As the ConDems and their corporate journos froth at the moth, calling for yet more repression of protesters, little corporate reportage is given of events as experienced by the protesters themselves. Accounts from inside the kettles are being published on many different sites. On this site, we have already seen accounts posted to Indymedia by A level student Rosie Bergonzi kettled in Parliament square on December 9th, along with the reposted article The Fight For Parliament and the informative Capitalism is dying, let it burn. This thread is an attempt to draw in more eye witness accounts from inside and outside the kettles during the recent student protests.
"What I saw a month ago at Millbank was a generation of very young, very angry, very disenfranchised people realising that not doing as you're told, contrary to everything we've been informed, is actually a very effective way of making your voice heard when the parliamentary process has let you down. What I saw two weeks ago in the Whitehall kettle was those same young people learning that if you choose to step out of line you will be mercilessly held back and down by officers of the law who are quite prepared to batter kids into a bloody mess if they deem it necessary. What I saw today was something different, something bigger: no less than the democratic apparatus of the state breaking down entirely."
Additional account in NS comments by 'ivan thomas' at 17:01
Our contingent from Birmingham University arrived at the demo at 3pm by which time, despite that everyone was in a good natured mood it was already kettled.
It was possible to get in but after that it was impossible to get out but as we had come all this way to be at the demo the majority of us went in. Just as an aside at this point i would like to say that i heard the Commissioner of police on the radio this morning who was saying that the only reason that they employ "containment" tactics is to pacify the crowd. To this i would like to say two things; (1)the people were already passive so why imprison people excercising their democratic right to protest? (2) imprisoning people does not pacify them, it makes them angry.
The ambience within the kettle was good natured, there were drummers and a mobile music system and people were either dancing or shouting slogans, in fact it was a pretty passive and laid back as demos go.
At around dusk, on the West side of the square, police on horseback delivered an unprovoked attack on us. I was not an eyewitness to this but everyone said it was unprovoked and this was borne out by a friend who phoned me to say she had just seen it live on BBC news and apparently the reporter was clearly shocked. Funnily enough this report and film has disappeared of the BBC website overnight.
At this point there was a general shift of people, of which i was one, to the East side of the square because the word went around that they were going to start letting people out but instead we encountered a wall of riot police who, by their body language, were clearly up for it!
We started to shout that we wanted to be let out bcause we were cold, thirsty and needed a piss to which there was no response. A few people, clearly exasperated threw plastic water bottles and sticks at them, there being no other ammunition anyway.
At this point one flank of the police charged us employing riot shields and and aiming for people's heads with their truncheons. It was at this point that one lad got hit hard enough to be brain damaged.
One of my companions went to the police line and demanded a medic for which he got punched in the face.
Several people laid him on a piece of temporary fencing as a stretcher and carried him to safety. At this point things really took off, whilst we started using crowd barriers as battering rams against their shield wall several other students starte to try and break in to the Treasury via the windows, the irony of an occupation of the Treasury building was not lost on anyone. The police claim there were rent-a-mob elements involved, this is not true, i saw young girls trying to smash through the bomb proof windows too.
Meanwhile we had built our own barricade by the corner of the Treasury building to stop them charging us and there appeared to be a bit of a stand-off.
Suddenly a flash squad of police appeared from another direction and ran towards the people trying to break in through the windows.
At this point, i didn't see it, but i heard from different sources that one of the police ran over the boy with the head injury and used the opportunity to hit him on the head again.
After all this the police advanced from all sides and concentrated us into an ever decreasing space and we shouted out that we demanded to be released.
They said that we would be released in small groups but after more than an hour this was proved to be a lie.
Eventually they said we could go but only via Westminster Bridge. At the time i thought this was odd and i realised that corralling us on a bridge was a tactical move on their part which it proved to be.
We were held on the bridge for well over an hour bounded by riot police on both sides. Finally we lost our patience and the general feeling was that if 3,000 people were to push that we could push our way out but it would appear we couldn't.
The net result of this was that everyone was squeezed together so tightly that nobody could move their arms or breathe properly, it was not possible for us to spread out because we were penned in by the police on both sides. We endured this for more than half an hour and it started to get serious when a few people started to pass out.
Finally they started to let us out one at a time and we had to pass through a 200 yard corridor of riot police and made to take our hats off so that we could be photographed.
This is an account of what what was largely a group of teenagers could do and i'm hugely proud of them. When the protests start to involve fully grown men and women who are having their rights away i'll tell you now Mr Policemen...
YOU ARE GOING TO GET YOUR FUCKING HEADS KICKED IN!
Laurie Penny (repost)
Now for the caveats. I think the police were superb, doing an impossible job. And I think amidst the mostly peaceful protesters were professional agent provocateurs determined to cause trouble. But having experienced being 'kettled', with my daughter, I suspect that this action caused more trouble than it stopped.
I spent most of the day at Parliament Square, watching various MPs arrive at the House of Commons, and then the main protest march arrive, and the crowds build. I found myself having been standing peacefully watching, to suddenly face a phalanx of police horses and police with riot shields charging towards me, and then to be herded like cattle into the centre of Parliament Square. I had just been 'kettled' apparently for my own safety.
Now as a middle aged man, I was allowed to then walk out of the 'kettle' whilst younger people were detained behind the police lines. I saw middle aged fathers like me in despair as their teenage children were ripped away from them and held hostage. Dad's pleading to get their children out of the 'kettle' were told their kids would not be allowed out.
I rang my daughter who had been with friends, who had faced a similar shock of being rounded up, but had managed to 'escape' being chased by police, and had decided to stay in a McDonalds. I suggested that she make her way home. It didn't take much to see that things were going to get ugly, and the thought that she might be herded back into Parliament Square, did not make me think how 'kettling' would keep her safe in there.
I stood for a couple more hours, watching as groups of students and parents, and adults, arrived outside Parliament, and the repeating pattern of them being surrounded by policemen on horses and driven into the crowd in parliament square. I saw young people crushed against horses and policemen pleading to be let out, to only be hit and forced back into a growing and seething crowd.
Like a living creature this forced collection of people crushed by policemen seemed to pulse as it grew and expanded, with more and more people being pushed into its maw. Finally looking on watching what must now be over 10,000 people forced and crushed into the confined space of Parliament Square, the violence erupted, with fireworks, and missiles. Like a powder keg that finally exploded.
