January 13, 2009
The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
The marchers were the most diverse I’ve ever seen. All nationalities and races. Men, women and children. Jews, Muslims, Christians, anarchists – all flavours of religious and political beliefs.
They came from everywhere around Britain. I met people from Wales to Lancashire and all points in between.
The majority of the march had been peaceful. We’d been held up a few times, initially because when we went past the Russian Embassy some people mistook it for the Israeli Embassy and staged a sit down protest and then when the march did reach the Israeli embassy we were delayed again while people burnt flags and placards and generally showed their disapproval.
There had been some violence during the march, but rather than tackling the violence that occurred when it occurred, the police chose to wait until the last of the marchers were close to the Israeli Embassy before they decided to lock down the area.
Then, for the next 4 hours we were trapped on the street outside the Israeli Embassy in freezing temperatures. We were denied access to water, food, shelter from the freezing conditions and sanitation. All because we were there when the police finally decided to do something about those who were causing trouble.
The First Lesson
A lot of the damage done to property occurred after we were detained. Despite the violence and the real risk of a further escalation and knowing that the rioters were young men, the police refused to allow the women and children to leave. Their bewilderment as they confronted the inconceivable refusal and their fear as they realised that they and their children were in danger from a situation they were forcibly detained in with no way to escape was sobering.
It�s easy to forget that most people in Britain have no concept of the heavy hand of the law and that the majority of people trust their government and the various arms of government to behave in an honourable and just way. It�s painful to see the reality of present day Britain being visited upon those who only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What Were We Told When We Were Detained? Nothing, Well, Nothing True Anyway.
There was no explanation given of what we were to expect or the timeframes. The initial actions by the police were designed to intimidate and to incite. Initially there was the threat that the police would attack if the rioting escalated yet they moved the innocents closer to the rioters.
These people would have been injured as the police approach in these situations does not discriminate between women, children, non-violent men or rioters.
By pushing those not involved in the violence closer to those who were, they deliberately placed the non participants in the violence in physical danger, both from the rioters and by the police if they had chosen to move forward to quell it.
Our main focus was to get the women and children to safety. At one stage we were told that the women and children would be allowed to leave if they went to the cordon furthest away from the violence, so we sent them there. They were soon back and told us they had been refused exit.
Later we were told that people would be allowed to leave from the other end if they approached with their faces uncovered and their palms on display. That turned out to be untrue as well.
The Law and the Bits They Forgot About
Supposedly we were held under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, also known as Stop and Search. Yet the procedures outlined in the Act were not followed nor did there appear to be even a token acknowledgement of the requirements of the Act.
When we were originally detained, we were not advised of the reason why. Voice amplification devices have been around for a while now, so it’s not inconceivable that the police have them. The final time we were told that we were to be released, it would be in groups of 10 and that we would all be required to produce our drivers licence, be searched and photographed and the procedure would take around 3 hours to process everyone. This included the stewards because, the police claimed, they had witnessed stewards involved in the violence.
Later we were told that the police had agreed that the stewards would just be required to provide their name and address and be photographed and if we refused it would be �difficult� for us. So, after 4 hours of being held in deliberately uncomfortable circumstances we were told that the only way out was to give them the information that they wanted. As we were not advised of our rights and in fact were threatened with unspecified police action if we did not comply, we were effectively compelled to give the information under duress.
When I was finally processed the police officers completely failed to follow the procedure outlined in section 60. I was video recorded from head to foot as I was asked for my name, address and date of birth. I was not given any of the information required by the act nor was I advised that I could obtain a copy of the written record.
The length of time we were held there was not due to the inefficiency of the police but was a deliberate tactic to demoralise and punish those caught up in this. I can see no other plausible explanation.
Section 60 has been used countless times down the years and inexperience in administering it or logistical issues cannot be used as a reason for the actions of the Metropolitan Police. With at least 100 police in attendance at the start of our detention, there was no justification for the slow processing particularly in light of the adverse weather conditions and the composition of the crowd detained.
For the innocents detained, it will be a deterrent in exercising their right to public protest and is just another step in the alienation and radicalisation process that occurs when collective punishment is visited on those who have nothing to do with the “crime” they are being held accountable for.
The Final Lesson of the Day
When I was finally released and was walking away, a group of police strolled passed me and one said to the group in a disappointed voice “no rough today” and the others echoed his disappointment.
It tallies with the some of the behaviour and attitude exhibited by a tiny minority of the officers on duty. Just as some of those who participated in the march were looking forward to confrontation, there was an equal element of police who were also looking forward to a fun day out.
That was the final lesson I learned that day. No area of society is immune to the siren call of violence but when it is manifest in those who we task with administering the law dispassionately, it raises questions over whether the recruitment and ongoing management policies of the police are appropriate.
Britain in the 21st Century
How can we expect the British government to protest against collective punishment occurring in the rest of the world when they condone the same thing on our soil? The only difference is the degree.
I certainly expect better from those who are tasked with creating and administering the laws on my behalf and am extremely disappointed with what I see. It’s time for some explanations.
January 11, 2009
I started to write this last night – I didn’t get home from the demonstration until around 10.30pm, thanks to some heavy handed policing that meant I got to relive the not-so-joys of collective punishment, only this time UK style. Everything hurt and my ankles, knees, hips and back had all seized up from being forced to stand in the bitter cold for 4 hours.
I was one of the stewards at the London Gaza demonstration. Apart from a very small minority of youths who decided to hijack the event for their own immature and unthinking reasons, the demonstration was peaceful and sent a strong message of support to those in Gaza.
