The police and the state are clamping down on our right to protest as the anti-cuts movement gathers pace.
Images of the violence meted out by the Metropolitan Police during the student protests last year created shockwaves.
The police were forced to run an internal investigation into the treatment of disabled protester Jody McIntyre, supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). They found themselves not guilty.
Police dragged Jody from his wheelchair during a demonstration against tuition fees in December, and hit him with a baton. Fellow protesters filmed the incident.
The Met issued a statement last week saying they “did not find evidence to substantiate any of the complaints”.
While they concede that Jody “was inadvertently struck with a police baton” they decided, “The actions of officers were justifiable and lawful given the volatile and dangerous situation.”
They claim that Jody was removed from his wheelchair for his own safety. Jody says he is “not surprised” at the decision, and is considering appealing.
Jody is not the only person to have faced police violence that day. Middlesex philosophy student Alfie Meadows had to be rushed to hospital for lifesaving brain surgery after being struck on the head by a police baton.
Police attempted to block Alfie from receiving treatment in the nearest hospital, claiming it was for the treatment of police only.
He could have died if he had been turned away. And Alfie is now facing charges of violent disorder, which he denies.
If police conceded that Jody was badly treated, it would undermine their cases against others who were hit with batons, charged by horses and kettled for hours.
Another student protester, Bryan Simpson from Strathclyde University, is also facing charges of violent disorder. He is also pleading not guilty.
Bryan’s charges relate to the occupation of Millbank Tower on the student protest on 10 November.
He told Socialist Worker, “The Crown Prosecution Service is looking to set precedent with the prosecution of student protesters to deter further direct action.
“If people like Alfie Meadows can be prosecuted after nearly dying at the hands of the Met, then anyone could be next.”
And the 145 arrested after peacefully occupying Fortnum and Mason during the TUC demonstration on 26 March now face charges of aggravated trespass.
But activists are fighting back. The Defend the Right to Protest campaign has united students, trade unionists, civil liberties campaigners and others to pressurise the police and courts to drop the charges and to hold police accountable.
The group has organised pickets to support many defendants when they go to court (see below).
Charges against Robbie Shaw, a 14 year old arrested for supposedly assaulting a police officer on an anti-cuts protest in east London, have been dropped. This has given people confidence.
And the UCU lecturers’ union voted this week to support the right to protest at their annual conference. Delegates condemned kettling and increased surveillance of students on campuses.
They passed an emergency motion defending Jody McIntyre and confirmed the union’s executive decision to support the Defend the Right to Protest Campaign.
John McDonnell MP won a standing ovation when said, “The real criminals aren’t the students who broke a few windows at Millbank. They are the government ministers who are destroying the life chances of a generation of young people. We have to resist by every means possible.”
It’s Right to Protest public forum, Wednesday 8 June, 7pm, ULU, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY.
Solidarity pickets outside Westminster Court, 70 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AX.
At 9am each day:
9 June: Alfie Meadows
10 June: Bryan Simpson
4 July: Fortnum and Mason protesters
Go to defendtherighttoprotest.org