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.