At that point I decided to make my way home.
Again I am not berating the police, or justifying any violence, I am questioning the one tactic of 'kettling'. It was deeply disturbing to experience, and from what I saw, was highly conflictual and inflammatory, and as unfair on students and parents as it was on the police.
Every police officer even as they faced missiles and fireworks, address me as 'sir' and exhibited concern for my well being. Extraordinary people under huge pressure. But one police office did hit me from behind, as I and group of middle aged men, outside Westminster Abbey decided to walk away foam the growing crowds towards Victoria. I was shoved from behind and nearly fell over, as I was told to 'move' as group of police officers overran me, chasing after some student further up the road.
I put it down to the price of exercising my democratic right to protest. I could have stayed at home and watched it all on the TV, but with my convictions that the party I had voted for had betrayed their pledges, as I saw education thrown to the markets, and the future of young people given over to debts, I wanted to stand outside Parliament and have my government know that I was not happy with them.
Alas it's too easy with the media to reduce the protest to a seething mob of spoilt sponging students intent on violence. What I saw was many parents like me with their kids, despondent and hoping that by being there their government might listen and take the time to come up with something better.
Jason Clark (repost)
We were kept in a kettle for over 4 and a half ours. We were peaceful protesters who were told that we could go home. On the bridge the police crushed us from the front and back. Eventually we pushed forward shouting “human rights! human rights!” The media didn’t cover the kettle.
At around 4 min 45 secs you can hear a girl screaming for their life: “I can’t breathe!” I think it might actually be me. A comrade next to me managed to clear me some space and helped me get my breath back.
The next day I had to go to A&E. My ribs had been crushed and were bruised. The doctor said that I had been at risk of having a collapsed lung and was lucky to be alive.
Bitchkitten on Waterloo Bridge(repost)
Yesterday I attended the demonstration in London against the government’s plan to raise university tuition fees to £9,000 a year (a near trebling of the current figure), which took place outside parliament while the measure was being debated and voted on inside. It was a rude awakening for someone who had wrongly assumed that Britain was a country that respected freedom of assembly.
There were in fact two demonstrations; one organised by student activists that began at noon at Malet Street and marched to Parliament Square, and a ‘candlelit vigil’ organised by the National Union of Students and University College Union that began at 3pm nearby on Victoria Embankment, kept separate from the first march with the apparent intention of appearing respectable in the eyes of Daily Mail editorial writers. I was on the first demo, but assumed I’d be able to wander over to the second one at some point.
However, after the demonstration reached Parliament Square, the police blocked off all exits from the square, so people were not able to go in or out. The policemen were all helmeted and armoured, and it felt like the mostly peaceful demonstrators were a priori being treated as troublemakers and confronted. Those who arrived later were not allowed to join, and in practice, the demonstration was broken up into at least two groups. It was freezing cold, and people burned scrap wood and at least one park bench to keep warm. People stood like this for hours; there were no toilets and no possibility of going off to buy food or coffee. At one corner of the square opposite Westminster Abbey, mounted policemen were deployed and a confrontation broke out with some of the demonstrators; I couldn’t see who started it. A couple of people tried unsuccessfully to smash a reinforced window in one of the government buildings on the other side of the square. But the overwhelming majority of the people gathered were peaceful. They were mostly students, but some were actual schoolchildren.
At about 4pm, I thought I’d wander over to the NUS/UCU demo down the road, but this was impossible as the police were not allowing anyone to leave the square. A lot of people wanted to leave by then, and were getting very frustrated about being prevented, and a chant went up, ‘Let us leave !’, which the police ignored. At some time before 5pm, the crowd I was in facing the police at the exit onto Parliament Street became fed up, began to push, and succeeded in pushing its way through the police line. There were large trenches in the road where roadwork was being carried out, and as I was pushed along by the crowd, I briefly thought I might fall in; a policeman helped to pull me and the man in front of me safely past. However, the crowd had simply succeeded in breaking into another kettle, and there was still no possibility of leaving. I had wanted to stay until the parliamentary vote at 5.30pm, but others wanted to leave; a frightened looking girl who looked about eighteen asked me what was happeneing, and whether we would be allowed to leave, but I didn’t know.
I do not know why the police wanted to keep the two groups of demonstrators separate, or why they kept people kettled who wanted to go home, but the strategy seemed almost designed to make the demostrators angry and frustrated. Then, at a certain point, the police for some reason began lining up vans inside the kettle, and some demonstrators stood in front of the vans to prevent them from moving forward. A group of police in riot gear, with shields, confronted the demonstrators at the vans, and fighting broke out. Exactly what the police were trying to achieve by aggressively confronting bottled up demonstrators was completely unclear. Of course, there was a minority of troublemakers among the demonstrators who were out for a fight, but most of us were just trapped and confused about what was happening.
Demonstrators by the vans pelted the police with missiles, then began to hurl metal fences against the riot shields. The police then advanced against the demonstrators on both sides of the kettle, beating them with batons and crushing the crowd together. ‘Where are we supposed to go ?’, one girl shouted. Some of us clambered over the low wall separating the road and the pavement to escape the advancing police and the fighting. I then climbed onto a raised platform at the edge of the pavement, and watched the fighting. The police hit people with batons. Eventually, the fighting subsided and the police allowed people to leave.
At one level, I was grateful it was the UK rather than, say, Italy or Russia, as individual officers showed a lot of discipline and restraint; things would have been a lot worse if individual officers had lashed out indiscriminately on their own initiative, as police in such circumstances have been known to do. But that is a tribute to the ordinary policeman – not the strategy of the police command, which put its own officers in harm’s way.
The police strategy did not serve to protect people or property from violence; on the contrary. Although there was a minority among the demonstrators that was actively seeking violence, the police strategy of keeping people ketted for hours in the cold, and preventing them from going home, appeared guaranteed to ensure that a riot would take place, and that even some demonstrators who hadn’t been out for trouble would be drawn into it. The strategy of not only keeping people kettled, but then inserting a phalanx of armed police into the kettle was sheer lunacy – what did they think would happen ? The moderate, peaceful majority was lumped together with the minority and treated as dangerous deviants, instead of what they were – citizens exercising their democratic right to protest. Those of us who wanted to move to the second demonstration were prevented from doing so – a violation of the right of freedom of assembly.
