LONDON -- Students from all over the
United Kingdom took to the streets in protest last Thursday against the proposed
rise in university tuition fees and cuts to education funding.
In many places violence flared up from
both protestors and from police.
Media coverage the next day focused on
an attack on Prince Charles and Princess Camilla while the behavior of the
police was once again ignored.
I have been to two protests, the one
last week and another on Nov. 24. On both occasions I witnessed the
unconstitutional brutality of police tactics and watched on as protestors were
wound up until a few eventually gave in and became violent.
The most controversial of these police
tactics is kettling, where riot police surround protestors and will not let
As with anyone who is forced to stay
within a confined space, this drives the protestors to violence. More
importantly, it also denies them basic human rights.
Indeed, the right to peaceful protest
is one of the most important rights we have but it becomes increasingly
difficult to exercise when you are being forced into or are at risk of
On Nov. 24, there was a recognized
march to Downing Street, where the prime minister lives. The police had been
given the required legal notice and had consented to the march.
Arriving at Whitehall, I saw an angry
but peaceful protest.
After about an hour, the riot police
had the protest surrounded. The vast majority of people inside had committed no
crimes and there were enough police officers to deal with those who had.
Yet everyone was trapped within a
loose but impenetrable police cordon.
At this point, the police decided to
push everyone out of Whitehall.
Despite the legality of the protest
prearranged by the student unions with the police we were denied our
democratic right to protest.
Unsurprisingly, people refused to
move, and were forcefully pushed back by riot police.
Bearing in mind that this march
included people who were as young as 11, what happened next was dangerous and
simply disgusting: The police ordered their horses to charge at the protesters,
forcing them to flee.
After forcing us down Whitehall, the
police then opened a gap in the kettle they had created.
Having been confined for so long, and
following the brutality of the horse charge, the protestors ran out of the gap
and into the streets. Police seemed to accept that students could run then amok.
It had been cleverly timed to provide
news crews with footage of protestors running riot and to showcase the need for
more police funding.
The Metropolitan police later issued a
statement claiming the use of police horses to disperse and distance the crowd
was an appropriate and proportionate tactic at the time.
The statement said, too, that the
police horses were trotting.
This was simply untrue.
The horses charged the students.
If nothing else, the use of horses was
unnecessary because the march was legal. As we have the right to protest, the
police have no right to force the protest to disperse through the use of
It is no surprise that the week before
this happened, the government had announced that they were cutting funding for
mounted police. Clearly part of the reason for their deployment was as an
advertisement for the necessity for the police to have horses.
My experiences last Thursday were
Those inside the kettle last week told
me they were detained for many hours without food or water. People who were not
allowed to leave were forced to urinate within the kettle and a few were even
arrested for it.
However, I did not even make it that
Having arrived slightly later than the
last time, I soon realized the second major problem with the tactic of kettling.
Not only does it restrict your right to protest from inside the kettle but it
also restricts your rights if you are outside the police cordon.
I was simply not allowed in. How,
after all, can I possibly have the right to peacefully protest but then be
barred from that protest?
So how did the police get away with
their behavior and why does this violence benefit them?
The answer lies in the demographic of
Students and young people in general
tend to have low voter turnout and are seen as apolitical.
So the police believe that they can
scare us away from protesting through the use of violence since they think that
we do not hold strong political beliefs.
Moreover, with low voter turnout they
feel that they have little to worry about come the election as young people will
not turn out in enough numbers to make a significant difference to governmental
The police dont think that we are
dangerous to the public.
They think that if they kettle us then
we wont try to protest again.
They are deliberately encouraging
students to be violent by leaving unprotected police vans in the middle of
Really, this is what the protest was
about in the first place. Students are fed up with being ignored and treated as
a post-ideological generation who dont care about politics.
In many ways the actions of the police
showed remarkable similarities to the actions of the government that we were
The police are not serving as
impartial protectors of public. They have demonstrated a clear bias towards the
government and towards self-gain.
Its obvious the police are on the
side of a government that is declaring war on a whole generation.