The police are effectively acting colluding in violence
By the use of “kettling” the police are ensuring that the violent elements amongst demonstrators can best attain their ends. Groups such as Class War use the following technique to maximise violence. They put members willing to start the rough stuff at the front of a demonstration to act as a vanguard. Other members are dotted about in the crowd to both give the impression the demo is generally set for violence and to incite others around them by example. At the back of the demo is another wad of members to act as a rearguard to stop the demonstrators retreating. That is the ideal. If there are not enough to people to meet the ideal most or even all will be put in the vanguard.
“Kettling” does much of the violent elements work for them. It traps people in a restricted area so that the violent elements can forget about providing a rearguard because no one can leave the demo. Those in the crowd not naturally inclined to violence will become more so as their anger at being trapped rises and conditions more fraught. When violence does take place in a confined and crowded space, it is difficult for anyone not to become involved simply in self-defence . Because no one can leave the area, the premise on which English law’s self-defence is based – reasonable force including the need to retreat at the first opportunity from the violence or threat of it – is removed.
The police must know all this. That being so, their continued use of “kettling” begins to look like a deliberate attempt to provoke violence. That in turn makes them look like agents of the state, a fact recognised by Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and erstwhile Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
“Asked if there was a danger to the police’s reputation by repeated clashes at demonstrations, Orde told the Guardian: “Yes, if it is allowed to be played as the cops acting as an arm of the state, delivering the elected government’s will, rather than protecting the rights of the citizen.
“We need to be clear we are doing it as operationally independent, and not subject to influence by anyone as to how we do it.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/10/police-tuition-fees-protests-orde guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 December 2010 20.58 GMT
The implication of what is happening because of police tactics is that any large-scale demonstration can be manipulated by the police to produce a violent response whilst at the same time allowing the violence to be contained within an area chosen by the police. It is like a stage play being mounted with the police as the director. As violence does not play well with the general public , any serious attempt to protest can be discredited if the police choose to act in this way.
The other effect of “kettling” is that groups who wish to join a demonstration cannot do so. This can in itself result in violence, or as an excuse for violence, as was seen on Thursday 9 December when demonstrators intent on going to Parliament Square filtered out instead to the Trafalgar Square/Regents Street area when they could not gain access to Parliament Square, an episode which eventually resulted in an assault on a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife.
There is also the question of the civil liberty not only to demonstrate but to move freely about. Many people get caught up in demonstrations without meaning to as they go about their private business. Many more find that they cannot go to areas they want because “kettling” has occurred. Nor is it acceptable that demonstrators who wish to leave a demonstration cannot do so. Whether what the police are doing is illegal after the raft of authoritarian laws passed by the Blair and Brown governments is debatable. What is not debatable is the need for people in a free society to be able to move about freely.
The behaviour of individual policemen at demonstrations is also increasingly dubious. I think back to the Countryside March which saw considerable violence by the police against marchers who were about as law abiding a group as you could find. To see officers dressed in riot gear, frequently more than one at a time, savagely beating an unarmed protestor is not a pretty sight, and all too often seems to be action not to prevent disorder but to sate the anger and desire for violence within the officer himself. Those who think that the police cannot be willingly confrontational should think back to the miners strike in the 1980s when serried ranks of riot police banged their riot sticks in unison on their shields and taunted the miners. Violence and aggression by police officers allied to “kettling” will dissuade many from going on demonstrations simply from fear of what might happen. That is not healthy in a supposed democracy.
We are approaching a crunch point. If this type of policing goes on, large scale demonstrations will become increasingly difficult to mount both from the point of view of public order and as meaningful vehicles to change public opinion. The danger is that large-scale demonstrations in Britain will go be default from being part of the democratic process.
Those who decry violence at demonstrations should reflect upon the words of the historian Lewis Namier who described the government of 18th Century England as “Aristocracy tempered by rioting”. There is something of that in every country and time and a great deal of it in modern Britain where the social elite have re-established a very firm hold on politics . In England for more than a century mass violence has been rare. If it is becoming common now it says much about the state our politicians have reduced the country to. People are becoming desperate. That is the message the likes of Cameron and Clegg should take from what is happening.