FIT teams are surveillance groups working as part of a police force. They are deployed to situations which may result in a public order disturbance, such as political protests, football games, etc. They generally come in groups of three or four (in my experience anyway) and will have a camera, a video camera (sometimes the same device), and a number of officers making notes and observations. They seem to take a particular interest in linking people - it's good if they get a photo of me, but even better if they get a photo of me talking to you, or of you, me and someone else sticking together through the event.
Their role within a particular disturbance is to provide the police with hard evidence with which to convict people involved. They also, however, have a more intelligence-based role. As well as protests themselves, they are frequently sent to monitor meetings and gatherings. The Climate Camp in 2006 had one stationed at its gate for much of the week, monitoring everyone who entered and exited the camp; similarly, at pre-G8 organising meetings and other anti-capitalist groupings, a FIT team will often be stationed across the street videoing each person as they enter the meeting place. It is now pretty common both for demonstrations and for planning meetings to see a FIT-related warning - something like "Be warned: police photographers may be outside. You may wish to wear a scarf in this cold weather."
Their two primary purposes, as explained above, are evidence and intelligence. Their third, and the one which tends to be the most immediate for activists, is intimidation. Go to any demonstration now and you will be captured by police cameras, generally several times; go to a demonstration with the wrong kind of flag and you can be sure of special attention, perhaps even having them follow you down the crowd for a bit. If you're really lucky you may get your own set of cops to tail you after the demo; presumably the FIT, like everyone else, are in desparate search of a decently priced pub in London.
That the effect of the intimidation is psychological does not make it any less real. Particularly for those who are newly involved in campaigning, having police units appear at open, public and accountable meetings to carry out surveillance on all those who attend can be intimidating to the point of putting people off all together. It sends two messages. The first: "You are opposing us. You are therefore a criminal and need to be monitored." And the second: "The people in this meeting are obviously criminals. Do you want anything to do with them?"
FIT only exists because we allow it to. A genuinely assertive, proactive and militant campaign to stop them acting could and should succeed, or at the very least make life a lot more difficult for them. There are further questions to be asked, however.
As with all tactics of intimidation, the methods used by FIT impact us in numerous ways. One of those is disruption, creating an environment in which we cannot work, in which our paranoia and concern with what the police are doing takes precedence over taking the action we wish to take.
Taking the Climate Camp as an example once more. When FIT arrived, a number of people argued with and opposed them. This spontaneously became a demonstration from within the camp, with a number of people raising banners with which to block their cameras, increasing numbers gathering by the gate to lend support, and a samba band providing a much-needed atmosphere. The situation created there allowed for a number of different groups to air their grievances with the police. As some masked up and discussed barricades in hushed tones, others donned more colour and did their best to deflect the cameras, while still others - some of whom had been in favour of allowing the police on site - prepared a large board detailing their specific grievances with the policing of the event, including both FIT and mass use of stop and search among others.
While largely symbolic, this resistance to police surveillance was one of the most inspiring moments of the camp, in my view. However, questions do have to be asked. Because of the time spent blocking the cameras and engaging in endless negotiations with the police over the conditions of their entry of the camp, a number of people (including myself) were unable to attend the theoretical, scientific and practical workshops which formed one of the main purposes of the camp. Essentially, in defending the camp from the police, we had to give up one of the reasons the camp had happened in the first place.
This is a pattern I have seen repeated time and again. The most recent example I saw firsthand was the incident that in part provoked this post, when the attempt to prevent FIT from filming outside a Disarm DSEi meeting, and subsequent arrests, resulted in a significant delay to the start of that meeting. This process plays itself out constantly - our fear of, discussion on, and reaction to actual or perceived police actions become an obstacle to our own activity, keeping us on the backfoot and interrupting our organising.
This is not a coincidence - it is one of the key means by which FIT and other forms of surveillance operate.
I do not have the answers to the issues raised here. However, I do feel it is important that whatever response is made to FIT and other forms of police harassment is made with the central aim of allowing us to organise effectively, and that where possible we avoid drawing resources from what we are organising to in order to defend our ability to organise.
The activist movement is gradually building networks and groups to meet the challenges presented by our activity. We now have action medics to deal with the physical impact of confrontation with the police. We have, in its budding stages, a trauma support network to deal with the mental and emotional problems we face. We can form groups and networks to provide us with food, legal observation, communications, and more.
One solution to the problems raised above, then, may be to form a network of people willing to resist police surveillance, and through this network to organise groups at events at which a FIT team is likely to appear. This would both disrupt FIT themselves and prevent our events from being disrupted in the process. There are significant problems raised by this approach - accountability, specialisation, approach to police, attitudes to violence, those who take part essentially putting themselves in the firing line - which must be addressed or at least discussed. Whatever the result, however, these discussions may be helpful. And while this may not be the answer: something must be done.
if you're interested in getting involved:
- take part in the anti-FIT action outside Saturday 30th June's Disarm DSEi meeting: meet 1:30 outside University of London Union, Malet Street, 1:30pm.
- sign up to the discussion list by sending a blank e-mail to mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org
- check out http://fitwatch.blogspot.com
Also once some hunt sabs were walking along a street when they saw a police photographer in their car in a cue at traffic lights - they happened to have a camera and took a photo of the copper who was none too pleased to have their photo taken!
Maybe we can have photos, names and numbers of FIT police so we can be on the lookout for them at all times and photo them when they are least expecting it!!
Also, police repression is a major issue, especially nowadays, and one which we should stop sweeping under the carpet. The fact that we cannot register dissent without being treated like suicide bombers needs to be adressed before our movement can start to grow again.
If we had stopped this new trend of surviellance poilcing before it got under way, maybe we wouldnt be left with the frankly shit movement we have today. They have succesfully created a climate in which people feel scared to protest.
Heres a few suggestions for starting a fightback
*mass policy of complete non-cooperation with the cops - no stop and searches, no giving details. To do this we will need to stick in large groups at gatherings. Even if we end up giving some concessions, we should put ourselves in a position where we can negotiate, giving us some power back.
*obsuring of FIT cameras using banners etc, making their efforts redundant
*mass refusal to allow police to enter our demonstrations, or call the shots. If they try and change our route, we all sit down, or refuse to go the way they tell us to.
Non-cooperation can work. I was at a demo recentley in a small city. The demo had been hyped up as a riot, so the cops imposed a 6 person limit on the number of protesors(!!!), put a 1 hour time limit on the demo and told us we had to move away from the offices we were protesting outside and into a location that would have made us invisible.
We first refused to move to the new location - giving them an ultimatum of letting us stay or we resist and they eventually nick us all . we entered into negotiations and were allowed to stay where we were.
We passed the alloted time limit, and gave them the same ultimatum - nagotiate or nick us all - we negoptiated a time we were happy with
When another 2 protestors turned up, we once again refused to allow the police to call the shots and demanded they be allowed to stay - it worked!
The next day, we had another demo - the cops imposed the same conditions on us - once again, mass refusal worked - we negotiated the route they set for us - scrapped the limit on protestors and had the time limit upped.
I have seen numerous times when we refuse to blindly co-operate that a negotiation is entered into - or we get our way completley - they are only our bosses if we let them be.
As i'm not to bothered about the day of action at climate camp - but will be there anyways - im up for putting some anti-FIT/repression ideas into practice there.
Whos with me?
(A) Sab x
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