Challenging behavior

The term non-violence is thrown around in activist circles quite liberally and most have a pretty well thought through and nuanced understanding of what they mean when they say it. It is true to say we will never all agree on a single definition of what is or isn’t violent, but the aspect of it that there is a broad consensus on is that it is not about avoiding conflict or about being passive. Non-violence is about actively challenging violence in situations where it is likely to occur, taking preemptive steps to conduct ourselves in a way that limits the amount of violence that may happen and being prepared to deal with it in a peaceful way that avoids further violence. Pacifism is not passive-ism. It is an important element of the training that many activists that engage in non-violent direct action go through, it is considered important to ‘live’ the principles we want to create in the world. What is rarely discussed in as much depth or detail, or given as much time, is issues around anti-discrimination.

I have been involved in activism for about 10 years and in that time I have been involved in a lot of different groups with different ideologies and agendas. The issue of “what is non-violence” is something that crops up again and again. I could not possibly count the number of times I have been in a ‘non-violence spectrum line’. I can, however, count the number of times I have taken part in identifying privilege or anti-discrimination training and exercises. If I had a better memory I could count the number of times it had come up in discussions, unfortunately I don’t but I do know it was not nearly as often as non-violence, yet this is a principle most would agree was at least as important as non-violence. It is a principle that every activist group has claimed to uphold, they all say they embrace people of all gender-identities, sexualities, classes, races etc. yet when it comes down to it, do these groups of mostly middle-class white men (of which I am one) and women have as nuanced an understanding of what anti-racism, for example, means. I would imagine not. It is assumed that everyone ‘gets’ it. But we don’t. I certainly don’t. I don’t consciously judge a person one way or the other based on the colour of their skin but I am not sure I really know how to be actively anti-racist in the same way I understand how to be actively non-violent.

In a society where we are bombarded by negative stereotypes and taught to mistrust people with different skin colours or different religions or ideas of gender or sexuality to say that this doesn’t on some level affect us is not only factually incorrect but beyond arrogant and extremely counter-productive. If we really want to “be the change” (forgive me the Gandhi quote), then we need to understand what it is we are trying to change and to what we wish to change it. And how can we know what we want to change it to without first challenging what it is that currently exists?

I recently offered to run an exercise on privilege with a group of students to which the response I was offered was “well that just brings up issues of guilt which isn’t helpful”. To some extent this is right, guilt is not helpful, but if we want to challenge privilege we need to understand how we experience it. Those of us with privilege need to experience, or at least have some knowledge of that guilt in order to understand how unhelpful it is and to get beyond it to create a more nuanced understanding of solidarity  and anti-discrimination. We need to learn how to embody these principles in the same way we do non-violence, not just pay them lip-service.


Izzard, Fry & Zephaniah; 3 reasons to vote for AV

On the 4th of April Oxford County Council leader Keith Mitchell tweeted:

Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry and Benjamin Zephaniah support AV. Three good reasons for voting No to AV!

This, for me, is so emblematic of not just the No campaign but of the right in general. Three people who have challenged the establishment and won public acceptance on their terms; three people who have taking the public anger to stand up for things they believe in; three people who have done more for the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the discriminated and the disadvantaged in this country than Keith Mitchell could do if he lived for another 100 years. I am so utterly outraged by his idiotic and insubstantial slander against three people I have looked up to for most of my life I cannot even think where to begin. He gives no explanation as to why they are good reasons to vote No.

Eddie Izzard

His self-indentification as a “male lesbian” and his being a transvestite whilst at the same time one of Britain’s most famous and well respected comedians is one of the most mainstream challenges to our idea of gender, and he is accepted regardless. In a world where gender and sexual preference mean the difference between success and a life of persecution, Eddie Izzard is exactly the sort of person we should look up to. And this is not to mention his running 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief. I’ve never even seen Keith Mitchell run for a bus (but then I’ve never seen Keith Mitchell in person so I guess I wouldn’t have).

