On the day that Denis O'Connor's review of the G20 protest has suggested (on page 67) that the Code of Practice on the police use of firearms might be a model for how public order might also be codified, I received this salutary reminder that its not the manual that matters, but the police themselves:
The Thirst is an indie band based in Brixton that consists of brothers Mensah and Kwame Cofi-Agyeman, Mark Lenihan and Marcus Harris. They were scouted by Ronnie Wood a few years ago, have supported The Rolling Stones, played at the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury festivals and toured with Pete Doherty. Band members are major supporters of Love Music Hate Racism.
On 21st November, The Thirst played a gig in Chase (Cannock) in Staffordshire. The gig went well but when the band left the venue they were confronted by a team of armed police. Under a helicopter spotlight, the band members had guns held to their heads and were all arrested, thrown into police vans and taken to a police station. They were given no information as to why it was happening. They were all released the following afternoon. The only explanation they were given by police was that they were being held on suspicion of possessing firearms.
Because their car had a flat battery, they were treated like criminals. Would the police have acted in the same way if there had been a white driver rather than six young black men?
This is Mensah’s description of what the band experienced:
"We had a good gig. I left the venue and we had to try and jump-start the old Range Rover that we were using, I opened the bonnet and as soon as I did about six police cars came around the corner. I looked to my friend and thought that they'd just want to check our insurance documents. The next thing all chaos erupted, I had red lasers pointed at my chest and on my head. There was a helicopter above us with a spotlight on us. All we could here was shouting.
I had a gun being forced on my neck. "Get down, get on the ground", "turn around, put your hands up" we were getting all different directions shouted at us. It didn't seem like any of them knew what they were doing. The fact alone that I could feel the policeman shaking through the end of the gun he had to my neck was enough to make me feel very nervous. He had my life in his hands and they were shaking.
We were all forced into the van with no information as to why we were being arrested, no explanation. I still can't believe that there was man with a gun to my head shaking. They were apparently waiting outside for two hours for us to finish the gig. Is it reasonable to believe that they thought that our guitar cases and coats were concealing shotguns? We were headlining a gig in Staffordshire! It was like walking into a movie set but it was too real.
The whole band, our manager and our sound engineer were locked up. There was no explanation from the police, we heard that fans from the show had contacted the police. In the end, the promoter of the gig even rang the mayor of the town for his support in order to get us released. All that the police said when they released us was that we were held overnight as we were suspected of carrying firearms. It's hard to believe that this can still happen today. We were treated like animals, we had no human rights."