I attended the great anti-poll-tax demonstration in March 1990 – rioting broke out there too, but on the march itself, the police treated the demonstrators a lot better. I have been on many demonstrations in London, but I’ve never seen anything like this: the police treating peaceful demonstrators as troublemakers, then pursuing a strategy guaranteed to ensure trouble would occur. And one couldn’t help but suspect that by making the experience of demonstrating as unpleasant as possible, the covert intention was to deter people from exercising their right to freedom of protest in the future.
Hat tip for the video: Oliver.
Marko Attila Hoare (repost)
Much has been written about the police use kettling at last Thursday’s riots. Here’s an attempt to say something different.
The kettling of thousands, by rows of armour-clad and masked riot police (never mind the batoning, punching, kicking and horse charges) demonstrated a fundamental truth of politics:
“That a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory…Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.”
Standing in the shadow of Parliament, as fires burned and smoke billowed, Max Weber’s words received practical purchase.
The old anarchist saying – that the state creates the violence which it uses to justify its existence – also took on a dimension of vivid reality that night. I watched (and dodged) as fellow citizens were beaten by an organised, armoured and armed militia. A militia which prevented even the peaceful from leaving the fray.
And yet that is only half the tale.
When the kettle had gone into effect my friends and I wandered aimlessly. Suddenly a commotion erupted nearby. Youths wearing ski-masks and raised hoods were attacking a reporting crew. We watched as they threw a cameraman to the floor, where he received kicks and blows.
Believing the attackers simply to be angry protestors, I confronted one youth. He was not wearing a ski mask, but his mouth and nose were covered. He was about 15, and a lot smaller than me. He shot me a look that sent a shiver down by spine. But he weighed his options, and backed off.
I got lucky.
As other protestors confronted the remaining youths, there was a sudden palpable rush of fear. We all saw the hammer come out. Everybody took a step backward. For a few terrible seconds, I thought I was about to witness a murder. Mercifully, the situation defused as quickly as it began. Somebody with a leveller and braver head than mine calmly shouted to “put the hammer away, mate” – and away it went. The gang ran off, to another part of the kettle.*
And that’s when the second wave of fear – the reflective wave – hit me. I couldn’t get out. I was trapped here, with the hammer-wielding gang; one of whom I’d just confronted and had clearly seen my face. The police? It wasn’t their problem anymore: “there’s nothing we can do pal – it’s your fault for being in the kettle”.
It is true that the police enforce the will of the state by monopolising legitimate violence. One of their functions is to impose social control; protecting politicians from the betrayed, the wealthy from the poor, the rulers from the ruled. But that is not all they do. The police also protect ordinary citizens from those who would prey upon us. Protestors who wish to live under the safety of laws must acknowledge the janus-faced relationship we stand in towards the police.
Trapped in the Westminster kettle, it was ultimately the words of Thomas Hobbes I recalled most clearly:
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
*As the night progressed they distracted themselves, attempting to destroy any available windows. Let nobody tell you that the attack on the Treasury had no positive dimensions.
Paul Sagar (repost)
Excerpted from Is Aaron Porter dead in the water?
Last night, we were being crushed in a kettle so badly, at one point many people – mostly young working class, black, white and Asian teenagers – were shouting to back off and leave us alone. And some began to think the worst: “it’s going to be another Hillsborough, here”. “They’re going to kill us in this crush.”
To our backs; a large brick wall, impassable. To our left; parked police vans with engines running, impassable. In front, riot police baton charging protesters – don’t even try going that way. Turn the other way and there are police mounted on horseback pushing into the young crowd yelling their catch phrase, without irony: "Get back."
"Where can we go?" The police can see, from their mounted horses, that we’re being badly crushed, and the only way out is into the swinging batons of rioting police. Why are they crushing us? They’re ‘just following orders’, as they say (but not in a German accent, you understand).
Whose orders? The political elite, who have given the go ahead to punish protesters who have no vote because they’re too young and yet dared to speak out. Those so-called ‘liberals’ who have said that they would not vote against fees because that would be a capitulation to the student demonstrations.
Instead they would rather we are beaten, crushed and charged at with frightened horses.
I’ve seen terrified young girls crying to be let free. Pregnant young women being charged by horses. I’ve seen bloody heads, and police smirking and even laughing at us as we beg to be let out. I’ve seen teenagers punched in the face by ‘thugs’ – as Sir Paul Stevenson called us this morning – wearing balaclavas but no badges and their numbers covered up.
Max Watson (repost)
There is a lot to say about the demonstration in London yesterday. It has been attacked by those on the right as a protest of ‘wanton violence’ – but that statement could easily describe the actions of the real culprits: the Metropolitan Police. This is what I saw happening on the march and in Parliament Square.
A small group of around 10 students from Cornwall headed up to London by minibus, leaving at 2:30am and bringing placards, a megaphone and a Cornish flag to show that students here want their voices heard. We were part of the massive and growing movement defying the government and the Lib Dem’s broken promises.
Arriving at around 10am, we were met with instant support from workers and members of the public, with one woman shouting ‘go for it’, and we had several conversations on the way to the tube in Brixton from supportive Londoners.
At midday in Malet Street there were already several hundred gathered, and stalls had been set up distributing placards and left-wing literature. The vibe was good-natured, and though we did not get a chance to hear the speakers, the reaction from the crowd in response to EAN organisers, RMT executive members and other group representatives was incredible, spreading through the crowd with immense energy.
The march itself was entirely peaceful – thousands walking through the centre of London chanting ‘they say cut back – we say fight back’, with people waving out of windows and clapping the protesters on. But when we arrived at Parliament Square at around 2pm, the atmosphere changed. The police had already begun to kettle us, and horses were brought in without justification. Only then did some ‘violence’ break out, with flares lit and smoke-grenades thrown. Resisting this kettling technique, many broke out onto the main area of Parliament Square, where the kettling was then moved to. The protesters, meanwhile, resumed the positive vibe, with music playing and small groups sat in circles chatting.
