Daily Archives: April 4, 2009

Kettled medic, convergence centre raid

I am a twenty year old activist who served as a medic at the Climate Camp in the City. My group headed in with the swoop. We had been expecting a lot of hassle and were pleasantly surprised when we were able to set up camp with minimal fuss. Some police tried to stop us putting up one of the tents, which seemed rather futile given another ten had already gone up around them, but my experience of these kinds of protests is that one or two policemen tend to get carried away with trying to stop a tiny bit of the protest and in the middle of the conflict don’t realise they’ve already lost.

There was little aggro throughout the day, at least after the snatch squads were done. People seem to be forgetting that we had several scuffles with the police in the first hour after they attempted to carry away several of the protesters at the edges, though I don’t know whether they ultimately succeeded or not. After that it was fine until the riot police showed up after the mainstream media had got bored and gone to film the Molotovs being thrown at the Bank of England. They started to form up at about 6, there was some anxiety, most protesters continued at usual. They charged us at about 7:30pm, causing numerous head wounds and winding up the crowd. A group of maybe 50-60 cops broke through the protesters, causing a variety of injuries, then continued to move down the right hand side of the street from the south side and then disappeared down the side gate they had been guarding all day. Why?

The crowd had been getting a bit rowdy by the time the police charged, but it had stayed peaceful and mostly organised. Then we got kettled. I still can’t work out why they wanted to kettle us, because it resulted in five totalled police vans which had been parked outside the side gate. They were vandalised and had their tires let down. The walls of the street which were previously covered on chalk were covered in spray paint. A thousand people trapped in a single street for four hours with six buckets to serve as toilets? The pavement ran with urine.

Inside the kettle, I and my fellow medics had no idea what was going on. We stayed by the medic tent and went up to the north and south ends whenever it looked like the police were moving in. We were there ’til 1am. Around 11:30pm, the police started letting people out in groups of 20, searching them all, around 12 they were demanding photographs, and a massive column of normally dressed police came through the north end and walked the entire length of the street to the side gate (we presume these were the arresting officers). Around 12:30am, they opened the north end to anyone who wanted to leave while the riot police at the south end moved in on the remaining crowd of 100 or so who had been sitting there for over three hours, and started to mass arrest them all, picking them up one by one and pulling them through the police lines, then moving in so the square got smaller and smaller. I didn’t know the end had been opened because the riot police had formed a little gauntlet down the north-west side. It looked like they had shut up both ends and were just going to arrest everyone else inside. I called my mother to tell her it looked like I was about to be arrested. She was mildly concerned. My medic buddy slowly turned to jelly next to me.

At 1am, we came to the conclusion that no-one was going to need any first aid and decided to try our luck down the south end. But even the cops had had enough, and ultimately we just walked out of the cordon with riot police lining our route out, calling out things like “See you tomorrow!” There was a search team at the end of the road, but we crossed over and ignored them. We walked to the Convergence space and I fell asleep about 1:30am. At 2am, we were woken up by a friend to tell us that the police were breaking in. Several of my friends jumped up and went to man the doors. I went back to sleep, figuring that if they came in, they came in, and me being near the doors when they did wasn’t going to have much effect beyond fatiguing me. At 2:15am, they came back to say the police were just banging on the doors and making a nuisance of themselves. I went back to sleep. At 5:30am, another excitable protester came in and shouted at the entire room that the police were raiding. 100 people jumped up and started preparing to leave. Another person came in and told us that it was yet another small squad of policemen banging on the doors, trying to frighten people and keep them awake. I went back to sleep. At 7:30am, I left the Convergence space and went home. Approximately five hours later the police raided the building for real and arrested everyone inside.

