Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Last Night's Channel 4 Dispatches - Ready for a Riot

Last night's Dispatches programme on Channel 4 asked a pertinent question in the light of the brutality meted out to G20 protesters in April - why, if the vast majority of protests pass off peacefully, does police training continue to focus on the worst-case scenario of riots and petrol bombs? Does crowd control tactics like 'kettling', that bring protestors face-to-face with heavily-protected and armed police officers, actually increase the possibility of disorder?

There are a couple of clips from the programme that have appeared already on YouTube and that relate particularly to Climate Camp - the first from Bishopsgate on 1 April, which shows the degree of violence by police officers. As I tweeted last night, this section also demonstrates the extent of Met Commander Bob Broadhurst's cluelessness and why he should never be left in charge of another public order situation.

The second YouTube video focuses on the Climate Camp at Blackheath and is illuminating for different reasons. As the programme shows, the Met decision to adopt a far more low-key response to protests over the August Bank Holiday was an inevitable consequence of the public pounding they had taken over the previous four months for their brutal behaviour.

But the arrogance of senior officers remained unchecked: witness the pompous superintendent Julia Pendry striding onto Blackheath Common like a visiting potentate and lecturing one Climate Camper with the words "you have to be reasonable" (words that would almost be amusing coming from a Met officer, were it not the fact that they made me wish someone had slapped her across her smug face). Pendry then imperiously says (at 5 mins 50 sec):

"I must make it clear to you that there is absolutely no misunderstanding, that if any of you think I am here, that if I don't want to come in here and meet with you to speak, that I can't do that, that is going to be something that we need to clear up now, because I won't be doing that".

Leaving aside Pendry's mangling of the English language, unrestricted access to the Camp (which was no longer 'public space' but an occupied space) by the police after G20 would have been completely unacceptable to everyone who took part in protests on 1st April. It was not what had been agreed by the decision-making processes that Camp for Climate Action is justifiably proud of and is certainly not reflected in any way in the Open Letter to the Met that had been released a week before and that said "the best thing the police could do to ensure the health and safety of the public at Climate Camp 2009 would be to stay as far away from it as possible." Agreeing to it without consensus would have been a rejection of one of the Camp's basic principles, but sadly, this is where we start to get a level of rewriting of history.

One Climate Camp activist tweeted yesterday, "if they hadn't just marched on, they wouldn't have been allowed on at all." But that is simply not true - the Dispatches footage shows that a prearranged meeting had been agreed on site with Francis Wright of the Climate Camp Legal Team and that Pendry is not only escorted to a closed meeting, but is even offered a cup of tea! How very civilised! An angry crowd gathers, one that the fuckwit journalist and Pendry-admirer Paul Lewis, in his review of the programme in today's Guardian, dismisses as "a few mouthy types", but without their intervention, it is clear that Pendry might have been allowed to get away with believing that she could come and go as she pleased.

Chasing the presumptuous Pendry off the site with a torrent of abuse helped turn the Camp into a space for free discussion and probably helped stop any further conflict, which bringing protestors face-to-face with the police would inevitably have created. I wasn't at Climate Camp at this particular point but I'm starting to wonder whether I may have been too hard on those who were.

For me, an attitude that tension between protesters and the police was now a thing of the past - that Ian Tomlinson's death was a bit of unpleasantness best forgotten about - was summed up with staggering absurdity by someone guarding the 'behind-canvas-flaps" meeting, who asked (at 6 mins 33 secs), "why are you so angry?" - possibly the most phenomenally dumb question asked by anyone, anywhere, over the whole of the summer. See for yourself:


Anonymous said...

The only prearranged meeting was a police liaison meeting at the Climate Camp once it was established. All previous such meetings at previous Camps have taken place outside the gate and this was what was intended. Julia Pendry choose to interpret that differently.

DAVE BONES said...

She is making the point that there is nowhere in the UK where citizens can declare a public area off limits to the Police which is true. I do understand why people were pissed off, but being pissed off about two cops when we could have been dealing with hundreds in riot gear is a bit lame. I would have gone down the tea route with just two of them. What harm can tea do? is good English pasttime.

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