On the other side, by Westminster Abbey, the police were agitating further. Nonetheless, the chanting and music continued, even with the condensed crowd being pushed ever further back by thick lines of police. Some tried to get near Parliament itself but the police presence was overwhelming, indeed excessive. As demonstrators realised that the kettling tactic was being extended across the Square, the fight back began.
Around 100 who got out of the kettle at first, and a spontaneous meeting was established to determine what the plan was – with ideas of occupying neighbouring Barclays bank. This was abandoned after police caught on and covered the area. Instead we resolved to refuse to be kettled ourselves, and a line of young people was formed, arm in arm, to prevent the mounted police infringing our right to peaceful protest and movement. It was an amazing moment, as the line of horses came forward and the police threatened to crush the human-wall. The line surged up with a song – ‘break these walls between us’, and the mostly female line of teenagers forced the police to back off. The response from the demonstrators at the Met’s retreat was ecstatic – we had won a small victory.
Though the police wall at the other end was not broken, some were allowed back in to join their friends on the other side. This was around 3pm, and soon the mood got more intense as several dozen extra horses were brought in, an intimidatory move designed to generate fear in the crowd. And then, without warning, they charged.
Over the course of the night several more horse charges occurred, and one protester from Cambridge was crushed underneath one, breaking her collar bone. Other disturbing examples of Met brutality such as police throwing a man off his wheelchair and batoning innocent school kids provide an insight into the attitude the London police have. One of the Cornwall students had his glasses ripped from his face and stamped on by an officer, and I saw a man being pushed back by a policeman into a construction hole where presumably roadworks had been taking place – the hole now uncovered and unsafe. Had he have fallen, it could have broken several of his bones.
But within the kettle, against all odds, the crowd continued dancing, talking and demonstrating. The hacker group Anonymous spoke from on top of the Churchill statue, and small bonfires were lit to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Other groups sat with their laptops or watched from a height the thousands of people filling Parliament Square.
There was a darker element to all this. The police had provided no toilets, with even the Westminster underground toilets locked up. No water was distributed, and many had not eaten since the morning – despite hundreds being kettled until as late as 11:30 at night on Westminster Bridge.
Personally, my phone was broken and I could not find my friends for around two hours, and while climbing up a fence to get a better view to look for them, a policeman ran forward and threatened to pull me down, using insulting terms I won’t even go into here to describe me. There was no consideration for well-being. It was just provocative police action.
Our divided group left at around 7 to catch the minibus (which had been waiting two hours due to the prolonged kettling), shaken by the experience and what we had seen, and returning back to Cornwall for 6am. We had been charged at, kept confined for hours in the cold and refused the right to leave, and denied the ability to remain calm through the constant attacks of the Metropolitan Police.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have released a statement, saying the organisation ‘utterly condemns the violence inflicted on demonstrators by the police’ as shown by the large number of hospitalised protesters and personal accounts of what happened.
Students should and will not be deterred by the result of the vote or the tactics of the police seen on the 9th of December. Instead we will regroup, organise and fight back against the assault on social mobility, our generation and the working class by the ConDem government. There are more protests planned for the 13th to save EMA.
Josiah Mortimer (repost)
Today was quite possibly the worst day of my life, and I felt ashamed to call myself a British citizen. I quite honestly have so many thoughts about the things that I saw and experienced today that I need to write them down in order to make any sense of them and to hopefully help people understand what it was really like there today.
The march started out quite light hearted. The sun was out and the weather wasn’t too bad to say it was the middle of December. The police had already kettled people in Parliament Square by the time I arrived and they planned on doing it to a second group of us just outside. At this point I was on my own and I was just trying to stay close to others. We said “no thanks” to a kettle and ran through a nearby park. From here smaller groups were running around the streets of London, making some noise and peacefully protesting. Every time a police van showed up everyone ran. None of us wanted to be held against our will for nothing more than roaming the streets. After about an hour of this I finally bumped into some faces that I recognised from the University of Birmingham. After running around for a little longer, we decided to walk back to Parliament Square and see if we could unite with our fellow protesters. Even if that meant being kettled for a few hours.
Surprisingly the police were happy to let us in. However, there was an ever growing number of people asking to leave, and being told no. We had effectively volunteered to enter an outdoor prison where there were no rules, no law and an anything goes attitude. As I walked through Parliament Square I couldn’t help but think that it looked like a scene out of Mad Max or the underground in Robocop. People had brought amps and were playing music, others had instruments, and some were just marching around chanting “no ifs, no buts”. It was a good environment and it’s what a peaceful protest should be like.
The group that was asking to leave had grown much bigger in the space of about an hour and it was obvious that people were getting restless. I pushed my way closer to the front of the group that was about 700 in numbers. The police, that were holding everyone in, started pushing people and occasionally hitting them. These were people that just wanted to leave and had no shields to defend themselves with, or weapons to fight back with. Then the horses came and the shit really hit the fan. But this time it was for the police.
If the police had let the smaller group go earlier then at least some of the innocent would have been safe. But no, instead they send in the horses and the protesters at the back get provoked. Missiles start flying at the horses and naturally they get spooked and won’t stay still. They couldn’t even control their own animals, how were they going to control the masses? Easy, they kept hitting the people at the front who wanted to go home whilst the people at the back through things, including the chant “pigs on horses”. I got out of this crowed pretty quickly. I didn’t want to get beaten up by my ‘protectors’.
So I went and found some familiar faces again and just enjoyed the environment for a little longer. That didn’t last too long though. Within a few minutes three youths (too young to be university students) started throwing rocks at windows of the Treasury. Let them get on with it, I thought. It’s a good political statement, even if they don’t realise what that building is. Then out of nowhere a Lib Dem MP appears. He’s pleading with the youths to stop. It must be said that it takes a brave person to stand in front of a hooded youth and say “stop” but it’s something else when the person in a Lib Dem MP in the middle of protesters who hate his party right now. So did the youths stop you ask? Did they bollocks! They instead pushed the brave man over and gave him a few kicks. Don’t worry this didn’t go on too long. A few of us ran over and put a stop to it. The MP got up and left very quickly and I don’t blame him.
