Daily Archives: April 11, 2009

Punched in the face

I decided to visit the climate change protest at Bishopsgate. Friends had set up a ‘parking’ area – an area of turf replacing regular parking spaces – located towards the southern end of the tented area. I arrived at around 6pm, and was planning to stay for the evening, although not overnight. I was enjoying the lively music and discussion of climate change related topics, when suddenly at around 7pm there was a bit of commotion from just further south along Bishopsgate. We stood up, as did everyone else, to see what the noise was all about, and saw a line of police (dressed in black with shields, helmets, balaclavas etc) spread across the road and advancing towards the ‘occupied’ area of Bishopsgate. On the left there were several yellow police further advanced than the black police. There were calls for people to move forward to form a blockade against the advancing police, as towards the edge of the occupied area there was not such a density of protesters. Hestitantly, we moved forward. I soon lost contact with my friends and brothers, and as I got closer to the blockage of people (who were being moved backwards, due to the advancing police line), sensed the intense emotion, fear and sense of resistance from the protesters. The protesters closest to the police had raised their hands in the air, and this action was copied by people further back, who all tried to stand rooted to the spot, to hold our ground and maintain our protest in defiance of the advancing police. The crowd, made up of young and old, loud and quiet, people of all ethnicities, started chanting ‘This is not a riot, This is not a riot…’. I found myself with someone pushing me from behind, and a small woman pressed into my chest by the line of police shields and shoving. We both stood there with our hands raised, and I felt a real sense of danger, as could see the police pushing, shoving and hitting out with their shields and free arms. I called out to the 2 policewomen directly infront of us ‘This is not a riot’, ‘This is a peaceful protest’ and begging ‘Please Please Please..’. I made eye contact with both of these policewomen, and managed to communicate to them that we were not going to endanger them, that we were peacefully protesting, and only had intentions to stand our ground. They both responded very reasonably, and were a lot less violent than the other officers in the police line. We stood for several minutes being pushed foward and back, side to side by the forces of the crowd and the police attempts to advance further. Our area of relative calm and understanding with the 2 policewoman was lost when we got shunted along the line of police by a change of pressure from the crowd/police. We ended up somewhere more in the middle of the road (we’d previously been slightly more to the right of the police line). Still with my hands above my head, I turned my head to look towards the police (as in the crowd I’d been slightly rotated), when all I was a black police glove moving very quickly towards my face. There had been a slight break in the line of police shields, and another officer, standing slightly behind the front line of officers punched me square on the upper lip as I turned my head towards him, still with my hands above my head. The force span me around, knocked my hat off (which I lost) and I stumbled out of the mass of protesters. I was totally shocked by the unprovoced assult, as now the only time I’ve been hit square in the face has been by a police officer in my own country. I think they are trained to punch in a particular way, as over the next few days, although I had a swollen upper lip and nose, and sore teeth, there was very little visible damage. I reported the incident to a legal observer, who took my contact details, but hasn’t been in touch. Unfortunately all I saw of the officer who hit me was a glimpse of his head and his gloved fist – no numbers etc. We then waited in Bishopsgate for several hours until the kettling had finished.

That is all.

Advertisements

“I’m going to break your fucking neck”

The climate camp was really peaceful all day. It was so relaxed that I spent a fair bit of the afternoon encouraging people to come along, including two of my younger sisters. Feedback I’ve had about the camp was that Bishopsgate office workers were really impressed with the camp, and were very glad to have us on their street. The police lined up at either end of the street, but let people come & go as they pleased. There were a line of them outside the climate exchange, and a line of police vans against that pavement. Pairs of police were wondering unchallenged through the site, and suffered nothing worse than the odd narky comment and unwelcome looks.

Aside from a few people who squared up to the cops on one occasion when they came running in with batons – who were quickly calmed down and pulled away by other members of the camp – I didn’t see any violence from the campers at all, unless you count graffiti and flat tyres on the police vans. About 7pm they changed tactics, stormed in the south end to cut off an alleyway, and kettled the camp. I didn’t witness this directly, but you can watch it online. At one point you can see a protester, facing away from the police with nowhere to go, pushed to the floor in a manner strikingly similar to how Ian Tomlinson was assaulted.

At around 10, or 11pm I ended up at the south end of the camp, where the policing had been most fierce. The atmosphere was markedly different from the north side. They had several lines of riot cops, and vehicles with loads of armour plating – we called them tanks, I’ve certainly never seen anything like them deployed before. At the time there was a soundsystem going around & it was being used for consensus decision making amongst the campers. The result of this discussion was that about half of the people in the camp wanted to go home to bed, and the other half were going to try and stay the full 24 hours. At the time the police were insisting that they would search, take the names and address, and photograph everyone who left. This intimidatory tactic clearly held up things up. If they had been more sensible, they could have ended up with a more manageable crowd in a smaller area – no harm done. As they could hear everything that was going on the soundsystem, I find it hard to believe they were too stupid to realise this was the case, rather I suspect they saw that there was some indecision and decided that they wished to use that to their advantage and force the situation to a confrontation.