I consider myself extremely lucky. I was at Climate Camp until the very end and was not searched, questioned, arrested, or hurt. Had I not been a medic, this may not have been the case, as I felt obliged to stay back from the thick of it in order to treat any injuries. Both places I stayed were raided and everyone arrested shortly after I left them. I didn’t even have to use the streets to pee as I had visited a nearby pub approximately ten minutes before the kettle started. I have indeed been incredibly lucky – others have not. I hope the police are brought to book for all the abuses they perpetrated that day, and that the kind of political policing that led to the death of Ian Tomlinson will soon be outlawed. And I will be doing my best to make that happen.

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Masked gang incites violence at peaceful protest

I’m nursing my wounds here after being knocked out by a riot shield at 1am yesterday. I was taking part in the Climate Camp in the City, which occupied Bishopsate at 12.30pm and set up a tent city, calling for the link bewteen environmental and economic justice. While at other protests there was some deliberate violence, attacking police and banks, this was a purely peaceful affair. We held discussion workshops, played music and had poetry readings, partied to political rap. For seven hours we really created another world — a beautiful street party with an essential message.

At around 7 the police tried to shut it down. You can see footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t244-zEENSs They were charging on a protest of around 2000; those few hundred of us at the front threw up our hands and shouted “This is not a riot!” Eventually force of numbers and the tactic of sitting down in the street and refusing to move forced the police back, and a tense stand-off began.

Still we sang, recited, talked, kept our spirits going, and refused to respond violently. For the next few hours, maintaining sit-down blockades at either end of the camp, we continued to party and protest. But at 1am the police decided that they wanted to bring an end to it. What you can see in that video was nothing compared to what happened then.

Sitting somewhere in the middle of the crowd, I could see the police begin to tear people from the ground one by one. Without any provocation, those who refused to move were manhandled out of sight, while others shuffled desperately backwards, all the while being pushed by riot shields and hit with batons. I saw some officers reach our bike-powered stereo system and literally tear it apart. I saw them knock people down, haul them away, terrorise those trying to back off.

The small group I was in braced itself, linking arms and smiling nervously at each other. The police lines moved closer; I could see people collapsing under strikes from the police and being carried away. There was no space behind us to move; the crowd was panicking; I couldn’t see what was happening. All I could see was the police coming closer. Then they got to where I was sitting. I scrambled to my feet. Not able to make out what they were saying, I just saw a mass of angry faces shouting at me from behind helmets. I looked behind me and could see the crowd backing away; on either side I saw protesters being knocked down. I looked to the front again and then a single policeman, roaring at me, struck me bodily in the chest with his shield.

It gets a bit hazy from then on. I blacked out briefly when I was knocked down, and was carried away by police medics. They cut my clothes open, made sure I could see and stand, and then just let me on my way while they regrouped with other officers. I wandered around in a daze. The camp was a wreck, like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film. A few people, looking as lost, shocked and hurt as me picked over the wreckage. The police lines had simply destroyed the camp – ripping apart the stereo systems and marquees, trampling tents and banners underfoot.

I found an officer and asked what was going to happen. He said that everything left on the street was going to be cleaned up by the council and dumped. This hurt even more than the bruises, even more than the trauma of having been terrorised and brutalised by the people supposed to protect us from harm. All we’d wanted to do was had a peaceful protest, exercising civil disobedience for 24 hours. We were going to clean up and clear away at midday the next day, leaving the street as we’d found it – but instead the police had caused a riot, scattering the protest and destroying our belongings with our celebration.

So now you know. Still think they’re there to protect and serve? Still think that your civil rights are safe in an era of increased surveillance and anti-Terror legislation? I didn’t to begin with, but nothing confirms your politics like having it bashed into you by a riot shield.

Violent gang of masked thugs incite riot at otherwise peaceful demonstration

About 48 hours before writing this, I was being dragged away from a line of peaceful protesters, having been torn from their ranks by riot[ing] police. Totally anonymous under their helmets, about half of them in balaclavas, all with their numbers covered up. And yet they dare to question why so many anarchists would want to hide their faces! You’ll probably have already seen several news reports about all of this already, and maybe even read a few personal accounts. This is mine.

