Since originally posting this, I've found this article on the Guardian, the video from which I've now included, and it looks frankly terrifying. These are the kinds of tactics police feel they have to use to control a peaceful protest.
And so the protest continues, with yesterdays countrywide protests (though you'd be forgiven for thinking it was only London after the press coverage) against the disgusting abuse of our education system. But today's post isn't about that. It's about police abusing and beating young children, right in the middle of London.
A lot of people will now be familiar with the police tactics of 'kettling', it having sprung to fame in the G20 protests. (For all the wrong reasons) It was used again yesterday, presumably because the police were rather embarrassed at the mess from the last weeks protests, but is it really a good way to control a crowd?
For those not entirely sure what 'kettling' is, I'll give a brief overview. Basically, at any large event or protest, the police will never have enough numbers to control the whole crowd because it can move so quickly from one place to another. When it gets away from the police, they could lose control. So the idea is that if things start getting uncomfortable for the police, they box the protesters into a small space, and keep them there for hours. No one in, no one out, to try and keep an eye on, and control of, the crowd.
The flaw though, should be clear. If you take a crowd of people and stick them crammed together in the same spot for a long period of time, with little or no toilet facilities, sparse water supplies and no food, then even the most tame protesters are going to get very angry indeed, and with good reason. The name 'kettling' is actually very appropriate, you will very quickly turn up the heat on the situation and that steam has to come off somewhere.
Yesterday's example however, was particularly barbaric.
It looked very much like the police had a twitch yesterday, they changed tactics from soft touch to heavy handed very quickly indeed, most likely a little over eager to avoid the same embarrassment as last time out. But that twitch meant that thousands of school children (because they joined the march yesterday alongside students) were left stuck in a very claustrophobic and cramped environment, with no idea what was going on and having very angry policemen shouting at them and flailing their batons at them.
With my own eyes watching the TV, I saw one policemen hit a school child with a baton and another get thrown off a wall back into a crowd as he was trying to leave what looked like a pretty terrifying crush. Many others have equally appalling tales.
It is claimed the police had to resort to this heavy-handedness because the crowd was becoming restless and trying to break through. I'm sorry, I consider myself pretty moderate, but if I was stuck in an area unable to use the toilet or get access to food and water then I'd get pretty 'restless' too, and if that meant trying to push through a police barricade then that's exactly what I'd do.
And the argument that these people knew what they were getting into when they joined the protest is hogwash as well. Many of these people from schools had no idea what a protest looked like, they were just angry and wanted to have their say. They followed the crowd because that's what human nature tells us to do and ended up penned in by police. As one put it: "It's ridiculous that they won't let us march, we can't even vote yet, we should be allowed to have our say."
Are we now going to ban protests or penalise protesters because a few rogue elements might turn it violent, and in doing so deny people their say who otherwise wouldn't have a voice. We might have elections, but they're only five years, what about if we're angry in between that time, should we just keep schtum? And anyway, you try telling a Lib Dem voter that voting means you know what you're going to get.
If you put people in a crowded environment, they panic, they push to get out, and tempers flair. And then, at the first sign of any minor violence the whole protest is declared void and suddenly 'students' (as if you could ever make such a sweeping generalisation and have it keep any legitimacy) are somehow the bad guys in the whole affair. Conveniently forgetting that it wasn't their decision to triple their debt and slash their teaching budget by 80%.
It's very simple, kettling is a travesty, it's barbaric, undemocratic and it should be banned. Even the Lib Dems agree with me, or at least they did a year ago:
"Tactics like baton charges, the seizure of personal property and the kettling of protestors for hours on end are fundamentally wrong. They are a threat to democratic rights, they cause distress and injury, increase tension, provoke reaction and damage the reputation of the police.
"These tactics must change. The police must recognise the democratic right to protest and put the protection of the public first at all times." - David Howarth
But we all know how Lib Dems like to change their minds at a sniff of power don't we, so I'm not too sure what their current stance on the issue is. Probably what ever David Cameron tells them I'd imagine.
P.s. Of course it's wrong when protests turn violent, but maybe if the news channels cared about the peaceful marches up and down the country without insisting on focussing solely on one small area of trouble, people wouldn't feel like violence was the only way to get their voice heard. 50,000 people marched last week, but we heard only about the few at Millbank. There were protests at many universities yesterday, but the coverage focussed on one vandalised police van. Ridiculous.