Monday, 13 December 2010

Water Cannons to keep the peace. Oxymoron?

We were told at the election that our civil liberties had been attacked for far too long (which arguably they had) and that this coalition was going to give us all our liberty back. A few months in and that sentiments out the window as the right to protest is being curtailed, and now the latest weapon is wheeled out for inspection, the water cannon. Funny how times change isn't it.

People, and me included until recently, seem to think that water cannons just get the protesters a bit wet, a bit cold, and annoy them so much that they end up leaving. The truth is much more sinister, the power that the water is sprayed at can cause serious damage. It can cause serious damage and make people stuck inside the protest feel unable to breathe. The man in the picture above is a protester from Germany, who was hit full in the face with a water cannon, his eyes are swelled shut and bleeding. I'm not sure if there's been a follow up story since (I can't speak German and wouldn't know where to find it) but at the time his doctor confirmed that the man was blind and may never recover his sight.

The idea that the police see this as a logical next step, and that Theresa May sees it as acceptable, speaks volumes for the disdain towards protesters. We always hear how politicians respect people's right to peaceful protest, but for protest to be peaceful there has to be mutual respect between police and protester. Charging people on horses, cracking them over the head with batons, and now considering spraying them with high velocity blasts to water leads to nothing but more anger, and that doesn't benefit anyone.

I am not someone who is typically critical of the police force, they do a very difficult job and usually do it admirably. It would be a sweeping generalisation indeed to say that the police are 'all' anything, but recently the police have lost the respect of many people, and that doesn't bode well for their ability to keep the peace in future demonstrations.

They blamed the problems at the last demonstration on the protesters changing their planned route. The only reason people changed the route, and it is becoming an all too familiar story, is that the police refused to let them complete their march. People at the head of the march saw a police line forming in front of them and, understandably not wanting to be holed up in a kettle for hours, decided to try a different route. Every time they saw a line forming, they changed paths.

The act of the police trying to contain people before any hint of violence had broken out meant that they actually made their own job much harder. Instead of policing a pre-agreed route, their tactics led to a very unpredictable march, where they could never hope to have full control.

And all of this isn't helped by the wild hysteria coming out of David Cameron's mouth. He has now changed his tack, saying that most protesters were there just for violence, refusing to listen to the voices of thousands of students, and wrongly asserting that a policeman was 'dragged off his horse and beaten'. I think he owes protesters an apology, after the video clearly shows the injury of the policemen on the horse had nothing to do with students, he just fell off. I won't hold my breath though.

To control future protests police need to show more respect, and in turn they will win back respect. Firing water cannons at people who are simply exercising their democratic right to protest is no way to achieve that aim.

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