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry, or to give him his full title, National Treasure Stephen Fry is a prolific campaigner as well as comedian, journalist, author, presenter and several thousand other jobs. He is a signatory member of British Jews for Justice for Palestinians and has spoken out against the Iraq War.  Through his documentary The Seceret Life of a Manic Depressive he spoke candidly about his bi-polar disorder helping to bring more understanding to mental illness and in HIV and Me brought greater public understanding of a controversial and utterly devastating disease. His being an out homosexual and at the same time so widely loved by almost all of Britain can be little more than an outrage for the sometimes homophobic establishment.

Benjamin Zephaniah

When I was 10 my mother gave me a book of poetry called Talkin’ Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. This was a formative moment for me and I have looked up to and followed the career of Benjamin Zephaniah ever since. He was named one of The Times’ top 50 post-war writers, has written dozens of books of poetry and stories for children. He has campaigned to increase children’s literacy, he is one of the most prolific anti-racism campaigners in the country, has given huge amounts of support to animal rights campaigns such as the Animal Liberation Front, supports the establishment of a British Republic and is a vegan. He is also a patron of the Newham Monitoring Project that campaigns against police racism in Newham, East London and of the Tower Hamlets Summer University that offers alternative education to 11-25 year olds in Londons’ most deprived borough. He also famously rejected an OBE on the grounds that it reminded him of “how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.” I cannot immediately think of a person that would make me more likely to vote for something.

Unless he has another reason for not liking these three true national treasures and if Keith Mitchell really does oppose what Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry and Benjamin Zephaniah stand for then it appears he thinks we should stick to rigid forms of gender expression (and, therefore, oppression), shouldn’t raise money for charity, shouldn’t have equal rights regardless of sexual preference, shouldn’t help people with mental health problems to cope or feel like they aren’t alone, shouldn’t accept people for who they are, shouldn’t campaign against racism, shouldn’t end cruelty to animals and shouldn’t help educate disadvantaged youths.

The change in the voting system is such a fundamentally important decision to make that will affect this country and possibly others for decades to come that to make it based on what a celebrity says or what a councillor says about a celebrity is utterly idiotic.

So here’s the bit where I say that Keith Mitchell might have run marathons for charity, or run for a bus, I genuinely don’t know and if he has then I am sorry for casting aspersions. And other than his tweet, in which he suggests he doesn’t like them, I don’t know his opinions on what Izzard, Fry and Zephaniah stand for.

Squatageddon and police intimidation

Early this morning I received a message that one of the people arrested during the Fortnum & Mason protest in March had been visited by police and warned to stay away from the Royal Wedding and May Day demonstrations. I have heard that a number of the UK Uncut protesters from Fortnum & Mason have had these visits. This was then followed up by the news that squats in London and Brighton had been raided and people arrested for various offences which may or may not turn out to have any basis in reality. Last week the squat known as Telepathic Heights in Bristol was also raided, despite only being occupied by four people who were fixing up the building as they prepared to leave.

The police have publicly stated that these raids and arrests are not linked to the Royal Wedding or to the planned May Day demonstrations, despite senior police officers stating that they would be taking preemptive action to stop ‘trouble’ at either event. However, historical precedent would suggest otherwise.

In the past, police have raided squats in the run up to large demonstrations as well as following large demonstrations. This sort of coordinated strike against so many squats, on such spurious grounds the day before a posh person gets married to a slightly-less posh person and in the run up to the May Day protest is not coincidence. For the squat Ratstar in Camberwell the police said they raided it to search for “stolen goods” eventually discovering they were allegedly bypassing their electricity meter, I wonder if they found a big pile of stolen electricity in one of the rooms? Theft of electricity is known as electricity abstraction because it is not legally recognised as a ‘good’ and therefore cannot technically be stolen. It has it’s own section of the Theft Act 1968, s.13 in fact, created specifically because it cannot be a good. It seems strange that, given the news of the hightened terror alerts and the £20m policing operation going into effect that the Met have nothing better to be doing than enforcing obscure bits of law against squatters, particularly ones that throw up all sorts of existential questions about what can or can’t be stolen.

The only answer is that these raids are in fact part of the £20million security operation around the royal wedding and that the police are lying to or at least misleading the public, again. Someone high up the chain of command made the decision to arrest people for no real reason to ensure that Will and Cate’s day goes smoothly. How’s that for a wedding present, the liberty of a few dozen people who believe in a better world. I am left wondering if the Chief Commissioner is planning to present the arrestees to them in a cage with a big ribbon tied around it, “Here you are your highnesses, we’ve rounded up the prols who thought they had any democractic rights”.

