Socialist Worker

Police crackdown on right to protest

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2250

Police raiding a squat in Camberwell, south London, last week  (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )

Police raiding a squat in Camberwell, south London, last week (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Metropolitan police, and other forces across Britain, used the royal wedding to crackdown on “potential protesters”.

Under the guise of “pre-emptive arrests”, activists were arrested, squats and social centres raided and gatherings of people not holding union jacks were kettled and broken up.

The BBC reported that the police were taking into account “not only the likelihood of something happening but also the impact, should it happen”.

Top officers claimed protesters were a “threat to democracy”. But who is the real threat?

Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Christine Jones told BBC Radio 4, “There are 364 other days of the year when people can come to London and demonstrate.”

Some 5,000 police were dedicated to the security operation at the wedding. But the repression started before the day itself.

Police charged student protester Alfie Meadows with violent disorder on Tuesday of last week.

Alfie was hospitalised and had life-saving brain surgery after police hit him while he was on a demonstration against tuition fees last year. Alfie denies the charges.

Last week’s round-ups and arrests were acts of revenge—an attempt by the police to reassert their power and dominance.

Students humiliated officers in November and December last year, as tens of thousands of protesters took over central London.

The police violence on those demonstrations drew widespread criticism. And pictures of students taunting a royal convoy carrying prince Charles and Camilla were beamed across the world.

Now, with growing resistance to the government’s cuts being widely predicted, the police fear the students’ struggle could inspire others.

Squats were raided in the days leading up to the wedding—with doors smashed down and the people there terrified.

A raid in Camberwell, south London, saw police dragging people from their beds.

Charlie Veitch, a peace activist from Cambridge, was arrested the day before the wedding. He was held locally for 16 hours before being transported to London.

Officers accused him of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. His partner told reporters that Charlie intended to make ironic comments about the wedding through a megaphone.

He was held for almost 24 hours before being released.

A further 55 people were arrested in London on the day of the wedding.

Suspicion

These included some who gathered in Soho Square for a royal wedding “zombie party”—intended to highlight how LGBT people are affected by the cuts.

The round-up also pulled in “suspicious” people among the crowds lining the wedding route. The majority, 37, were released later without charge.

Three members of a small street theatre group, including G20 protest organiser Chris Knight, were arrested the day before the wedding “on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and breach of the peace” and held in Lewisham police station.

Around 40 officers raided Grow Heathrow, a community gardening squat in west London, in full riot gear.

Witnesses describe how police extensively searched them—but left with no evidence. Labour MP John McDonnell spoke out in parliament against the raid.

He told Socialist Worker that officers “broke into the site, handcuffed one constituent and locked the others in another part of the site.

“The police launched a disproportionate and pre-emptive strike on this site and others in advance of the royal wedding.”

Several Facebook pages set up by activists to organise resistance to government cuts and other issues were also shut down during the run up to the wedding.

These crackdowns can make the police appear all powerful. But our best defence against the state is to be organised and united.

A meeting of activists this week will bring together different strands of the movement to organise a campaign against the state’s attempt to stamp on our rights.

Emergency planning meeting—Defend the right to protest, 6.30pm, Thursday 5 May, Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, opposite Euston station. Speakers include John McDonnell MP, UK Uncut, Alfie Meadows, Laurie Penny, Charlie Veitch of Love Police, Jim Wolfreys UCU/EAN, Nina Power, F&M occupier

Protest outside court to show support for the Fortnum and Mason occupiers, 9am, Monday 9 May, Westminster Magistrates Court, 70 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2AX

Go to defendtherighttoprotest.org


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