Way over the top…
Beak Street shut down by the Met while they seal off the convergence centre
This week is seeing a series of planned protests across London in the run up to the G8 summit which is being held in a remote part of the north of Ireland. As it’s physically and logistically impossible to organise any significant protest near the summit venue, London was one of the locations selected as the focus for actions instead. Tuesday 11th June was the ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’ with a selection of oil companies, arms companies and hedge funds amongst others across Mayfair being picked out for attention.
Planning for the week of actions has been an ongoing process for a good number of months. As part of the preparations, an empty building in Beak Street in Soho was squatted a few days ago to act as a convergence centre for protesters, a fair number of who came from abroad to participate the the process. Now, whether picking a location for the convergence centre so close to the focus of the actions was a wise decision or not is open to question. Personally, I thought it was a naïve move that would provoke a tough reaction from the authorities…sadly I was right. On the morning of Tuesday 11th June, the Metropolitan Police descended in force to raid the squat in a bid to derail the protest and to blatantly intimidate protesters. There were a fair number of arrests and numerous reports of over the top use of force.
I’ll be honest and admit that I wasn’t going to attend the protest as I’ve had my fill of being chased around the streets by hyped up cops. Also, I’m trying to move away from ‘activista’ style political activism to something a bit more community focused. Not only that, spending £19 on a one day travelcard to get into London mid-week is a lot of dosh just to get chased, kettled or battered. However, when I started to read the reports coming through about the raid on the convergence centre and the police using snatch squads to grab marching protesters off the streets, something snapped in my head and I though ‘sod this, I’m off into London’.
I got into London just before 5pm and my first port of call was Beak Street to see what was going on at the convergence centre. As you can see from the image above, the area around the convergence centre was still sealed off with a fair number of cops still around and a few protesters and news reporters looking on. Having checked out the situation I made my way down to Piccadilly Circus to see if the planned street party would still go ahead at the scheduled time of 5.30pm…
Two supposedly fluffy liaison officers plus an observer from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly known as the RUC)
It did go ahead…sort of that is… Firstly, given the constant police harassment of protesters during the day, understandably those who made it to Piccadilly Circus were probably feeling a bit deflated. Secondly, it’s not easy to party in the presence of a good few hundred cops, many of who were clutching riot helmets and batons… However, given that the location was Piccadilly Circus and that there were hordes of tourists around, the Met had to be seen to be on their best behaviour. So it was a case of a watching brief from the riot cops ringing the street party. As you can see from the image above, there were also a few police liaison officers in their baby blue bibs trying to be ‘friendly’ to protesters in the hope that they can gain some intelligence about plans for the rest of the week. When one of the baby blues came up to the group I was with to ‘re-assure’ us that the cops surrounding us were there for our ‘protection’ I thought ‘you’re taking the sodding piss’. Who do these muppets think we are when after spending the morning battering people they turn around and tell us they’re here for our ‘protection’?!
The police helicopter which was constantly hovering overhead
Nope, the cops were there to intimidate. I mean, what other conclusion are you going to draw seeing a cop dressed in overalls, heavy boots, a baseball cap, a sodding great baton in his belt and clutching a riot helmet? By the standards of previous protests in London, this was small scale…a few hundred at the most. Also from what I saw of them, not a single one looked like they would threaten or intimidate anyone. Okay, there were a fair few who may be deemed to look and dress ‘unconventionally’ but if that’s a crime… Actually, judging from the over-reaction from the cops and some of the hysterical reporting that followed in certain sections of the media, it would appear that looking and dressing ‘unconventionally’ in the wrong part of town is now a crime and we are in the shite. It looks as though you can only legitimately be in the West End if you are working, going to a show, bar, restaurant or club or most importantly of all, shopping. The attitude is that if you’re not working or consuming then ‘what the f**k are you doing in the West End?!’
As I wrote earlier, this kind of action really isn’t my style any more and there are legitimate criticisms that can be made relating to the planning and mobilising. However, when such a blatant and totally over the top use of force is brought to bear on a few hundred protesters, reservations have to be put to one side and solidarity shown. It’s clear that orders came from high up that sanctioned the level of force and intimidation used with the clear aim of putting people off from taking to the streets in the future. The question is, are the authorities cracking down from a position of strength or are there fears and anxieties lurking in the depths of the establishment? If they are getting their knickers in a twist about the kind of protesters I saw yesterday, they’d be cacking themselves if they had to deal with something like the infamous Poll Tax Riot in 1990!