The police believe that protest is illegal, any form of protest and therefore anyone planning to protest is planning to break the law or cause “a breach of the peace” or, if they’re feeling particularly vague, “disruption”.  The police use any power they can think of to intimidate, humiliate or otherwise harass people exercising their right to protest. Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 states:

the person has acted … in an anti-social manner, that is to say, in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself

I think the police could do with reading that and having some self-reflection time.

How to not make common mistakes when shooting video

Filming at the 6 Billion Ways conference

I work a lot with charities producing campaigning videos, filming publicity stunts and training people to make short videos. I also watch a lot of videos made by NGOs, charities and others and see the same mistakes repeated again and again. This list is a few quick tips that will improve the quality of your videos without much effort.

  1. Background noise – computers, air conditioners, phones, doors etc
  2. Busy backgrounds – people wandering around, milling about, having conversations. Backgrounds should never hold or take your attention.
  3. Boring backgrounds – no one wants to look at a plain white wall. Step 2-3 feet away from your background and if you are interviewing stand at an angle. Also be careful of windows as the light is a different colour so can mess up the white balance.
  4. Lighting. If it is too dark, find somewhere else and remember to white balance.
  5. Interviewees should look at the interviewer, not into the camera. Only look directly into the camera if you are addressing the person watching, like a presenter.
  6. Film b-roll. Extra footage that you can use to set the scene, hide edit points and illustrate comments made in interviews.
  7. Ask people to say their name and caption on camera. You don’t have to use this in the edit but it saves fumbling around for a pen.
  8. Prepare your questions beforehand but be prepared to respond with followup questions specific to that person.
  9. Long corridors made from painted brick, stairwells and large halls echo. Find somewhere else.
  10. If at all possible use an off-camera mic.
  11.  And, because this top 10 list goes to 11, don’t film too much. Prepare a list beforehand and stick to it as much as possible. It can be tempting to film the whole of someone’s speech or talk so you don’t miss a good bit but logging and editing hours and hours of talks afterward is not fun and so probably won’t happen.

What does the Dalai Lama’s resignation mean for Tibet?

As thousands of people all over the world marched through towns and cities last Saturday to mark the 52nd anniversay of the Lhasa Uprising in Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that he will devolve his power to the Central Tibetan Administration (aka Tibetan Government in Exile) and the Kalon Tripa (elected Prime Minister). This move ends the role of the Dalai Lamas as political leader of Tibet established by Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century. This is both an important move towards true democracy and a strategic move in terms of the future of the relationship between Tibet and China.

To explain and understand what this move means for Tibet there is some background to go over. The Chinese government recently passed a law that reportedly states that no Buddhist lama may be reincarnated without their permission. This is a misunderstanding of the law, what it actually states is that no lama may be recognised without the permission of the Chinese government. As with any position of power derived from “divine mandate”, the process of being recognised as a Tulku (reincarnated lama) is somewhat tenuous and has been open to abuse even before the meddling bureaucrats from the Chinese State Council. They were correcting an oversight on their part that created one of the most controversial political prisoners in the world. In 1995 a 5 year old boy from Nagchu province called Gedun Chokyi Nyima was arrested. He had recently been recognised by the Dalai Lama as Tibet’s second most important religious leader, the Panchen Lama. It is believed he has been kept under house arrest in Beijing for the last 16 years and a new, Chinese government approved, Panchen Lama was selected and enthroned. When the Dalai Lama dies, it is the role of the Panchen Lama to recognise the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. So by controlling the Panchen Lama they can legitimately control the selection of the Dalai Lama and all subsequent Panchen and Dalai Lamas. Of course, the legitimacy is questionable as no Tibetan or practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism recognises the Chinese Panchen Lama.

