medic” written on their back were walking up and down behind the line of their colleagues, protected from direct assault, reaching over and thrashing with the most gusto of all.
Yes there was pushing from the crowd, and yes some of the yobs with their faces covered – I could see about 15 at the front in the middle of the road – were doubtless throwing punches, and yes a couple more empty bottles were thrown, and then there was a smoke bomb and some flour, and some idiot had a long pole, and yes I know it wasn’t nice for the small number of policemen who might have been getting hurt too – but what the hell? What did they expect? The police created a flashpoint and people reacted.
A moment before the clashes started, when the crowd had started to push forward against the police line I thought to myself, ‘God, those cops must feel pretty scared’. Their line of a few dozen was trapped in between two groups of many hundreds. They had no way out. I was honestly worried for their safety if there was a crush.
Then a strange thing happened. The instant the officers started raining down blows the heads of anyone and everyone I lost all sympathy for them. In a flash they had gone from being on my side, there for my protection and safety, to causing harm to innocent people. I actually became afraid of being hurt by the police.
And this when I had been a Special Constable for eighteen months when I was at university. I know from first-hand experience that it’s a tough, dangerous and mostly thankless job, even when they’re not on the front line of an angry crowd. Yet suddenly my perspective shifted. Now they’ve lost my respect. This makes me extremely sad.
My friend and I moved away along Threadneedle Street to where the crowd thinned out. A human rights observer pointed out the officer he said was in charge of that part of the protest. I won’t give his name here. I recognised his epaulette markings from my Specials training: he was a Chief Superintendent.
I went over to remonstrate, politely. I was calm and I did not raise my voice. “What is this cordon supposed to achieve?” I asked.
“I’m very busy right now,” he said, and he shoved me in the chest. A sergeant came and stood between us. I was staggered by his aggressiveness. To me it says a lot about the level of control he felt, and the professionalism of the Metropolitan Police in general, that a man of his seniority would assault me.
So would I go to another similar protest in future, given the possibility of being detained, pushed around and assaulted simply for trying to express my views?
Yes I would, because now I’m angry and I’m focused and I have a message: we the people will not tolerate being treated with such disrespect. Not by the police, not by the government, not by anyone. It’s not right.