This post is the first of a quick trip through my highlights of the day. I’ll address the violence that ended the demonstration in another post. I have loaded my flickr pics here though there’s not that many and they are not that good, as I had to focus on my job as steward. It didn’t help that it was so cold that the camera battery died pretty quickly and sometimes just point blank refused to work.
The stewards arrived at 10.30 to begin the preparation for the demo. Hyde Park was blanketed in a freezing mist when we arrived and it was a beautiful scene as we wandered through the park to where we were to collect the bundles of placards that needed to be distributed around the entrances for people to carry. Out of the mist came a group of skiers on roller skis. That is one picture I missed as I was carrying a bundle of placards at the time but the sight remains in my minds eye.
As the crowds began to arrive, so did the Hare Krishnas bearing music and free hot food and ginger cake.
The food was most welcome on such a wintry day and certainly helped stave off the hunger when we were trapped by the police outside the Israeli Embassy.
During the stewards briefing we were given fluorescent jackets to wear and for a moment it brought back memories of discussions that I had while in Gaza all those years ago. At that time the aggression by the Israeli military towards the internationals in Gaza was becoming more overt and there was a suggestion that members of the ISM should be wearing fluorescent jackets to ensure the military were aware of who we were. It was hard to know whether they would make us more of an attractive target to the military or would afford us some protection and in the end it was given as an option to those who were participating. The answer possibly came less than two months later when two members of ISM, Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, were killed by the military while wearing the jackets.
Sad thoughts on an otherwise uplifting day – and it was uplifting, I have been to some Gaza demonstrations where it appeared that there were more organisers than supporters. This demo was different, the protesters just kept coming. Even when we began the march, they were still flooding into Hyde Park. Primarily because the buses bringing the protesters in from around the country had been delayed in arriving in London. For the first hour after we set off there were still people rushing from the park to catch us up.
I met people from Wales to Lancashire and all points in between. These people spent more time travelling than they did in London, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm or their need to particpate in the protest.
The most remarkable thing about the demonstration was the diversity of people there. Normally protesters are very white, not this time. We had a large contingent of Muslims in the crowd. They have a reputation for being hard to mobilise because they want to keep their heads down and avoid drawing attention to themselves. On Saturday they were out and proud. They were assuming their rightful place as British people supporting Palestine. To feel secure enough in your society to be able to do this is a positive sign of a healthy society.
Yet I confess doubt. There is a part of me that thinks that these people are just so incensed by what is happening that they just had to come to the demonstrations, despite their reservations. Only time will tell I suppose.
The police claim 12,000 people were there. One of the guest speakers before the march, the musican Brian Eno agrees with the organisers who claim over 100,000 people attended:
“Musician Brian Eno condemned the police and BBC for underestimating the size of the protest.
“I know what 20,000 looks like. I’ve played often enough in front of 20,000. The size of the demonstration was at the very least four times that size and 100,000 is an accurate assessment. I have complained to the BBC about their absurd figure of 20,000,” he said.”
Brian Eno should know, he’s seen more large crowds in his musical career than the police and the BBC have seen large demonstrations.
Over the next few days I’ll post the rest of my experiences from the march. It’s been a long day and I’m still feeling very creaky after yesterday’s little adventure. For the first time ever I think I may actually be getting too old for this.
January 9, 2009
The depravity with which the Israeli Government is inflicting death on the people of Gaza reached a new low today as news began to leak out of yet another Israeli war crime in the town of Zeitoun.
According to the United Nations the events in a second shelter in the town represents ‘one of the gravest events since the beginning of the offensive.’
Eyewitness accounts obtained by the UN describe how, on the 4th January, the IDF rounded up 110 people, half of them children and moved them into a single story home. The IDF told the people they were being led to their safety.
Then 24 hours later the IDF bombed the shelter killing 30 people. According to the Red Cross and the UN, the IDF’s refusal to allow humanitarian access to the area for four days was because of this incident.
Following this incident the Red Cross issued a statement on the deaths of children killed by the Israeli Army in which they said that there had been a 250% increase in deaths to children since the ground invasion.
Read the BBC report here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7819492.stm
Here’s the latest update from the Red Cross
Israel allowed the ICRC to get blood supplies (but don’t say how much) and 1000 tetanus injections into Gaza. The injections are given to the wounded to help reduce the chance of infection. Only 1000 when there are over 3000 known wounded already. A pittance, just crumbs from the Israeli table.
If you live in the UK, the PSC have set up a web page with a pre written letter that they will use to forward to your MP. It literally takes a couple of minutes and will exert pressure on them to act. It calls on them to pressure the Government into taking real action that will force Israel to end its invasion and siege on Gaza.
All you have to do is visit http://www.iparl.com/lobby-psc/widget.html and put in your postcode – easy as that.
Please take the time to do this, small actions like this can make a difference.
Don’t forget there are demonstrations in London and Edinburgh tomorrow. Last Saturday’s had over 60,000 people there.
MARCH ROUTE: Speakers Corner at Hyde Park, Bayswater, Notting Hill Gate, left into Kensington Church Street, left into Kensington High Street, past the Israeli Embassy. There will be rallies with speakers at Speakers Corner and at the end of the march.
ALL SCOTLAND DEMONSTRATION 10 JANUARY
STOP THE MASSACRE: ISRAEL OUT OF GAZA
Bring in-date medicine for Gaza, and spare shoes.
Supported by Stop the War Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Pauline McNeil MSP, Sandra White MSP, Muslim Association of Britain, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Lebanese Community Scotland, Scottish Afghan Society, Scottish Islamic Foundation.