At 12:30 pm on Wednesday, Climate Camp in the City was set up peacefully and surprisingly easily (that is to say, with little if any resistance from police) when a few thousand people ’swooped’ in from various directions onto Bishopsgate in London, in front of the European Climate Exchange. We were trying to make the link between economic systems and environmental destruction — that the same people and structures that caused the financial collapse had also caused the catastrophic increase in the average global temperature. The idea was to give a glimpse of an alternative sort of world, so between our banners and barricades we set up a small tent city and had a street party in it, complete with bicycle-powered sound system and composting toilets.

While other protests — specifically those at the Bank of England — were deliberately aggressive affairs, the Climate Camp was entirely peaceful. (Though, on a sidenote: no matter what the papers are saying, “violent” masked anarchists did not infiltrate the Bank of England demonstration or the Climate Camp — they organised them. You can’t ‘infiltrate’ your own demonstration!) Yet the police reaction to the wholly peaceful Climate Camp was the same as to the more destructive demonstrations at the banks.

At around 7 pm, police in riot gear showed up to try to clear away the camp. I didn’t see their initial approach, as I’d been reading in my tent at the time (hippie or not, there’s only so much of samba drum circles I can tolerate at once), but I heard the call for reinforcement and went running for the southern blockade. The cops were shoving into the crowd with their riot shields; in response, we held our ground as best we could while holding our hands in the air, shouting “peaceful protest!” and “this is not a riot!” They continued to shove. I moved forward and forward, filling the gaps, until I was right up against the line of cops. One or two of the protesters around me punched into the riot shields (the shields, not the police themselves), after which the police started punching into the crowd. One punched a man beside me in the face, knocking his head back into my own face and giving me a black eye. Apparently in other parts of the camp at this time, they were batoning people in the stomach, but I didn’t see that where I was. What I did see was a frightening-looking metal battering ram, glinting behind the wall of shields. Then someone behind me caught my eye, and with a little relief I let him take my place against the wall of shields, falling back out of immediate danger. Seconds later, we sat down, and the police stopped beating on us. For the next five hours there was an increasingly tense standoff.

It wasn’t too bad at first. We maintained a human barricade at either end of the camp, sitting down in front of the police lines to protect the space. At my end, at least, it was almost jovial. We recited poetry and sang songs — pop songs, showtunes, disney songs — and maintained a visual sort of banter with some of our comerades who’d climed onto a rooftop just outside of the police barricade. They’d set up a plywood wall that made their setup look like a stage, so when the police spotlight was on them they did comical dances to the strip-tease music, and when the police showed up on the roof we shouted “They’re behind you!” as though at a pantomime. I never found out what happened to the roof-sitters, though, since before they were cleared away the police had moved our line back out of sight of them.

This happened at two intervals, both supposedly to condense the camp into a more defensible space, since police numbers seemed to be continually mounting and those in the centre were getting more and more scared. I didn’t quite understand the rationale at the time, and in hindsight I still don’t, but that was what was given and, although gestures were made at making it a ‘consensus’ from the whole camp, in the end I suspect it was simply that (tactically incompetant) decisions were being made by frightened people in the centre. But twice decisions were made, and twice we on the southern blockade agreed to stand up and move back.

With each move, tensions between the protesters and the police mounted, and the police became increasingly impatient and violent. They prodded the backs of our heads with their knees and riot shields, shouting at us to get up and move from the moment each retreat decision was made. The first retreat was carried out fairly calmly, but in the second, police shoved protesters hard with their riot shields, shouting and forcing us to move faster and ignoring us when we said that doing so would cause us to trip on the debris being hurriedly gathered by litter-picking protesters behind us. Ignoring, too, our pleas that they not shove us forward when to do so would cause us to trample someone who was already lying on the ground below us; that particular stand-off ended with a whole clump of protesters, held together by our linked arms, being pushed down on top of her. Still, we sat down again, but this time the police would not allow another period of tense stalemate. They shouted that they were armed; they punched some of those seated until they bled; they held their gloved hands over the faces of others and shouted “what would it take to get you to move!” Then they started ripping people away, pulling individuals until they broke the chain of linked arms, then dragging us off one by one.

