Student protests - A police riot?
Some officers were out of control, peaceful protesters bashed
London – 10 December 2010
By Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
Many police behaved admirably on the 9 December student march in London, organised to protest against the rise in tuition fees and the cuts to education maintenance grants. Other officers were out of control. Most students were peaceful. A minority were violent. Violence by a relatively small number of protesters does not justify the often indiscriminate, bully-boy methods of certain officers.
TV news film showed police baton attacks on peaceful students. Some were battered while they were held on the ground, where they posed no threat. This brutality inflamed other students to violent retaliation. The over-the-top police tactics were needlessly provocative and incendiary. They contributed to the riotous atmosphere.
The violent demonstrators were ethically wrong and counter-productive. Their aggression distracted from, and undermined, the legitimacy of their cause. But the violent police who lashed out indiscriminately were also wrong. Their tactics were alienating and counter-productive. They did not calm and contain the violence. They stoked it.
It is true that officers faced aggressive provocation by some demonstrators. They had a difficult, sometimes violent, protest to contain. I sympathise. There were protesters who were intent on causing trouble and who committed violent acts. But this does not justify or excuse police violence. See this apparent example of police brutality against a peaceful protester who was trying to leave the demo, The Independent: http://ind.pn/gIlby1
Violence by some students was wrong but not surprising. If you were a peaceful, lawful protester and got detained in a police cordon for 6+ hours with no food, water or toilets, you’d be angry too. The police tactic of kettling was illegal detention and amounted to the collective punishment of many innocent, peaceful protesters. It made a bad situation worse.
Heavy-handed, indiscriminate repression is not how the police should behave in a democracy.
I wonder if the harsh police tactics were designed to intimidate and discourage future protests by making people fearful of injury and arrest? Whatever the truth, police brutality will have the opposite effect. Many protesters now hate the police because of how they were abused. This is a recipe for more violence at future demos.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s tactics were flawed. He erred and misjudged. Perhaps he should consider resigning?
The student’s cause is a just cause that I support. Education is not a commodity. It should not be for sale. The tuition fee hike and the cut to the education maintenance allowance will discourage young people from poorer backgrounds from pursuing higher and further education. Meanwhile the bankers are getting obscene bonuses again and the government looks set to squander £76 billion on a new generation of Trident missiles. The Prime Minister and his deputy are refusing to introduce a tax of 0.05% (one-twentieth of 1%) on financial and commodity transactions, which would raise at least £100 billion a year and make tuition fees and public spending cuts unnecessary. Shame on Cameron and Clegg.Click here to return to the Civil Liberties Index