The student protests in London last night demonstrate the final and complete failure of police tactics. Policing in Britain has always been policing by consent but the tactic of kettling and the use of mounted police against protesters that are largely unarmed, excepting occasional flares, does nothing but provoke the kinds of violence we have seen where protesters trapped and under attack defend themselves.
There remains a clear bias in the reporting by the conventional media, who are quick to tell us how many police have been injured in the violence and slow to tell us how many protesters were injured or how many normal people who happened to be caught up in the protests due to the police’s tactics of kettling were injured. This is simply not right.
What has begun to change is that through services like twitter we are able to get live feedback of what is happening on the streets. Yesterday by following a few protester accounts @UCLOccupation and the hashtag #demo2010 I was able to get a real picture of what was happening on the streets and it differed greatly from BBC24’s live reporting and the statements of the police.
It was clear from the live comments of the protesters that they felt they were prevented from taking the route as agreed in advance with the police by the police themselves. It is hardly surprising then that they headed for Parliament Square the traditional venue for protest and it is clear from the deployment of police that they expected, maybe even wanted, protesters in this containable location.
It is also completely unsurprising that there was violence given that the police confronted unarmed protesters with riot gear and more disturbingly mounted police. I surely can’t of been the only person watching the live coverage who was shocked by mounted police charging protesters, much earlier than the point at which the press seems to be reporting a change of mood in the crowd.
It is also clear that as the Duchess of Cornwall becomes the image of the violence that this attack itself could of been avoided. Police might claim that the route was clear minutes before, but twitter’s live feed doesn’t lie as it reported much earlier that protesters forcibly evicted from Trafalgar Square were heading towards Oxford Street and reforming there:
What is clear to me is that that the violence seen yesterday was created by the aggressive, uncompromising approach of the police in dealing with the protest. There are literally hundreds of tweets, all public, which told the police exactly what was going on in the crowd, exactly how the mood was changing and from the police? Silence.
Engagement with the protesters should not be at the end of a baton nor under the feet of a charging horse nor in the forcible detention of hundreds of protesters for hours on end, many of whom were young teenagers who now will have a negative view of the police making it more likely that future protests will end in violence.
It is clear from listening to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on the Radio 4 Today Program this morning, where he described the Royal Protection Officers as showing great restraint in not shooting protesters (something that really has to be heard to be believed) that he is not the man to lead any investigation into the protests nor is he likely to effect any change.