I was one of the first ones dragged away from the line, so I didn’t see much of the carnage that followed. (I wasn’t arrested; I was manhandled over to a side street and told that I would be arrested if I dared to return.) I understand that it was pretty brutal. When we met up afterwards, H. showed me where his clothes had been cut open — he’d been knocked out by a riot shield, totally unprovoked, and had to be revived by police medics. Another friend, I’m told, was actually pinned to the ground by riot shields and then kicked by police officers.

Still, the thing that sticks in my mind the most, and most sickeningly, was not actually their violence towards the protesters. Rather, it was the totally wanton, riotous destruction of property by those supposedly there to “keep order” and protect [rich bankers’] private property. Specifically, at one point when the cops broke our line, I saw them surge towards the stereo-bike. Four or five of them leapt onto it, arms flailing, tearing into it like crazed animals. Tearing it limb from limb.

It was the sheer hysteria of it that bothers, me, I suppose, and the wantonness; but also the hypocrisy. This sort of rabid destruction from those who had so violently opposed the more-or-less premeditated destruction of bank property earlier in the day. These are the attack dogs of the state, a neoliberal state which values private property above all else. But when it came to the possessions of the protesters, this seemed to be of no concern. Those who were kettled out from the beginning, or who were dragged away, like me, were not allowed to return to collect our belongings. Fortunately for me (and for L. and M., who got locked out), we had friends who’d been nearer the centre who could gather up most of our stuff for us, towards the end when the police stopped dragging people away and most of those remaining had fled. Everyone else’s tents, bags, sleeping bags, etc., were apparently simply cleared away and skipped.

All this was allegedly to prevent ‘obstruction of the highway’. More plausibly, to intimidate us — the marches the next day were noticably less well-attended than predicted, probably because so many people were at home nursing their wounds. But they were still attended – they still took place. Then today (or, by now, yesterday), there were simultaneous protests against RBS at their headquarters in London and at their AGM in Edinburgh. They can intimidate us all they like, but they can’t stop us.

Police verbal abuse

[note: ‘A’ referred to here is the author of the post ‘Bishopgate police violence, forced ‘voluntary’ searches’]

April 1st, Wednesday

I’m a woman in my early twenties. I joined the G20 protests on Wednesday morning with my friend who I shall call A., following the Green Horseman march from Liverpool Street Station to Bank. Bank was crawling with FIT (Forward Intelligence, who photograph protestors who can then be identified and put in a file). At one point there was smoke of some sort, but it didn’t seem to have any effect so we assume it was a screen of some sort (this was somewhere around 12.15?). After witnessing some scuffles at Bank we decided to head to Bishopgate to join the Climate Camp ‘swoop’ at 12.30 when the street was turned into a camp site. The atmosphere was friendly, there was plenty of activities going on and passers by were passing up and down the pavements taking pictures of us on mobile phones. We stayed there until 5.30 or so, meeting up with friend B. and friend C. When we left there were police in visors with shields lined up, but not moving, just up the road in either direction from the camp. We went to meet up with some friends in North London. At 8pm I sent a message to friend C. who was inside climate camp: “Did the police with shields and visors close you in?” At 8.33 I received this response: “They’re trying [to break through into the camp] right now, but we’re trying to stop them. Situation a little tense, but stable – for now.”

My friend A. decided to go back to the camp to see if she could get in to spend the night. I stayed home due to tiredness. At 9.41 A. sent: “Whole camp cordoned. Big crowd this side. Cops not doing anything except illegal detention.” She was outside the police cordon at the south end (end nearest to Liverpool St Station). 10.31pm: “Outside [protestors outside the police cordon containing the climate camp] now itself divided. Police now dragging peaceful sitters and chucking them out.” 10.36 I asked: “Any suggestion of people fighting back?” 10.37 reply: “No. Except Passively.”

