Police nearly killed one student protester last week and viciously abused a disabled man. But instead of feeling ashamed, they are demanding more power to use force.
Police are looking at how to use water cannons and plastic bullets on protesters. Scotland Yard is talking to the police service of Northern Ireland about its knowledge of water cannons.
Commander Bob Broadhurst, who is in charge of overseeing the handling of the demonstrations, said, “It would be foolish if we did not look at tactics such as this.”
Home secretary Theresa May has not ruled out water cannons. Desperate to explain the tidal wave of student anger sweeping Britain, she told MPs on Monday that “organised thugs” had infiltrated the protests. But the real “organised thugs” were the cops.
Police actions last week left some 40 people hospitalised, and hundreds more battered and bruised.
Police extensively used the controversial tactic of “kettling”—penning in groups of protesters, making it impossible to leave.
Police began to kettle students and block off roads soon after the protest reached parliament. Thousands were kettled for hours in freezing conditions.
Police repeatedly stormed into groups of protesters who had nowhere to run to, batons raised, and charged on horses into the crowd.
Alfie Meadows, a 20 year old undergraduate student from Middlesex University, was hit so forcefully on the head by a police baton that he lost consciousness, suffered bleeding on his brain and a stroke. He had to undergo three hours of lifesaving brain surgery.
Jody McIntyre, a blogger and a disabled activist with cerebral palsy, was pulled twice from his wheelchair and dragged across the ground by police like an animal.
Alfie, who has now been released from hospital, was on the protest with fellow students and lecturers, and his mother Susan Matthews, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University.
His friends say that they had to convince police to call an ambulance—time that could have cost Alfie his life.
His mother says that when he was taken to Chelsea and Westminster hospital, injured police officers objected to him being treated at the same hospital because he was a protester. They demanded he be moved.
Only the intervention of an infuriated ambulance worker saw Alfie get the urgent medical treatment he needed.
Alfie’s mother said that without the intervention, “Alfie would have been transferred and he could have died. The ambulance man was appalled and he said, ‘I’m getting angry now, and I’m not going to do this.’”
Alfie’s injury is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
“I’m from the generation of Blair Peach,” Susan said, referring to the teacher killed by police at an anti-fascist demonstration in 1979. “We knew that anyone could die if they were hit.”
The brutality of the police was further exposed when Jody McIntyre’s story emerged.
He was outside parliament with his brother Finlay on the protest. “It was clear that the police were desperate for violence,” he recalls.
“When we reached the front, the batons began to fly. One came landing straight onto my left shoulder. Others were taking blows to the head.
“Then the horses came, horses that could easily kill people, but we would not budge.”
Jody says that four police officers grabbed him and pulled him from his wheelchair.
“My friends and younger brother struggled to pull me back, but were beaten away with batons,” Jody said.
They found themselves caught in-between the riot police and the police horses. The police then ordered Jody to move, but he refused. So he was dragged away again.
Jody said he spotted one of the police officers from the earlier incident, who came forward to remove him again:
“The officer came charging towards me. Tipping the wheelchair to the side, he pushed me onto the concrete, before grabbing my arms and dragging me across the road.”
The IPCC says it is investigating the incident as fresh video footage of the attack emerged.
It has received some 50 official complaints about the policing of the four student protests since the start of November.
This is no surprise. The government fears ever-escalating protests, and the police are worried about losing control.
As the cuts begin to bite, it is vital that there are even more protests involving wider forces.
The coalition government is vulnerable, and the Liberal Democrats are falling apart.
A broad movement that unites the optimism and determination of the students with the organised strength of the workers’ movement and burgeoning anti-cuts campaigns can smash the coalition.