For many years there has been speculation about what the Dalai Lama will do as he grows older and his death gets closer. The Dalai Lama has achieved the position of Tulku, this is a lama who is able to choose the manner of their reincarnation. With this in mind there are four options open to him. The first is to decide that he will not reincarnate again until Tibet is no longer under occupation, though this would go against his desire as a bodhisattva (an enlightened being who goes through the cycles of rebirth to help others achieve enlightenment). The second is to publicly state where he will be reincarnated, ie. not in Tibet thereby deligitimising any Dalai Lama claim from the Chinese government about a Dalai Lama from Tibet, he has taken this step already. The third is to recognise his own reincarnation before he dies. This is a complicated and tenuous method that, whilst legitimate and not without precedent, would create problems for the Tibetan government in the eyes of those who do not believe in reincarnation. The last is the option he has taken, to give up his political power before he dies so that legitimate governing mandate for Tibet will never be controlled by the Chinese government.

The future of Tibet will depend on the negotiations between members of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE) and the Chinese government. This is where change will come from. Pressure from campaigners and activists, like Students for a Free Tibet, creates a space for these negotiations to happen whilst affecting change on a day-to-day basis in Tibet. The risk with this transition is that the Chinese government will refuse to recognise the authority of the TGIE and will claim political power still resides with the Dalai Lama. This whole pantomime about a government that believes religion is the opiate of the people trying to wield religious power is evidence of the power of the Tibetan independence movement. Without people watching and campaigning for Tibet, the Chinese government would never acknowledge the authority of the current Dalai Lama, let alone the TGIE. Our task now is to force them to acknowledge the authority of the TGIE and to keep the negotiations open. And we do that through political campaigning, through education and through non-violent civil-disobedience.

Privatising profit and socialising risk

This is essentially the modus operandi of the modern western government; to promote the interests of corporate gloabalisation and to offload the risks onto the people. This has manifested itself in many ways over the last few decades, but interestingly many have been demonstrated in only the last few years and even days.

As the Libyan uprising continues the news has come through that BP oil workers operating in the Libyan desert have been repatriated, by the SAS no less. This is a complex problem, as British citizens they have a right to be defended by their government though this is not really the question. The question is should BP expect national governments to repatriate their workers at tax-payers’ expense? Oil and conflict go hand-in-hand, there are very few oil-rich areas that are not conflict zones in one way or another. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that companies operating in these areas have carried out assessments of the risk to their workers and created contingency and evacuation plans should the situation get dangerous for those workers to remain. That it has taken so long to get the workers out and that the operation was conducted by the SAS and Royal Navy suggests that BP had no such plans in place, or that if they did their plan was to let national governments deal with it and let the citizens pay for it.

A similar situation happened in the Gulf of Mexico last year with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. BP’s disaster response plan was not sufficient to cope with the scale of the disaster and therefore the burden of responsibility was shifted onto the American tax payers. Now BP did have to cough up a significant chunk of money to deal with the mess, and the eventual legal fees and result of the estimated 20 year litigation process to determine culpability will cost them greatly. Though it should be noted that rarely, if ever, are oil companies fined an amount that represents anything near the cost of the damage done. However there has been, and will still be, a significant burden on the tax payer to deal with the ongoing repercussions of the disaster.

The financial crisis in the minority world is the epitome of the privatisation of profit and socialisation of risk. National governments across the rich minority world bailed out their failing banks to the tune of trillions of pounds. This was done, ostensibly because not doing it would have had more significant and disastrous repercussions for the citizens of those nations, the concept of “Too Big To Fail”. What happened in the UK was that HM Treasury set up a company, limited by shares, called UK Financial Investments that then bought up the now public stakes in banks such as RBS and Lloyds. This has allowed the banks to continue operating business-as-usual and turning over huge profits at little risk to their own livelihoods. The unemployed, lowest paid and most vulnerable in the UK are facing cuts to their public services whilst bankers are reaping the rewards of their risky investments is a case-in-point.

David Cameron has been in the Middle East as a trade envoy for the British arms industry. The crassitude and insensitivity this shows when tyrannical dictators are crushing democracy with British arms is incredible but this is not the key point. Is it the responsibility of the Prime Minister to be touring the Middle East trying to sell things? Is there nothing more important for the person responsible for governing the UK to be doing than being a traveling salesman? Corporate globalisation has engulfed national government and offloaded the risk so that the government has seemingly no alternative but to act like an advertisement for big business. Government has been reduced to the middle man, linking seller with buyer, desperately kowtowing to the megarich and the despotic (funny how often those go together) in the interests of the economy. The economy is a means to an end, not an end itself.

