Friday, 3 April 2009

Apathy In The UK

Let me make clear that this post is my personal opinion about the events of the last two days for G20, and I do have considerable public order experience. In fact I have policed real riots and seen anarchy in the UK. I also have the scars to prove it. I do not have personal knowledge of the big picture plan or have detailed knowledge of police numbers involved.

My first observation is that this event was over hyped by the press, and potential comparisons to the Poll Tax disturbances were well off the mark. They even pissed off the anarchists by infiltrating one of their meetings. I don't know if this had an impact on numbers attending but as things turned out things were relatively calm bar a couple of windows at the Royal Bank Of Scotland. Apologies if you were in the line at Threadneedle Street but I'm trying to put things in perspective. The City was not in full lockdown and premises were not boarded up, including RBS which was right on the plot. In fact take out the photographers, reporters and legal observers and the main event outside the Bank Of England would have been rather bland. Still the press got what they wanted in the end.

Those naughty anarchists obviously had better things to do and the small groups who did turn up made more of a fashion statement rather than a political one. Of course it only takes a couple of idiots to set off a crowd and I'm confident that the intelligence teams have some lovely images of troublemakers who should expect a visit soon. The environment was well suited to the policing operation and the event was well contained. A low level approach was taken until it went bent but why flat caps and not beat duty helmets on the line? Didn't see any chin straps either or am I getting old?

This is the first point for discussion. The tactic was obviously to contain the initial demonstrators and prevent latecomers from swelling the numbers. Outer cordons kept others back from the main event. This containment means no leaving at all, so no toilet facilities and no sneaking off to the Climate Camp in Broadgate for a peanut butter sandwich, organic of course. This is a recognised tactic used in the Capital for several years and very effective. I don't know if discretion was permitted but hope that common sense was used to allow some out who were obviously peaceful demonstrators who'd made their point. It must be said that this tactic prevented worse trouble in reducing the crowd numbers and a break out. Once a crowd gets a taste for action even peaceful people will get swept along and mob mentality takes over. It happens at football all the time, crowd sticking together and directing venom towards what's in front of them, usually a police line. We are tribal creatures after all and two of the seven sins came to the fore to cause this, Greed and Wrath.

When the crowd was released the troublemakers were more mobile and intent on causing damage. Everybody else obviously headed for the nearest loo. Another containment down the road after swift policing split the crowd preventing damage to HSBC and the small violent mob were held despite attacking police lines. More police than naughty people game over before rush hour.

The Climate Camp in Broadgate had made their point and it was time to pack up and go. It might have been a peaceful protest but the road was blocked and it was time to leave. I understand that this was not cordoned all day and people were free to leave. Those who chose to stay were going to be moved otherwise they'd still be there. Don't fight battles you can't win - it was cleared no doubt because it could be. It leaves a little bit of a bad taste in the mouth as these were more the party hippy people, but life had to be returned to normality. I would had suggested a police/camp chill out dance then joint meditation before calling a wrap. They would have got better publicity and peace would have prevailed. If the camp had remained it would have taken huge resources at even more cost to police it. It would also have provided a focus point for other groups. I'm disappointed at reports people were held there for several hours before being let out if that's the case. And yes I've seen the videos on youtube.

So lessons to be learnt on both sides here. This was a police success operationally in the land of the giants, but shows how much aid will be needed for the Olympics in 2012. Fatigue and long hours takes a toll and the blue line was stretched for this. Nice touch on day two closing down two Anarchist squats.

Are we going to see a Summer of rage? On this showing I would say no. It would take a massive demonstration that extremists could turn to their advantage. It really does boil down to numbers on both sides and how many police we can put out to control it. There is just a feeling of apathy across the country and people just can't be arsed to get out on the street. In fact European agitators had to show ours the way.


Area Trace No Search said...

I agree - as Nightjack said, "meh."

Wish our duties office had worked out how to spread the hours more evenly though, I'm still bloody knackered now...

Annette said...

We all saw how those demonstraters were behaving, very well and in a carnival mood.
But, with most things, it was spoilt by those young lads who were probably not even involved in the demo.They just join in,being violent and disrupting everything.
You saw that one demostrator plead with them to stop smashing those windows etc.
Thye were peaceful demonstrators, and it was spoilt by those other young stupid lads.You always get those with demos.

Climate Camp medic said...

Climate camp was only ever intended to be a 24-hour event, this was very extensively publicised beforehand, and I'm surprised that none of the police on the ground seemed to know that. All the clearance achieved in terms of getting roads clear again was that we didn't have time to do our own litter-picking.

Climate camp protestors also didn't have an 'opportunity to leave', I was sitting down praying with friends near the South end at the time of the initial 7pm baton charge, most people around me were eating (kitchen had just dished up), there was no warning to move at all - though the police did find loudspeakers to read us the riot act not long afterwards, so it would have been possible. After the 7:10 initial charge the camp was 'kettled', so lots of people who had not planned to stay and were going to leave after dinner when it got dark were trapped there. I ended up outside the kettle, but having seen my friends take batons to the head whilst sitting down with their hands in the air, I wasn't about to leave the area for fear of what might happen to them whilst trapped.

Appreciate your points about crowd violence, but at Climate Camp what happened was contagious crowd non-violence - I'm sure you've seen people hands in the air, sitting down, etc. In three years of climate camp there have been absolutely no convictions for violence, last year the police claimed '70 injuries' but these all turned out to be sunburn & insect bites, and nothing to do with protestors. I do not understand how what I saw at Climate Camp can possibly be justified. Even if the road being blocked 'till noon the next day would have inconvenienced some City workers, how on Earth does that justify taking truncheons to hundreds of peaceful people? Very skewed priorities somewhere methinks.

Stressed Out Cop said...

Climate Camp Medic

Different vibe in the camp indeed and not full of naughty people. The decision rests higher up to clear it and I don't know what was communicated beforehand.

It should have been passed on that a 24 road shutdown was not to be tolerated and a clearence likely at a set time. Like I say I was surprised they cleared it but can see why, and it does leave a bad taste. I was not present for that.

I preferred my suggestion - think differently see.

Climate Camp medic said...

Thing is, Climate Camp had actually discussed how long it was going to stay with the police beforehand, and had it been left another hour it would have got dark, everyone would have finished eating tea, and a lot more people would have gone home. As it was there was no warning at all before everyone was kettled at 7pm :(

Indeed, I do like the suggestion of a big group dance - would have been a great spot for a ceilidh, had a suitably cute officer danced me to Liverpool St I might not have minded going too much :)

Stressed Out Cop said...

Like I say at the outset I didn't know the bigger plan.

I bet they wish they took the dance option now - I would not be surprised if the whole operation is subject to an enquiry of some kind.

My assessment Part 1 good - Climate Camp not so good. Plenty would have stayed even if given the option to go, but I suppose they then know the score.

Too much grief all round now and plays into hands of extremists.

Don't think the front line view is anti the camp people, it isn't. There is a job to do and some had been under the cosh earlier o/s RBS and been rather restrained. Most would have preferred a Samba upto the train station too.