Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Merseyside police attack demonstration at Town Hall

Today, as Liverpool City Council met in the Town Hall to implement the city's budget cuts, a small number of protesters gathered outside in opposition. It started as a decidedly muted and tame event. But it would not end that way, thanks to the violent intervention of Merseyside Police.

Police force a protester to the ground, photograph by Michael Kirkham
When I arrived, the police had blocked off the road at the side of the Town Hall, by the entrance that councillors and members of the public (who needed a ticket and ID) would be entering. Steel barricades were erected around the doorway. A small number of police and City Watch, supplemented by two officers on horseback, lined the road whilst demonstrators mostly just milled about aimlessly and almost silently.

There were a very small number of Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party paper sellers hanging about, as well as several comrades I recognised from a number of events. The Socialist Labour Party had their banner out as well. However, overwhelmingly, those present were from Occupy Liverpool and the majority of them were also young, late teens to early twenties, with a few who were older. Of the Trades Council, who called the demonstration, and other unions there was no sign, whilst the Socialist Party also disappeared after about an hour.

Soon enough, with a megaphone to hand, the demo warmed up somewhat. There was chanting, a bit of piss-taking about how the City Watch would be "doing an impression of real police," and lots of jibes at Joe Anderson. After a while, we move towards the windows where the meeting was taking place and chanted and heckled at those inside. The police intervened a number of times to ask people to stop climbing the railings, but were quickly enough told where to go.

After a while, a few of us took note of a van load of police reinforcements who arrived to join a flank around the small demonstration. Mindful of being kettled in a side-street, I announced over the megaphone that we were "going for a stroll," and we marched around the front of the building. This coincided happily with the lights stopping traffic, and so we proceeded into the road in order to block the traffic.

This brought the police hurrying towards us, with the two horseback officers trying unsuccesfully to drive us back whilst those on foot forced enough of a gap to let a bus and a cab through. After a short while, though, they appeared to give up and withdrew to form a line across the road.

The horses stuck around, though, and there was an incident where one of the animals bumped into a comrade who was facing the other way. The copper on its back then accused him of hitting the horse with his flag and she moved to grab it and/or him. In response, the megaphone siren went on, startling the horse and allowing him to stay out of her reach. She later warned me that my flag would have out her horse's eye and, even when I shifted it so that wasn't the case, threatened to take it off me. When challenged as to why, all she could do was scowl.

At this point, a couple of the younger Occupy members decided to sit down, and one of them began rolling a cigarette. They were quickly advised to stand up again, and when they did the police line charged. The police dived at one young lad, prompting an attempt to de-arrest him. This unfortunately wasn't succesful due to lacking numbers, and more police screamed in, hitting people and pinning the lad to the ground under their collective weight.

What followed was chaotic, to say the least. But the result was that around seven people were arrested, whilst one comrade came out of it with a bloody nose. The police refused to say what the charges were or even where those arrested would be taken, justifying this only with "I don't have to answer to you." My querying whether the officer who punched someone in the face would also be arrested (asked with no illusions of such happening) was met with "that's none of my business." The demo had now devolved into an uneasy stand off, with police on one side and a gang of pissed off protesters on the other.

Some of the younger ones present decided that this was the best time to consider what to chant at the police, whilst I decided to inform the public of what had just happened in an obviously angry rant over the megaphone. The police didn't bat an eyelid as I described them charging peaceful protesters andpunching someone in the face.

Ultimately, we reached the conclusion that numbers had dwindled too much to maintain the stand off indefinitely, and that the result would be a bloodbath. People were urged to leave as one group, to avoid further arrests or attacks. We marched, via Liverpool ONE, to the Occupy building, with the police in tow. As we moved, those in hi viz coats shrunk to the back, whilst those all in black, with tasers prominent on their belts took the lead.

There was also one surreal moment where a female comrade, travelling on a bike with her child strapped to the seat behind her, was confronted by three police. This was apparently just to tell her not to cycle on the pavement, but it was a clear intimidatory tactic and the protesters surrounded the police until she was allowed to move on.

After leaving the Occupy building, the police eventually gave up following when it became apparent that we were simply getting people home. This allowed everyone to disperse in groups to buses, trains and cars.

The questions raised by this incident are serious ones. It is clear that the police were in the mood for violence, perhaps after they failed to evict Occupy just over a week ago. However, following on from the attack by private security on UK Uncut, this is the second use of violence against protesters in Liverpool this month alone. And as a result of diminished numbers, no serious defence against it was possible, essentially resulting in those arrested being left to fend for themselves.

I've previously posited that this suggests a serious need for militant stewarding, and though the details of such have yet to be worked out I stand by that assertion. With luck, this will also offer a harsh lesson in the role played by the police in society, and of the need to work back from the assumption that they are all violent goons out to cause you harm.