The role of a national government is to serve the people of the nation, not the interests of corporate globalisation. After all, as David Ransom points out, the only time corporate globalisation is interested in nations is when they need their money.

Woollard vs Thomas: Sentencing our youth

Two high-profile cases have ended with young people being sentenced to years incarcerated in young offenders’ institutes recently, one for 2 years and 8 months the other a total of 15 years. “So what?” I hear you cry “young people are incarcerated every day!”. Well, yes they are and what does that say about our society? But I want to compare the sentencing of these young people, one 18 years old, the others 19, 20 and 18.

The first of these, if you haven’t already worked it out, is Edward Woollard, the sixth-former who threw a fire-extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative HQ during the student protest. Whilst this was a monumentally stupid thing to do that could very easily have ended worse than it did, it was not a deliberate attempt to hurt anyone, let alone kill.

His sentencing of 2 years 8 months, with parole at 1 year 4 months, will see him spend the rest of his teenage life incarcerated for getting carried away and making a stupid mistake. The judge acknowledged the harshness of the sentence, justifying it as “…a deterrent” to others. Despite 30 character references, no previous convictions, turning himself in and pleading guilty from the earliest opportunity, the judge still saw fit to make an example of him. So the judge’s message here is “don’t be a generally decent person that occasionally gets carried away”.

As Deborah Orr said in The Guardian:

Woollard was not a seasoned activist… He wore no hood. He wore no mask. He had brought no billiard balls. He didn’t even liberate the fire extinguisher in the first place. He clearly had no awareness that the media would be filming the “trouble”, and that identifying him as a culprit would therefore be easy. Woollard had no idea that within a couple of months the judiciary would be “making an example of him”, and nor did his mother, Tania Garwood, who, after the event, drove her son to a police station so that he could make a statement at the earliest opportunity.

The second case is that of 19 year old Ruby Thomas and her co-defendants Joel Alexander, 20 and Rachel Burke, 18, who were found guilty of beating gay civil servant Ian Baynham to death in 2009. They received 7 years, 6 years and 2 years respectively. Much of the media has focussed on Ruby Thomas who is supposed to have delivered the fatal kick to the head after Alexander had punched him to the ground. The incident started when Thomas had been “flirting with passers by” and took offence at presumably being ignored by Baynham and his friend after which she shouted “fucking faggots” at them. The judge stated Thomas had “a previous conviction for drunken loutish behaviour and… demonstrated hostility towards Ian Baynham based upon his sexual orientation or presumed sexual orientation”.

Thomas clearly demonstrated an aggressive, homophobic attitude, regardless of whether she knew Baynham to be gay or not. The assault that followed was, therefore, motivated by this hatred.

Edward Woollard, a young man with no previous convictions received nearly half the sentence of Thomas and more than her co-defendant Rachel Burke. Woollard made a mistake, Thomas, Alexander and Burke deliberately attacked and killed someone they perceived to be gay, their intent to cause serious injury if not to actually kill. I am no supporter of custodial sentences, particularly for young people, but I do believe that the way courts sentence people in high-profile cases reflects as much of the feelings of wider society, as it does ‘justice’.

ACPO: police “may be required to commit crimes to achieve the aims of the government”

The Mark Kennedy/Stone case has been in the news, particularly the Guardian, a lot but the police statements have rather confused me.

I first heard about Mark back in October through a friend of a friend and, whilst I was a little stunned that it had been someone so involved, I was not surprised there was an undercover cop in the movement (in fact I earned the nickname “Paranoid Pete” in SFTUK for worrying about security and infiltration). Someone I consider a friend and committed activist in the US is an ex-informant, so I am well aware they exist.

Call me cynical but what did surprise me was the quickness that everyone, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, from George Monbiot to former undercover officers seemed to roundly condemn parts of, if not all of the operation. I was positively gobsmacked with the speed at which it was announced that the three baines of every protester in the UK; the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET) would be moved from the unaccountable and opaque Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and into the Met “as a direct result” of the Mark Kennedy case. Well, I was for a while, until I read that this had been on the cards since November last year. So what was pitched as a punishment for mismanagement is in fact a pre-planned merging of units conveniently timed. So no one wins here, except the police who escape with not so much a slap on the wrist but more of a tickle under the arm.

