Too many kettles, not enough tea

Kettling is a police tactic used to detain large numbers of people at demonstrations and protests. Police lines are formed around a block of protesters and slowly moved further and further in, detaining those within the kettle in a smaller and smaller space, often for several hours. Any attempt to resist being imprisoned is met with batons, shields and often boots and fists. When the protesters are visibly tired and distressed, the crowd is eventually dispersed very gradually, often with FIT photographing all those who are permitted to exit.

Further to this, on the 9th of December, those released from the kettle on Westminster Bridge were sent single file between two rows of riot police, having their masks and hoods forcibly removed from them before the photography session at the end. I inquired whether this was legal, and was told that it was under Section 60:

Under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a police officer of the rank of inspector or above may issue a written authorisation for additional search powers on the basis of a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place or that people are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in the area without good reason.

What reason was there to believe that, at 11:45 pm, when all of the protesters were simply trying to get back to their coaches, on their trains (if the last one hadn’t gone already) or back to their London homes, acts of “serious violence” may take place? Those detained were ordinary students, who make up the entire demographic of all of the recent student protests – the most offensive weapons were placard sticks, the vast, vast majority of which had already been dropped. In any case, why is this different from any other protest? I don’t feel I need to reiterate this but the most serious acts of violence that occurred that day were the hospitalisation of Alfie Meadows, the abuse of Jody McIntyre and the use of mounted charges on extremely dense crowds that had already been contained. Hypocrisy. Protesters trapped on the bridge were later told they were detained due to rioting in other areas of London that the police were keen to prevent developing …What rioting?

The legality of kettling was questioned after a seven hour containment in Oxford Circus on Mayday 2001. The High Court ruled that police could, under certain circumstances, detain people against their will for long periods of time in order to prevent outbreaks of violence and criminal acts.

A pertinent point to make is the reaction of protesters to the police’s containment method: An increased level of violence from the crowd is a direct response to growing violence from police in their brutal exercise in coercion and terror. How then can kettling be justified? This throws some light on a possible motivation behind these tactics: the aggravation of protesters in order to justify police brutality and to give the media an easier job in condemning those who dissent.

Recent student demonstrations seriously question the legitimacy of kettling and the motivations behind it. Let’s look for a moment at riot policing tactics: The three basic tenets of which are defence, containment and dispersal. The mounted charge is clearly, in principle, aimed to disperse crowds. Why then are mounted charges used on kettled crowds, with the police lines then reformed after the charge? This seems to be a confusion of the police’s own tactics. This is at the least incompetence.

For the protesters’ interest in the country’s future, they are battered, falsely imprisoned for hours in the freezing cold, intimidated by being marched single-file down lines of riot police, they have pictures forcibly taken by FIT and their details recorded. Perhaps this will discourage people from dissent, at least in the state’s mind. It would not take long to realise that a pre-emptive attack on the democratic right to protest is possible through discouraging people from turning up in the first place. This is quite easy easy to conceive when one considers the Draconian charges enforced on those involved to a greater extent at 30 Millbank on the 10th of November – the police have vowed to track down those atrocious criminals for their immoral treatment of windows in a three month operation, in an echo of the operation carried out to prosecute those involved in the Poll Tax riots.

Kettling aggravates protesters, causes distress and results in injuries and above all is an infringement of the democratic right to protest. John McDonnell, Labour MP has called for it to be banned. A proper independent investigation needs to be carried out into kettling. After the uproar against policing tactics at the G20 summit protests in 2009, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) made three recommendations, which the IPCC called on the MPS to respond to as soon as possible, two of which are:

No surprises – Protestors and public should be made aware of likely police action in order to make informed decisions.

A release plan to allow vulnerable or distressed persons or those inadvertently caught up in the police containment to exit.

It has been over 18 months since the G20 protests, but it is clear that these two guidelines are not being followed in any way, shape or form. Many protesters have no idea what kettling is until they find themselves in one, and all too often the police are witnessed ignoring pleas for help for the injured and distressed, while lines of batons and shields close further in.

Until these heinous acts of policing are taken seriously, and even after then, protesters should adapt themselves to the situation. Here are some tips:

  • Carry a bust card – click here for the one I recommend
  • Mask up – wear a hood and something to cover most of your face
  • Bring some warm clothing, water and food
  • Have a contingency plan for getting home
  • Carry some paper and make a note of any police brutality you witness. Make sure you get their number. If a copper attempts to search you, you have a right to: know their name, station and number; be informed the object of the proposed search; a copy of the search form.
  • If you have a camera, record as much of the police’s maltreatment of protesters as possible. This proved extremely useful in the case of Jody McIntyre.

On a more mitigative note, closely read this post. Resistance to these brutal policing tactics could only be described as self-defence by any sane person. You have a right to freedom of speech and expression, a right to food, water and bathroom facilities and a right not to be intimidated, harassed and physically attacked. Exercise those rights!

1 Response to “Too many kettles, not enough tea”

  1. December 18, 2010 at 1:22 am

    It is a disgrace that during recent Demostrations and Protests about the planned increases in university tuition fees in the UK, the Police have at times arbitrarily detained Protestors for hours at a time without access to food, water or sanitary facilities. This is a practice known as “Kettling”

    We call for the Riot Police to serve Tea in any “Kettles” that may be set up. The elite units which will perform this duty will be called the TSG (Tea Serving Group)

    As well as providing basic human needs while the Protestors are being Detained, we feel that Afternoon Tea (or any other sort of Tea appropriate to the time of day or night) would act as a Civilising Influence on any Rioters present, and defuse the Violence against the Police.

    Initially, it may be necessary to use Iced Tea, since Hot Tea may be Dangerous in the hands of Rioters present, but with time, as the Rioters become more Civilised, we hope all kinds of Tea will be able to be provided.

    Some Anarchists have suggested that the Police are planning to drug the Protesters by putting something in the Tea. This malicious rumour against the Police is a false one spread by seditious Rabble-Rousers. Any such persons spreading such malicious Rumours will not be allowed to partake of Biscuits or Cucumber Sandwiches.

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December 2010

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