Aaron Bastani on protest

At London Student. From within:

One increasingly observes a shift to highly choreographed, state-sponsored protest as the only legitimate form of political action on the [UK] street[s]. Simultaneously, the police are becoming ever more determined to make arrests before protests have even occurred, preferring not to deal with finer details such as whether or not the law has been broken. All of this – the data collection, the pre-arrests, the mass arrests, the assaults on activists, the malicious prosecution – is done to actively undermine free assembly and association.

OWS and Protest Tactics

A 10 minute video on the police tactics employed during OWS nearly 2 years ago on the eve of its anniversary (via the sparrow project). The narration grounds the visual evidence of multiple arrests in relation to their apparent arbitrary nature, based on clothing, personal appearances and facial hair. Interesting in light of the mass arrests in Tower Hamlets recently.

It is also worth noting the similarity to the strategies employed by the London Metropolitan Police Force over the last few years. Although I would perhaps break from the videographers’ narrative to suggest that onward movement during such events is not necessarily a bad thing, and can in fact, as the Met well know, create even more problems for the police.

BNP / UAF Demonstrations, London, June 1st.

A series of tweets depicting the shifting spatial dynamics of demonstration policing. Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act allow ‘senior police officers’ to make judgements on containing protests. Both were exercised in Parliament Square last Saturday.
  1. Initially @MetPoliceEvents sent messages urging ‘all parties’ – British National Party and Unite Against Facism protesters – to return to their designated demonstration zones. Presumably, as agreed prior to the event.
  2. Police ask all parties at Whitehall demo’s to return immediately to their pre-arranged areas.
  3. Double kettle now in front of Parliament.BNP kettled by police, surrounded by anti fascists,kettled by police. #olsx pic.twitter.com/M5kIRBZAOD
  4. Reports of this ‘double kettle’ then came in. The double kettle was in fact the two separate, isolated protest zones mentioned above by @MetPoliceEvents for both parties.
  5. Police have imposed conditions under Section 12 & 14 Public Order Act on #UAF to move from Old Palace Yard #BNP
  6. Section 12 was invoked to ‘impose conditions on public processions’ and Section 14 to ‘impose conditions on public assemblies’. Both allow senior police officers to intervene in protest demonstrations if they reasonably believe disturbances will arise without their intervention.
  7. TSG buildup on Westminster Abby side of demo line. #antifa pic.twitter.com/RrQrnmL3an
  8. Reminder: The conditions set by police allow demonstrations only until 4pm. Failure to comply could result in arrests #BNP #UAF
  9. With 20 minutes remaining before both parties’ protest curfew @MetPoliceEvents reminded demonstrators that remaining in the area could result in their arrest, this having previously restricted movement for a large duration of the allotted demonstration time.
  10. “Prisoner” buses filling up. pic.twitter.com/SgK9avqS8V
  11. The London Metropolitan Police consequently arrested members from both sides and packed them on to waiting TfL buses.
  12. Current image of Parliament Square – people are free to leave #UAF #BNP pic.twitter.com/VqkGTp2H0t
  13. Come the 4pm deadline @MetPoliceEvents posted an aerial photograph presumably taken from the force’s helicopter allegedly showing an absence of police barriers. It was expressed in the same message that people were ‘free to leave’. But that wasn’t really the whole story because, as I mentioned on the day:
  14. Presumably they’re now ‘free to leave’ because s.14 says they’re arrestable if they stay. #UAF #BNP
  15. As the demonstration was only legally allowed to continue until 4pm, and after hours of containing both crowds, police officers tactically released all those still demonstrating. So the strategy shifted from arresting those who sought to escape the containments to arresting those who sought to remain in the same (but now ‘unkettled’) space.
  16. ‘free to leave’ = ‘not free to stay’. London Met playing a semantic game. #UAF #BNP
  17. ‘Free to leave’ then, was another way of the police force saying protesters were ‘not free to stay’. A designated shift in strategy from (legally) containing potentially mobile and thus, illegal protesters to legally releasing static, illegal protesters. Although at the time many simply believed the Met Police were telling lies and were still containing people, I’m more of the opinion that they took advantages of the slippy legal nature of their tactics and were in fact releasing both groups – only to arrest if individuals refused to leave the area.
  18. According to ITV and other sources 58 UAF protesters were arrested for a breach of Section 14.
  19. This 360 degree photo from the day is incredible. It purportedly shows a police ‘snatch-squad’ in action. This is a commonly used tactic (rather than a unit per se) by riot police to dive into large crowds and ‘snatch’ key protagonists. Note the London Met’s own FIT (Forward Intelligence Team) cameraman to the upper left of the incident and other media to the immediate right on the pavement.

When is a protest not a protest?…When it’s Critical Mass

A bike blog post on The Guardian concerning the trial of 9 cyclists prosecuted after last summer’s Olympic Games Critical Mass.

The case seemingly revolved around the definition of protest, and whether the ill-fated ride constituted a protest event or not. The London Metropolitan Police thought it did. Critical Mass participants, arguably, did not. It is described by the author of this piece as an ‘explicitly apolitical social event’.

Critical Mass rides are patently not ‘explicitly apolitical social events’ but neither are they hotbeds of wanton anarchy either. Unfortunately and inevitably, they seem to have been drawn into debating whether or not it constituted a political event in order to contend the London Met’s deployment of section 12 of the Public Order Act (“to prevent serious public disorder, serious criminal damage or serious disruption to the life of the community”).

‘Serious disruption’ is obviously a supremely subjective term. Serious public disorder and criminal damage maybe less so. But in truth, this section is readily mobilised if a “senior police officer…reasonably believes” disorder, damage disruption or intimidation is to take place.

So no matter how hard you argue to the contrary, if the senior officer has reasonable belief – and really, that’s no great burden of proof – whatever event, procession, march or ‘apolitical’ bike ride is going to be halted and offending participants arrested. Spinning them as harmless social events won’t quite cut it, despite the obvious injustice.