At 11.11pm, from A.: “I just got trampled on and hit by police.” I called her at 11.20, and she told me that the police had trampled her and some other protestors who standing somewhere on a road towards Liverpool Street. She also said she’d met B., who had also been hit and pushed over. While she was explaining this she was at Liverpool Street Station, and there were dogs baying in the background. Suddenly she said, “Shit, they’re charging us,” and the phone went dead. (She later told me that then she ran up some steps onto the covered walk way that runs round the side of the station where there are shops. As she looked over the balustrade she saw the police beating an old man who was lying on the ground. When this man tried to stand up again he was beaten again.)

I sent a message to B. asking if he was ok at 11.49, and he called back sounding shaken, but said he wasn’t badly hurt. He said, “I was standing at the front of the group at the southern end of the camp, facing the police. We had our hands up to show we were unarmed. People were shouting but not doing anything else. Then the police charged us, and there was this policewoman who charged me screaming and hitting, she was like an animal, they all were, they were really rabid.” At this point I heard a man’s voice shouting clearly, “What did you just say? What the fuck did you just say? Say it again, say it to my fucking face, come on, say it again, say it to my fucking face, do you want some? Come on, fucking say it.” B. was saying, “Can you hear this? It’s a policeman.” The man concluded, “No? Then fuck off home.” B. moved away towards Liverpool St Station while still on the phone to me. I was naturally quite frightened after hearing this clearly extremely aggressive verbal attack on someone who was describing the police charge into a phone.

Friends who experienced the police charges on Wednesday night agreed that the police were extremely aggressive and angry, to an extent that seemed personal. Both B. and A. are non-violent individuals, I have been with them on protests before and they are neither aggressive nor provocative in their actions. In both cases of violence towards them relayed over the phone, they were moving away from the climate camp and trying to find a way out of the police-controlled area. In both cases police aggression was unprovoked and directed at small groups of protestors who were not seeking to engage with them, but merely trying to leave. They also report that police did not have their numbers on display, thus rendering identification next to impossible.

April 2nd, Thursday

On Thursday, A. and I returned to Bank to join the group of people gathering in solidarity against police violence and in memory of the protestor who died. At 2pm we were inside the police line which was still letting people in and out, but who were stopping and searching people in masks. We were informed that section 60 was in place throughout the City. At about 2.20 a woman near us called her friend who had been at the convergence centre on Earl Street, who said they had all been forcefully evicted and that there were 20 people arrested so far. At 2.25 we held a one minute silence for the protester who died. Ten minutes later black police vans moved in as well as mounted troops trying to clear the streets, the police cordon closed and we were contained. However, people continued to be allowed out if they submitted to a search.

At 4pm dogs were brought in and held barking outside the police line. A. and I decided to leave as we feared that there might be a police charge in the small space. We went over to be searched, and A. asked if we were being searched under Section 60. The policewoman searching her told her that no, this was a voluntary search. A. pointed out that since we weren’t allowed to leave without a search, and since the place we were being held was being made into a steadily more threatening environment with the introduction of dogs and the closing in of police lines, it wasn’t particularly voluntary, and could she choose not to be searched? The policewoman became angry, shouting and demanding whether she wanted to leave or not. A. replied that she was only asking a question, and submitted to the search. The police search involved a perfunctory checking of our pockets and bags. No information was taken or given. We received no proof of this ‘voluntary’ search. The policewoman who searched me was very friendly and remarked on how ‘surprisingly’ polite all the people she had searched that day had been.

We then went to Earl Street and talked to some legal observers who took some details of the events at Bank. They also informed us that several people who had been in the convergence centre had been taken away by ambulance. A woman with a backpack on who was about to head home wearily described it as “brutal”.

NB. I recorded major movements and information as I experienced/heard it on twitter. There was quite a detailed coverage on both twitter.com (hashtag/trend [#]G20) and indymedia.org by people like me who were updating from phones.