As it was, despite all the problems with effective decision-making, we orchestrated a controlled retreat. By this point I was right up against the police line on the south end of the camp, right next to the walls of the office building – at the most south-westerly edge of the site. We were walking with our arms linked, being pushed by a line of police using their riot shields. They kept pushing us, but when we got as far as we’d agreed we sat down. Shortly afterwards they tried pulling people out of the line – they didn’t have batons, but they were punching people, and hitting them with their shields. One guy who was more exposed got hit a lot and was bleeding from the head. We hung onto him, and the line didn’t break.

As we were only 3 or 4 people deep they then decided to rush the line. This was clearly an operational decision, as they all did it together. We were sitting down, so we basically got trampled underfoot by them. I don’t know what happened to the woman who had been next to me, but I guess they dragged her away. It was all very chaotic – arms and legs everywhere, and lots of shouting. As there were loads of people in the way, this tactic didn’t really work for them – I got a police boot in my face, my friend got her glasses smashed, and a thin line of police got to the far side of us – but not enough to tackle our line which still held. But they were now between us and the rest of the camp.

This situation was static for quite a while, and fortunately nobody near us was badly hurt. I have a black eye and a fat lip, but was otherwise ok. I’m pleased to report that my reaction was to give all the police a proper dressing down. Nothing rude, or aggressive, just telling them exactly what they had done. “You were hitting that guy with your fists, that is completely over the line…..Think about what you are doing, you are supposed to be public servants and you are beating up civilians in the street” – that kind of thing. I also called over a legal observer, and had him film the policeman I could definitely identify as having used his fists.

Shortly after this, they began to pull us out one by one. Most of the police who had got inside the lines had left, and we’d also rearranged ourselves. This meant that I was basically on the corner, so I was the first to be grabbed, and I held on for as long as I could and then went completely limp. I was carried by two cops, and laid on the floor. They told me to get up & I said I’d rather lie there. They began to drag me, and another came and grabbed me by the hair, and yelled in my ear – “I’m going to break your fucking neck”. This hurt enough that I gave up on the limpness, and got up. I was then shoved against a wall by the hair grabber & his female colleague. Ironically, the whole time he was shouting “calm down, calm down” at me despite the fact that I was actually fully in control of myself and he clearly wasn’t.

He bent my arms behind my hands behind my back and put cuffs on, and pushed them so that they really hurt. The cuffs trap a nerve in your wrist or something, it is a bit like your funny bone being hit, only worse. My left hand still feels odd if I touch it, almost a week later. All through this time I was telling him that I was cooperating, coming quietly etc, and he didn’t need to be rough with me. When he put me against the wall he had been joined by a female colleague, and they walked me to the van – still doing the very painful thing to my arms. I was really being polite as well – “please stop doing that to my arms, it really hurts”, over and over. A protester outside the cordon was close with a camera and I called her over and asked her to photograph him because he’d pulled me by my hair and threatened me. His female colleague pushed the camera away quite violently. I asked him for his police number, and he refused to give it to me.

He was still really worked up. I had my rucksack on, and he was trying to get it off, fiddling with the straps. He kept saying he was going to cut it off, and I kept saying that was completely unnecessary. I told him to take the cuffs off, and I’d remove it. To reassure him, I said “I won’t hit you”, and he replied: “If you hit me I’ll kill you”. This impasse continued for a couple of minutes. It was stupid because I couldn’t even see the straps, he was manhandling me, and they don’t undo anyway. Eventually my calmness prevailed, he pulled everything out of my pockets and put me in the van, and shortly after they took the cuffs off and I got the rucksack off.

I assumed I was going to the station at this point. They told me I was arrested when I was cuffed, so I gave my name and address, but not my phone number. I asked to see the PACE code immediately, and the woman told me to shove off, or words to that effect. I politely pointed out that it was my right to request, that I wasn’t intending to annoy her, but I wanted to be able to read their codes. She said that I was a fool to think she carries them around with her – although I’ve seen other police keep them, or something similar, in a pocket.

Another protester was then loaded into the van, and they clearly wanted the space. After asking where I was going to go, and giving my blood curdling warnings about coming back (my instructions were basically to leave the van and keep walking), I was released.

From what what was said to me, the law they were using to justify this behaviour was ‘obstruction of they highway’. I imagine if we have any kind of response to how police were behaving on the day, it will attempt to portray this behaviour as excesses by some ‘bad apples’, or those under pressure. This is quite clearly not the case.

As I have already stated, the decision to try and literally run over a line of protesters who were sitting down and not harming anyone was an operational decision, as it was undertaken collectively by a line of trained police in unison. Furthermore, when I was remonstrating with the police, and identifying officers who had struck people their colleagues either did not respond, or stated that our continued presence after having been issued with a warning meant we had no grounds to complain. The universality of this attitude must reflect the way that they had been briefed on the day.

