Sunday, 18 March 2012

Thuggery and machine guns at the Save Our NHS demo

You might not know that yesterday there was a demonstration in London against the privatisation of the NHS. If you don't know that, you definitely won't know about the heavy-handed police tactics deployed against it. It appears that a media blackout has been enacted on the repression of peaceful protest.

Thankfully, whilst the mainstream media is studiously ignoring it, Twitter provided those of us who weren't there with regular updates. Full reports can now also be found on Latent Existence, Storify, Kate Belgrave, and Beyond Clicktivism (update: Staavers also has a report on the day). There are also photosets from Heard in London and MELPRESSMAN MELPRESSMAN on Demotix. None of these have the same audience as the BBC, Sky et al, of course, but they do have an audience and so what happened yesterday did not go unnoticed.

The story is one that will be wearily familiar to veterans of countless demonstrations in recent years. Several hundred people had gathered peacefully to protest, and soon enough the police decided that they were a threat. Throughout the day, there were reports of several kettles, protesters being knocked down by police and even officers armed with sub machine guns patrolling the streets.

The Metropolitan Police have always been something of a benchmark for police brutality and skullduggery in Britain. From killing Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de MenezesSmiley Culture, Mark Duggan et al, to attacking peaceful occupiers on March 26 and igniting the riots in Tottenham, they have always stood ahead of the crowd. But their example is spreading, and examples as diverse as Greater Manchester police attacking youths on bikes during the riots and Merseyside police sending two horses against a five man picket show that all concern for appearances has gone out of the window.

The examples are innumerable. Some merely add a threatening presence whilst others break out in violence, but it is ever clearer that the police and the state are acting on the presumption that the act of protest itself is a threat. Not breakaway marches or property damage, but the simple act of standing in public and saying "I don't like what is happening."

Nor can this be seen as an aberration or a perversion of democracy. It is a very deliberate escalation, to match the increased frequency of protests and the growing anger at government policy, in much the same way that riot police no longer being used to smash picket lines simply marks out how much less threatening industrial action is when contained by the anti-strike laws. Whilst the trade union movement is stuck in a reductive pattern of one day strikes and liberals still insist against all evidence that lobbying and vigils work, a growing minority of militants have been taking direct action and scoring victories. With each victory, their example spreads and protest itself becomes a danger to the status quo.

The point, underlined over and over again, is that the police are not on our side and can never be trusted. Anybody who tries to persuade people otherwise only puts them in danger. When we're on the streets, the cops will be too. So the only answer is to stay together, stay mobile, stay safe - and don't let your guard down around the bastards for even a second.