What I am really worried about now is what the new “…domestic extremism command…” in the Met will be. Police never give up a power once they have it, I find it hard to believe anything will really change.

Something caught my attention in an article on the Guardian’s website today; ACPO stated:

Historically, there appears to have been a reluctance for anybody else to take a role in the authorisation of undercover officers and informants in circumstances where they may be required to commit crimes in order to achieve the legitimate aims of the government.

It was the last part of that statement “they may be required to commit crimes in order to achieve the legitimate aims of the government”. This is interesting for two reasons: 1) it appears to be the police advisory body ACPO stating that the government can break the law to get its way and 2) it is remarkably similar to the definition of civil disobedienceA symbolic, non-violent violation of the law, done deliberately in protest against some form of perceived injustice.

It would appear, initially, that these are very similar ideas and that I am hypocritically justifying protesters breaking the law and castigating police and governments for it because I am sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. But there is a key difference in when a protester breaks the law and when a government does it.

It would be great if the law could apply to everyone, universally. But so often there are exceptions that have to be made for one reason or another. What differs between when activists break the law to prevent a greater crime or highlight injustice is that they do it clear in the knowledge of the legal repercussions they face and full willingness to accept them. That is where the power of non-violent civil disobedience comes from. When the police frame, beat or kill protesters, when MPs make fraudulent expense claims, when ministers, lords, businessmen and companies evade tax they use every excuse and every loophole to wriggle their way out of facing justice.

When governments and police break the law they do so to control, to abuse and to distort.

The police, the media, their agenda and the law

Police van in student protest by ChrisJohnBeckett AT-NC-ND

Police van in student protest by ChrisJohnBeckett

The police know that if the media is against them, they will have to be seen to act if not to actually change. But despite brief media outrage and public calls for reform, the police maintain very little accountability and act with impunity in most situations, particularly with regard to protests. And they are using the media more and more to justify their tactics.

Police need to be able to do their jobs and they need to be able to make decisions on the spot to resolve situations peacefully. They must, however, use their powers lawfully and appropriately, take responsibility for their decisions and be held publicly accountable for their actions. We have seen what happens when they the police are allowed to act with impunity; people die.

The police media tactics have been under some scrutiny in recent years, fired up by ‘conspiracy theories’ about undercover officers, deliberately un-boarded windows, false press statements and strategically positioned police vans. Things is, all these ‘conspiracy theories’ frequently turn out to be true.

It was recently revealed that it was an undercover officer who snitched on the Nottingham 114. He had been living as an activist/undercover officer for 9 years and had built up considerable trust in many of the people he met and became friends with. Recently two Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) officers were spotted in plain clothes at a UK Uncut protest at a branch of Vodafone. Last year Commander Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police said in evidence to parliamentary committee “The only officers we deploy for intelligence purposes at public order are forward intelligence team officers who are wearing full police uniforms with a yellow jacket with blue shoulders”. These sorts of operations demonstrates the police force’s assumption that protesters are criminals and that dissent must be crushed as well as their contempt for even the slightest attempt to hold them accountable.

During the G20 protests in London there were two particular incidents that are relevant. The first was the kettling of protesters outside the Bank of England. Whilst this is a tactic of questionable legality, it was the positioning of this that I want to mention. Knowing that there was considerable anger towards the Royal Bank of Scotland, the police made little, if any, attempt to move protesters away from the un-boarded windows of a nearby branch. Sure enough, those windows were smashed. For the day of the protest this was the predominant media image and provided the police with a perfect excuse for their heavy-handed tactics.