None of the officers I spoke to seem to have been aware that the climate camp had been peaceful, and good natured until we were kettled. I had an argument with a female officer who seemed to think that we deserved our rough treatment because we had prevented people from going to work, despite the fact that all the offices on Bishopsgate were inhabited during the day, albeit with security guards on the doors, and workers were wondering around the camp seemingly amused by the whole business.

Officers were clearly prepared for the day in such a way that the more violent amongst them thought us fair game, and their colleagues took the view that we had asked for it by blocking a road, and fraternal solidarity demanded they ignore any excesses amongst their number. This is a management issue – the police should have been briefed to be scrupulous in their behaviour, ensuring at the first instance that they diffused rather than inflamed situations, and to reign in any colleagues who let the pressure get to them. From their behaviour it is quite clear that their instructions had taken a different tone. From the contempt in the mayor’s newspaper column about the protests, and the way that those in command saw fit to kettle a non-violent and good natured protest, it’s quite clear that this attitude goes all the way up, and those in charge are directly responsible for the myriad assaults and illegal behaviour of the police on the day. Far from being an aberration, the attack on Ian Tomlinson was symptomatic of police behaviour on the day.

Unconscious girl kicked

I was at the protests yesterday and I was hoping for a peaceful protest. I am not the anarchists of Daily Mail lore – I am a Labour member and I read the Times (not to forget my subscription to this splendid paper). There was undoubtedly a minority who were bent on violence and I do not blame the police for acting to prevent this.

The problem came about two hours after the RBS windows were smashed when the police started to force people into a smaller and smaller area. I was standing at the end of Queen Victoria street after the police let people go down there to spread people out and let them out. I was standing there talking with a policeman, (who incidentally commented “I didn’t join the police to protect the bankers”) when suddenly 200-300 people came running down the street in a panic. A few minutes later, when I was sitting on the pavement, the hardcore riot police with balaclavas covering their faces came down the street with shields and batons drawn. They started pushing and attacking people – people who were the peaceful protestors seeking to avoid the problems up at RBS.

The girl next to me was hit over the head by a baton and was knocked unconscious immediately. Blood was streaming from her head and the police kicked her to get up and continued to do so until people dragged her away, again being attacked by policemen. The blood dripped from her head as she was taken away.

This was repeated throughout the day.

I went to the protests as a peaceful demonstrator. I acted – consistently – in a peaceful manner. Most of the police were friendly decent people who were as unhappy as we were – their superiors hadn’t even arranged water and sandwiches for them and they’d been on duty for 10+ hours. The problem was the strategy used and the sheer brutality demonstrated by the small number of concealed riot police.

‘I saw one cop break his shield on the guy next to me’

I was in and out of the Climate Camp all day, after escaping from the Bank of England trap by saying I needed medication and being let out by a police medic. The Climate Camp was completely peaceful, there was no bother, no aggression, just lots of people milling around in a kind of festival atmosphere I guess. I met up with some people I knew, one of them had bought some beers, so I drank a couple. We all left to find a toilet and I went of to get some more beer. When I got back, it must have been about 7-730 there was no longer a way in or out of the Climate Camp. The police had parked vans tightly together all accross Bishopsgate. I was on the north? side, towards Liverpool Street, on the Bishopsgate, Camomile street junction. For the next few hours the police gradually escalated their numbers and the level of readiness to kick off, without many protesters really seeming to notice. By about 10 there were quite a lot of them in full riot gear, with dogs, earlier there had only been a few and they weren t fully tooled up. They kept on marching batches of them through the protesters to join up with the other one by the vans, so me and a couple of others decided to link arms and just try and make it a bit more difficult for them to reinforce themselves. The started pushing us back which was fair enough, then one of them tried and very nearly succeeded in kicking me in the knackers, he was quite deliberately trying to do this, which is ungentlemanly conduct and frowned upon by all right thinking people. Somewhat annoyed I remonstrated with him a bit and was hit in the face with a riot shield, as I turned to my fellow protesters in shock he hit me in the face again, causing my nose to bleed. This was around 22-2230. After that they then got ready to push us back and things became slightly more tense. They started pushing us back usingg their shields as clubs. Some of us tried a sit down protest but after tolerating it for a minute the police just started laying into to people all round me who were sitting down with their shields with quite a lot of force. I saw one cop break his shield on the guy next to me. Some people behind me just dragged me back and to my feet and the police chased us down Bishopsgate a bit, we were clearly no match for a paramilitary force and so I decided that enough was enough and that seemed to be the general consensus of most other people. All I can say is that I ve been on a few demos that have turned nasty, but I ve never seen unprovoked police aggression on this scale before. It was totally over the top and a disgrace.