It’s important to say that even if that MP voted for the rise in fees, I would have still gone to his aid. Violence against property is one thing, but violence against people is completely unacceptable, be it by a protester, police officer or in this case, a child. I’d like to say this was the last of the violence but it wasn’t. It got worse as it got darker and it got dark quickly.
Not much later another gang of youths appeared but this time there were about twenty of them. They were picking people out and beating them with sticks. When there victim fell to the ground they continued to kick them. They only stopped for three reasons. 1) Their victim escaped 2) their victim had stopped moving or 3) someone had tried to stop them and had then become their new target. These weren’t protesters. They were animals looking to hurt the weaker. If they were brave men they would have fought the police on the frontline. But no, they attack their peers instead, the people they’re meant to be united with. I witnessed them do this to five people, including two people that I know. It was distressful and one of the most shocking and upsetting things I have ever seen. We were there trying to get them into university and this was how they repaid us.
That was the point I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t be trapped in a ‘law free’ zone with animals like that. But I soon found out that it was just as dangerous being next to the protectors of society. I moved to a police line with a few others to see if we could leave. The answer was no. We, the weapon-less and tired were too much of a risk to the rest of the city. However, I glimmer of hope was given. One police officer had just told us that another police line was letting people out. I don’t know what that copper was thinking but it turned out to be a sick joke. They weren’t letting people out, they just had more officers with sticks and shields and horses and vans. I got to the front of that group that was easily 2000 strong. I asked if they were letting people out. No. Do you know when we can go home? No. Do you know when you’ll find out? The officer replies “look mate, I’ll be the last to know when you can go home”. I correct him and say “actually I think I’ll be the last to know”. Thankfully he saw the funny side and gave out a little laugh. I decided to stay by the police since I figured they’d have to let us out sooner or later right? Wrong!
Within a few minutes that same officer is ramming his shield into me. They didn’t want us there anymore, but there was only so far back they could push us, we had 2000 others behind us, and their police vans. Every protester remand peaceful and we pleaded with them to stop. They were crushing people and we didn’t know why. I still don’t know why. When they could push anymore they started hitting us. I couldn’t move to breathe, let alone run away from the people who should be helping me. All of a sudden a little bit of space opened up behind me and I moved into it and away from the police, or so I thought. It turned out that a few meters into the sea of people was a loan copper and it didn’t take long for other to see this.
You must understand that these protesters were pissed off now. We had been kept in one place for too long, we were being attacked by police on the edges and thugs in the centre. There was no escape for any of us and we were getting angry and this copper was about to find out how angry. He was jumped in seconds, on the floor getting a real hard beating. As I said earlier I don’t agree with violence against people. I jumped in and covered his body with my own until they stopped. I helped him up and pushed him back towards the other coppers. And for doing this a different copper starts hitting me on the neck and shoulder with his truncheon. I took a step back, feeling so angry now and I’m yelling something like “I just saved one of your colleagues and your fuckin hitting me with you sticks! Maybe I should have left him to die, would you have liked that?” well it got some attention because one officer steps out of the line and towards me and says “thank you for saving him” and I could see that he meant it in this eyes. Some of them didn’t want to be doing this. Some did, don’t get me wrong, some were fucking loving it! but not all of them.
This peace only lasted a few seconds though. We were being pushed again and it was pretty obvious that we couldn’t get home that way. After a long time of fighting my way out of the crown, I found myself back in the centre, alone, with the thugs who had found another target. I decided to go sit around a fire that people had made so that I may not be next on their radar. It was nice around the fire. This was the only part of the protest that had remained peaceful, with some people playing their instruments. In the background I could hear people smashing up the Treasury. At least it was a building and not people now.
Sometime latter I needed to move. I decided to see if I could find a familiar face before having another attempt at going home. Thankfully I bumped into some people that I know from BCU and Aston. After chatting for a few minutes we headed for yet another police line to try and leave. Our timing couldn’t have been better. They had just started letting people out one by one as long as we remained peaceful so that they could take our pictures. I got to the front after a wait of about 40 minutes and kicked up a bit of a fuss about not wanting my picture taken. But I was tired by then; I didn’t have the energy to argue. Plus they had been taking my picture all day here and before that in Birmingham. So I stuck my tongue out, screwed up my face and closed my eyes... put that one in the photo album.
So that was the worst day of my life. Beaten by the police, locked up in a lawless zone and fearful of gangs. All of this outside the Houses of Parliament.
If someone asked me to go back and do it again tomorrow then I would say “OK”. Yes it was the worst experience of my life, but the reasons for it are still valid and still ones I strongly believe in. And to all those who think this is now over, think again! The media say it is, but they usually lie to you anyway. We are fighting fees AND cuts. So when your job and your pay gets cut and you are protesting about it, it will be us, the students that are stood by your sides. We the people haven’t got this country into this situation so we won’t pay for it. Let the rich pay for their own mistakes.
Workers and students unite!!! You have nothing to lose but your chains!!!
Excerpted from Police Clash with Students at London Fees Vote Demo: (09/12)
I began the day with the ten or twenty thousand - I never managed to see the back of the march - who were marching from the University of London in Malet St, many of them school sixth-formers who will be among the first to be affected by the fees rise and cuts. There were speeches from John McDonnell MP and several trade unionists as well as student leaders, but two sixth formers from occupied schools got the biggest and truly deafening welcome from the crowd. But most there were keen to get on and make their protest, and for most the rally was over-long.
Once the march, organised along 'Stop the War' lines with a large block of stewards at the front, had started, many were impatient with its slow pace, and on Kingsway, several hundred protesters pushed their way past the stewards and ran ahead down the street, already cleared for the march.
Police formed lines across the road to stop them, but these were soon swept aside, and only served to reinforce the conviction of the protesters that the police were out to stop and kettle them. At Aldwych, these protesters saw police at the junction ahead, blocking Waterloo Bridge, and reacted with kettle paranoia, rushing up a side street towards Covent Garden, while the official march continued without obstruction along the agreed route along the Strand.
At this point it seemed clear that both police and some of the protesters were clearly guilty of over-reacting, and it set the scene for the day. It would surely help if the police were clearer about their intentions and in communicating these to the mass of demonstrators, perhaps using a powerful public address system.
Trafalgar Square and the road junction to its south were packed with demonstrators when the official march arrived, and those waiting there immediately began to continue as the new head of the march along the agreed route through Admiralty Arch and down Horseguards Road.