Over at the Climate Camp in the City the police kettled several hundred protesters outside the European Climate Exchange. They knew that this was the intended location of the protest well beforehand yet when the swoop happened there were two police vans parked right outside. I have been to many protests and their usual tactic is to hide the vans full of officers round the corner from the protest, well out of sight. For them to be left unattended at the exact location of a protest is unusual to say the least, though these vans were not damaged. This was exactly what we saw at the anti-fees protest in London a couple of weeks ago. A police van was left unattended in the middle of the kettle and sure-enough became the target of much of the protesters anger. And who can blame them when they are intimidated, beaten, kettled and charged down by mounted police, simply for exercising their right to protest. It is worth noting that there were a number of black-clad masked protesters egging people on to smash the van, whilst a large group of school kids tried to stop them. Is has been alleged that these were undercover police ‘agitators’.

Statements made by the police to the media about protest events have been consistently proved to be false. During the G20 protests newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson died after being struck by a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group. The initial response of the police was to blame the protesters. They claimed that their attempts to help Tomlinson were hindered by protesters throwing ‘missiles’. A video released later disproved this and showed the police initially made no attempt to help Tomlinson back to his feet. The ‘missiles’ turned out to be a single plastic bottle which was thrown from way back to which the protesters responded by turning and shouting not to throw things.

During the Camp for Climate Action in Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders Police made allegations that ‘protesters’ had poured an ‘oil-like substance’ on a main road near the camp. This was widely reported in the media and was roundly condemned. There was, however, no evidence to suggest this had actually taken place. There were no arrests, no witnesses, there were no reports of traffic disruption to the council and no protesters claimed they had committed it, something almost unheard of within the Climate Camp movement. At the very least, if it did happen there was nothing to suggest whoever did it was connected to the camp and so this was a grave distortion and a slander on the reputation of the Camp.

The police’s desire to control the media is evident. Recently I was attending the Crude Awakening protest at Coryton Oil Refinery. As I approached the road that the protest was on I was stopped by a police officer and questioned. The officer asserted (note, did not ask) that I was a journalist and informed me that “this is a police cordon, press are not allowed past”. When I questioned the officer he replied “I am not going to discuss this with you”. I eventually argued my way past the officer, with the help of a few friends, but there were many other journalists that did not want to argue with the police and were prevented from reporting on the protest. This runs counter to the Metropolitan Police’s own guidance on the press which states:

2:”…it is much better to provide the media with a good vantage point from which they can operate rather than to exclude them… Providing an area for members of the media does not exclude them from operating from other areas to which the general public have access.”

3: “Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record…”

4: “…we have no power to prevent or restrict media activity.”

Recently it was reported that the police are seeking powers to shut down websites engaged in “criminal activity”. As we have seen with so many other police powers this will be used to extra-judicially crush dissenting voices and intimidate protesters. The police do what they want and find a power to justify it later.

They are not, however, totally untouchable.

The police came under fire back in 2008 for their indiscriminate use of stop and search powers during the Kingsnorth Camp for Climate Action. They searched everyone entering and leaving the site, both protesters and journalists, and confiscated hundreds of items including tent pegs, toilet rolls and other innocuous items. They were using Section 44 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 which allowed them to stop and search anyone they had reasonable grounds to suspect might be a terrorist. This was recently ruled to be unlawful and a breach of Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (right to privacy).

This, however, has not deterred them. They simply moved on to another in their arsenal of stop and search powers, including Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act and most recently Section 50 of the Police Reform Act. This last piece of legislation is their current favourite as it has one major difference to the others; unlike s.1 PACE and s.60 CJA, if you refuse to give your details they have the power to arrest you.

I have come up against this particular law twice in recent weeks. Once when I was at a protest at the Lib Dem constituency office in Oxford where I was approached by a FIT officer and told “intelligence has identified you as being part of an anti-social event on a previous day” and asked for my details. I argued and the officer eventually let it go. Then again when I was filming a protest at a Barclays in Oxford. Afterwards I was grabbed by two police officers, marched to a third officer and told that filming the protest was “anti-social behavior” and they would therefore be taking my details, if I refused I was told I would be arrested. There have been many other instances of people being stopped under s.50 at the recent student fees protests. This is exactly the same situation as with s.44 & s.43 of the AT Act, the police using a law brought in for a ‘justifiable’ reason to collect intelligence on and intimidate protesters.

The police are succeeding in criminalising protest, silencing dissent and stopping freedom of the press. The IPCC are not enough to control the police. As with the banks, self-regulation when rule-breaking is the norm simply does not work. There needs to be proper public accountability.