Thursday 3 December 2009

Government White Paper Tells Protesters to Act Responsibly

Buried within today's 116-page government White Paper, "Protecting the public: supporting the police to succeed", is a passing reference (pg 62) welcoming the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's recent review of the G20 protests and public order policing.

The government says it is clear that "a human rights based approach to the policing of protest is needed in order to comply with the law, to support these founding principles of British policing (sic), and crucially to provide a practical framework for the police to resolve any areas of confict".

But it goes on to say this:

4.37 The police and all public authorities must start from a position of supporting those who want to exercise their rights to peaceful protest. Those seeking to exercise their right to protest should act responsibly and look to work constructively with the police. [my emphasis]
Anyone who has ever been involved in negotiations with the police will know that 'discussion' involves the police setting severe restrictions on the limitations of protest - and holding those who 'work constructively' with them responsible for anything that might happen (although the same burden doesn't apply to protest participants themselves). This is precisely the reason why new, more dynamic forms of protest like Climate Camp have refused to become 'self-kettled' within, for example, a prescribed and largely ineffectual march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square in London.

Refusing to 'sign off' a protest with the police beforehand is now, apparently, failing to "act responsibly". You can see where this is going - protests divided into those that are 'responsible' and those that are, in the state's eyes, most definitely not.

What the government and the police have both failed to understand, however, is how little moral legitimacy they have to decide whether we are 'responsible protesters' or not. For many, many people, any illusions they may have had were shattered (in many cases physically) on 1st April 2009.

The state's only option - not a part of this White Paper but perhaps something we will see in future lesgislative proposals - is a ban any protest that does not have prior sanction. If protesters simply won't be 'responsible', then maybe sometime soon they'll be forced to be so.

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