Once we had reached Parliament Square it was clear that whatever the official organisers had planned, most of the protesters wanted to continue their protest there. Only a small dribble continued up the agreed route into Whitehall (and rumours again spread that the march was being kettled) but most were simply determined not to move away from the Houses of Parliament where the debate was taking place. This came as no surprise to most of us covering the protest and there might have been fewer problems and much less damage had the authorities planned with the organisers for the final rally to take place there rather than elsewhere.
Apparently a few of the students did manage to make their way through the police lines to lobby their MPs, but others told me that they had been refused permission to do so.
People began milling around the square, and some started to light small fires with placards and waste paper. Police had sealed off all exits from the square except Whitehall, and in the south-east corner, a group of more than a thousand students had gathered, with a hundred or so making an attempt to push through the line of riot police towards Parliament and the rest watching what was happening.
I spent a few minutes trying to take pictures and getting very squashed before deciding I needed to push my way out for my own safety, both from the police and from being crushed in the crowd. A few minutes earlier I had been in the front line and being crushed by the crowd against the barriers in front of the riot police, and I and the others around me were repeatedly threatened by riot police shaking batons at us and telling us they would attack us if we didn't move back - which was simply not possible - we were totally unable to move due to the pressure of the crowd.
By this time much of the flimsy temporary fencing around Parliament Square had been overturned and the central area of the square, now mainly covered in lush over-long grass after having been fenced off in July, occupied. There were groups dancing around radios and sound systems, playing guitars and mouth organs, a few warming themselves around small fires and otherwise keeping up their spirits.
I decided it was time to go and see what was happening at the official demonstration and walked up Whitehall and down past the Defence Ministry to the Embankment. There was a line of police across Whitehall at this time but they were allowing people to walk through freely in both directions. The rally had not started when I arrived as there were so few people present - many who had gone there and found nothing happening passed me on their way back to Parliament Square.
Finally, after some angry shouting from people telling the organisers to stop playing music and get on with it there were speeches from union leaders - including Brendan Barber and Bob Crow, who got a big welcome - and politicians.
The crowd had built up a little to perhaps 500 or a thousand people, when someone arrived and shouted that police had attacked the demonstrators in Parliament Square, charging with police horses, and I joined a number of others in trying to make my way there. Police were only allowing the press through, so a small demonstration had developed in front of their line on Westminster Brdige, but I was able to make my way to Parliament Square again. By now it was getting dark, and there were many more fires as well as larger groups of dancers.
Suddenly there were some dramatic flames and a large cloud of black smoke and I hurried towards them. A plastic security hut which had earlier been turned on its side was now in flames, with a large group of people around it taking photographs.
Next I went up Whitehall, having heard a few minutes earlier a police officer telling students that they could still leave the area that way. It was no longer true, and I was pushed back by police with riot shields who were not at all interested in my press card (one TV camera crew did manage to push their way past.) Behind them were a line of police horses, and everyone in Whitehall was pushed back to a line of police vans in Parliament Street. The police around these were still more relaxed, although again a line of riot police standing at ease refused to let me through, directing me to their boss. I listened to him arguing with a group of students that they were not being detained although they were not being allowed to leave. It's a legalistic argument that destroys the relationship between people and police that is essential for the cooperation that the police need to do their job which is why kettling is so corrosive a tactic. I then realised that just a few yards to the right, presumably under the control of another officer, people were walking freely through - so I did, back into Parliament Square. At the next police line I again showed my card and was allowed through without problems, finally walking out through a further line that was stopping people entering the area, and was able to make my way elsewhere.
Protesters were being kettled, detained in Parliament Square after the vote had taken place, when many of them wished for nothing more than to be allowed to go home peacefully. I heard later that there were further violent incidents and arrests.
It was a day of confusion, with protesters and police both failing to understand what was happening, and an official student leadership that fails to understand the mood and anger of the students and others - and although the RMT and Bill Crow had offered support, the TUC has curiously failed to take action, putting off its march against the cuts until March.
Excerpt from Student Protests & the Photograph as Evidence 2 (Trafalger Square Kettle 30/11)
Police were diverting all traffic away from Trafalgar Square, and I had to get off and walk the last half mile or so. At Trafalgar Square there were several hundred police forming lines across all of the roads, now forming a far more impressive barrier with their vans, but they were letting people move in and out freely when I came up Whitehall.
Around 3.15pm, one of the organisers of the event addressed the crowd now in Trafalgar Square, telling them that despite the heavy police presence we could see, the police had confirmed that people were free to leave in small groups along the road towards Charing Cross, the nearest tube station. He also said that although the organised demonstration had finished people were free to stay on and demonstrate if they wished. Clearly quite a few did, although others decided to leave.
Around 3.30pm a small group of policemen came onto the square, where they were surrounded by some of the demonstrators and road cones and other light objects were thrown at them. The police retreated toward their line across Cockspur St and were followed by a crowd of demonstrators, some of whom tried to push their way through the police, while others tried to prevent any disorder, some joining hands in a line in front of the police. People brought up banners and placards to stand a yard of two in front of the police in an often noisy stand-off.
Minor incidents continued sporadically here for around fifteen minutes and then things seemed to quieten down as the snow came down harder. Shortly before 4pm I decided it was time to go home, and together with a steady stream of protesters I walked through the police line and left the area and caught a train from Charing Cross (apparently the only train still running .) Police were making no attempt to check or stop anyone leaving at that point.
Exceprt from Riot Girls? 24/11
I think together with most of the press who were actually there I was very clear that the police were determined to stop the students and try to discredit them, and that their tactics were designed to encourage the kind of mindless extremism that would give the protesters a bad name. The police took a lot of flak over their failure protect the Conservative HQ during the march on October 10 and were determined not to be caught with their pants down again.
Before they confined the large numbers of demonstrators in a small space in Whitehall the protest had shown its anger in the chants and placards, but had remained good-natured and entirely peaceful, at least so far as we could see.
Once prevented from the peaceful protest by kettling, things got a little more confused, but the great majority of those present were simply standing around looking confused. A few small bands of mainly young men who were masked up started to light small bonfires of placards in the middle of the street, and to push their way through the police, but gained little support.
In what everyone present was convinced was a deliberate police ploy, one rather old and rusty police van - its tyre treads worn almost smooth, had been left in the middle of the area where the protesters were confined. Later I was told it was due to be decommissioned the following day, but was unable to confirm this. Stewards and others warned everyone not to be taken in by this trap and provide images that would be splashed over the right-wing press and TV of “violent disorder” that would be used to discredit the demonstration by smashing it up, but a dozen or two masked protesters took no notice, pushing those who tried to stop them out of the way.
I was threatened while taking pictures like this one that I had better move away or they would smash my camera. I had my suspicions that at least one of this group might be an agent provocateur, one of a number of student and ex-student protesters in the pay of the police. There is at least one such young man who I regularly see at protests, but I couldn’t see him. Another who had deceived all his friends for years and encouraged vandalism and illegal acts at a number of protests was unmasked a couple of months ago, and there are almost certainly others still in most activist groups.
By now a number of young women on the protest had begun to surround the vehicle, and I took a number of pictures, one of which - at the head of this post was used in a couple of newspapers, and particularly in a piece headlined ‘Student protests: the riot girls’, although the caption accurately records ‘Schoolgirls join hands to peacefully stop attacks on a police van during student protests in London’.
Today, Sky News published a video taken shortly before the demonstration was kettled which shows the van already abandoned and the entirely peaceful atmosphere on Whitehall shortly before police imposed the kettle. Although it describes the suggestion that the van was deliberately left there as a ‘conspiracy theory’, at least it is beginning to ask some of the right questions.
Later there were some more violent scenes as students tried a little half-heartedly to push their way through the police lines and escape the kettle. I was watching from one on top of one of the tank traps, and it was clear that a determined group would have pushed through them with little trouble in the ten or fifteen minutes before reinforcements arrived. But most people who got to the front of the crowd simply stood there and watched the police, not wanting to get involved in anything other than a peaceful demonstration.
A few light sticks and placards and the odd mainly empty plastic bottle were thrown at the police, many falling short on the crowd. One officer clearly lost it at one point and lay into some of the demonstrators around the side of one of the barriers wildly with his baton, but his colleagues restrained him. At another barrier an officer in riot gear obviously decided he wasn’t going to miss the chance of a bit of mindless violence and launched himself into the crowd, but had to retreat when none of his colleagues followed his lead.
Soon people gave up and drifted away towards a longer police line blocking the way to Downing St - where I followed but it was too crowded too get near. I pushed my way back out of the mass and made my way round to the side and then managed to get in just in front of the police line, but by then nothing was happening.
Unlike some kettles in past years, the police at this point where little was happening let those with press cards through the line. They were also letting a few demonstrators - mainly younger girls - out so long as they promised to go away and not come back. I did not see any young men being allowed out in the ten minutes or so I was around there.
It was clear that the kettle was going to keep going for some hours, keeping protesters confined largely without food, water or any toilet facilities on one of the coldest days of the year, but there seemed unlikely to be much more to report. I went home to file my story around 4pm and it was not until 10pm that police reported the area as clear, around 8 hours after they had confined the protesters there.
On my way home I’d seen a group of 12 mounted police, and had thought “On No!” but decided I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. It was several hours later before they made a charge into the protesters. The Met at first denied that this had happened, but although most of the press had gone home by the time it happened, it was still caught on video. More recently police have tried to diminish its significance by claiming that the horses were only “trotting”, but the difference if you are a protester in a dark and confused area is hardly significant.
The press were slow to pick up on the story - but the video had been on YouTube for some time finally appeared on the Guardian site. Next morning I heard it mentioned on the BBC Today programme which simply interviewed a police spokesman advertising how useful police horses were in public order situations rather than looking at the actual incident.
Peter Marshall (repost)
Six pm and all seems well, until half way down Victoria Street when the crowds vanish and the few shoppers left start heading one way: away. Then, you emerge into an almost empty side street, necklaced by a line of police. Beyond them, facing the other way, surrounding Parliament Square, rows upon rows of police, and behind them, all exits blocked, thousands of people, invisible over the massed police helmets. Periodically a plume of smoke rises, sometimes an almost inaudible chant: "Let us out".
Students are being spat out of the kettle onto the pavement beside Westminster Abbey. "I'm guilty" says a young man with a large, bloody bandage around his head. "I'm guilty of holding my hands up in front of me". He says that he was hit by a police baton; his eyes are dazed. "It's not going to stop me, this".
It looks, from reports, as though he may have been Alfie Meadows, the 20 year old who subsequently had to have a three hour operation for bleeding on the brain. And I let him walk away, because a young man sporting a bloody bandage was unremarkable in the circumstances. Being inside the kettle was obviously hell; being outside a kind of mesmerising, voyeuristic purgatory.
There were the cold-eyed white nationalists who'd turned up, jeering, and whose leader smashed a female student in the face in front of the police, and walked away in triumph. There was a father, pacing, ashen-faced, trying to reach his 13 year old son. There were the mounted police preparing to charge. And over it all, the eerie silence from the trapped crowd a hundred metres, a million miles away; punctuated by screams you could do nothing about.
And the kettle kept slowly spitting them out. A Cambridge student, rigid with shock, who'd seen his girl friend crushed after the police horses had charged; she'd been taken to hospital. Girls, their eyes wide and blank; young men hunched, heads bent; a gesticulating boy whose great grandfather had fought in the Spanish Civil War."I'm not going to let them beat me".
I spent over four hours outside the kettle. I watched as the trapped crowd were charged and driven towards Westminster Bridge, already blocked by police at the other end. I stood in an empty Parliament Square, among fires and smoke and debris, after screaming, baton-wielding men had forced most remaining observers, including a man from the probation service, into the crowd. I, for the record, escaped over a wall.
Since then there has been talk of using water cannon and rubber bullets. It is a common political tactic to suggest something so extreme that people accept the slightly less terrible reality. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has conceded that the violence was caused by small groups embedded in a peaceful protest. He has, presumably to general relief, ruled out water cannons. And in this way the events on Thursday go unquestioned. And black-clad, balaclava'd men in padded armour are, in modern Britain, empowered to cavalry charge and baton a trapped and helpless crowd.
It does not work. Police, under these inhuman orders, were hurt too. But to expect the students to stop the violence, while they themselves are being imprisoned and attacked, is ludicrous. And kettles are only a trap for the unwary. "They'll never kettle me" said a so-called anarchist on the street that evening. The idea that he, or the roaming nationalists, were an excuse for kettling is equally mind-bending. "My neighbour wants to smash windows at Top Shop and some madmen want to attack people, so you're going to imprison and terrorise me until they stop?"
10.30 pm, on Westminster Bridge. A row of police dogs are baying. Helicopters circle; police boats traverse the river. Behind the lines, thousands of people are still being held, crushed together, in the freezing cold. Student medics are tending to the wounded, the students' tweets are full of words like support and solidarity and love.
Two young German tourists arrive, gaze around the bridge with diminishing enthusiasm, and leave. The fees vote, the point of this protest, has gone through. Back in Parliament Square, vans have arrived to clean and pick up the barriers, to erase all traces, to make it look as though nothing much had happened.
(Written in response to Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Superintendent, who, on the Today show on Radio 4 (10 December 2010), stated that those people throwing paint and breaking a window of the royal car, carrying Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on the evening of 9 December, during a demonstration against tuition fee rises, were not ‘demonstrators’ but ‘thugs’ as were, by implication, all demonstrators).
1: I decided to go on the demonstration on 9 December 2010 to join the estimated 30,000 people protesting against the now passed (323 to 302) but still contestable university fees rise. If this is realised, most of the first generation minority ethnic and white working class students now in universities like the one I teach in (designated as facing a ‘high to medium level of impact’ to proposed cuts in a recent UCU report could in future find that the universities they planned to attend have either been completely closed or had current offerings drastically reduced. The fees rise will double or treble current tuition fees of £3225, effectively privatising university education, forcing students to pay fully for most courses from 2012. Business and corporate interests will now increasingly determine university courses: Bradford University recently announced their partnership with Morrisons to offer degree in business management and Manchester Metropolitan University already offers a McDonalds management programme that McDonalds plans to expand across the country (Tesco already has a bespoke programme with MMU.). The idea of a liberal education producing informed, responsible citizens, present (albeit never fully realised) since at least von Humboldt, is now vanishing. Higher Education is being reduced solely to the narrow end of serving economic interests. Call me a thug, then, for wanting to fight for a much wider brief for higher education.
2: I wanted to stand with students, other lecturers and members of other unions to express my anger about how parliamentary democracy really works—with electoral candidates promising not to raise fees, thereby gaining votes, whilst knowing that they would do so if elected—as, indeed, they did. Is this expression of my democratic rights thuggish?
3: I also sought to express my outrage at the potential closure of innumerable arts, humanities and social sciences departments (the latter being the area in which I teach and research) given the government’s intent on cutting teaching grants to universities in these areas by 100%. Funding would still be provided to teaching STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths, plus programmes in a few languages) based on the erroneous assumption that national economic growth, now the seemingly only relevant rationale for a university education, requires fuller funding of these areas alone. In fact, critical thinking skills developed in arts, humanities and social science subjects are needed now more than ever in a world where climate change is reaching breaking point and the wealthiest are hijacking national economies and governments and dodging tax payment, disregarding the growing proportion of national populations suffering as jobs and social services are cut and privatised to ensure their growing profiteering. Is it thuggish to cut back on courses teaching critical and analytical skills or to protect and further develop these courses?
4: Having gone to this demonstration, my assumption was that we could follow the route the NUS had agreed with police. My colleagues and I found, however, that the police blocked our entry to Parliament Square. Knowing that we had the right to get to the Square, we walked into St James Park. We then heard police megaphones announcing that they could stop and search anyone not on the agreed demonstration route. Why was it okay for them to stop and search us but not for us to get to the Square . . . which they shortly thereafter let us do? Who’s the thug here?
5: In Parliament Square we found police in rows with visors down on their helmets, riot shields up, blocking Parliament and the agreed route to the platform where speeches were given. Why such a high level of aggression? Why prevent us from reaching the platform? I submit that this was police thuggish provocation, adding to the provocation they caused by temporarily preventing our passage to the Square. I viewed (and view) these acts as purposeful, aiming to discredit demonstrators by bringing us to the boiling point and, for some, beyond.
6: I stayed in Parliament Square nearly up to the time of the vote that, as expected, the government won (323 to 302) because the NUS/police agreement was for a candlelit vigil to be held at 4:30 pm. My colleagues and I thought it best to leave Parliament Square shortly before the 5:30 vote as the police were coming closer into the Square and seemed to be blocking all exits. Would a thug seek to leave a potentially volatile situation, given continuing police provocation?
7: A British Transport Police officer informed me, when I asked, that we could leave the Square via a nearby narrow passageway. As we walked down this passageway, with tens of others, we suddenly heard people shouting that mounted police were charging. They came down this passageway, forcing us up onto a wall and then barricading us in. Walking out, I saw a young woman huddled in a ball, on the ground, unable to move, and a young man holding his head. Clearly the horses had been used as weapon and barricade. I heard later that a young man standing elsewhere had been hit so hard with a truncheon on his head that he suffered a stroke and had to have brain surgery. Can someone please tell me who the thugs are here?
8: My colleagues and I were then kettled in Parliament Square for hours. I confess to standing around a fire lit by demonstrators to keep warm. I further confess to adding a thick cardboard placard to the fire. Thuggish behaviour perhaps?
9: Given the absence of toilet facilities, I confess to urinating in a corner of what I later learnt was the Treasury Department. A thuggish act?
10: My colleagues and I heard that it was possible to leave by a nearby police blockade. We queued for hours and were only allowed to leave after the police forced each of us to have our pictures taken—an illegal request given that none of us were in custody . I confess to sticking out my tongue when my photo was taken, a small gesture of defiance. I was lucky enough to be let out by 9pm. Colleagues were kept there, and on Westminster Bridge, until at least 11pm. Why were photos taken of each of us and what will happen to these photos? Why were people kept from going home for so long in such cold weather? I ask one final time, who were the thugs in this situation? And, equally importantly, what did these thugs really hope to accomplish by acting in this way?
Dr. Joyce Canaan (repost)