The first demonstration under the Mayoralty of Boris Johnson saw heavy handed policing of the Stop the War event called to protest at visiting war criminal George Bush. A 20 year old student from Cambridge, Joe Wilson, was among those arrested as riot squad were deployed to police between 1,000 and 2,000 peaceful protestors.
Demonstrators reported being goaded by police in an attempt to intimidate and stoke things up. It seems that they were well organised and pushing for a ruck. One of the reasons they were able to do this is the size of the demonstration. Partly this couldn't be helped as the Bush contingent changed the time of his visit. It is also noticable that the event had not been built for as well as previous demo's.
In Cambridge for example, the StWC did not run transport for the first time I can remember. The local CND group did however book a coach to their credit, although I didn't find out until an e-mail landed in my inbox on Friday afternoon. It just seems that for some, the demo was not deemed a high priority.
Another reason could be that people are fed up with the same people, saying the same things, marching the same route with diminishing numbers of people. The StWC had 2 million people on the streets on February 15th and could end up being the biggest mass movement not to punch its weight.
I think there needs to be a sober and honest reflection on the StWC. By this I mean it has to be realistic and without certain groups thinking that constructive criticism amounts to an 'attack'. I am aware that there are concrete, material conditions that account for the state of the movement, and that peaks and troughs are natural, however the StWC has failed to permeate into the mainstream consciousness, politically and culturally in the same way that the anti-Vietnam campaign did.
George Galloway has written to Ian Blair and Boris Johnson demanding an inquiry into the policing of the event.
Hat Tip : Andy at Socialist Unity
Letter to Boris Johnson
15 June 2008
Dear Mayor Johnson,
I enclose a letter I have today sent to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, and ask you to require the Metropolitan Police Authority to conduct an investigation into the policing of the demonstration today. I know you were a supporter of President Bush and his war on Iraq . But I cannot believe that as Mayor of London - after a closely fought and emotionally charged contest - can be sanguine about the police strategy and tactics and the violence they meted out. To borrow a phrase I can imagine you using yourself it’s just not British to deploy paramilitary riot police against such a small number of peace protesters in full view of the national and international media, and hundreds of tourists visiting central London
.It was Juvenal, I believe, who asked, “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes”. The answer that question is surely you as a directly elected politician and I ask you to take up your responsibility.
I look forward to hearing from you swiftly, there are, of course, other bodies which may have a locus on this matter - such as theIndependent Police Complaints Commission.
Yours sincerely,George Galloway MP
Letter to Ian Blair
15 June 2008
Dear Sir Ian,
I write in connection with the police operation surrounding the President George W Bush to Downing Street today.
I am not a habitual complainer about the police, as a scan of the public record and my history of cooperation with Tower Hamlets police and the Muslim Support Unit will quickly show. But I must say I witnessed scenes today, some of them inches from my face, which were both deeply shocking and completely unnecessary.
I was asked by the chairman of the Stop the War Coalition as the only member of parliament present at the demonstration in Parliament Squareto march to the police barricade in Whitehall symbolically to demonstrate the outrageousness of the government’s decision to forbid marchers to enter Whitehall . As one of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition I felt it was my duty to comply with his request, although it was Fathers Day, I had my children with me and had intended to leave Parliament Square shortly after my speech.
I made my way to the front of the putative march and purely by chance found myself in the hottest spot of the confrontation which followed. I was trapped there for the best part of an hour and a half, unable to move forward, back or sideways. Consquently, I was both closer to and for longer exposed to the events as they unfolded.
A considerable line of uniformed officers were in full control of the situation for a substantial part of this time. Most of the officers were impassive throughout. Some did their best to defuse the situation, which was clearly the proper tactic in the circumstances. But a number of your officers behaved with a viciousness and lack of control such as I have not witnessed since the miners strike of 1984-85. Batons were drawn at least prematurely and were used with a level of aggression which frankly took my breath away.
These were not hardened trouble-makers they were facing who’d come for a fight with the police. They were young, peaceful, allbeit frustrated and angry anti-war protesters. You will know that there has never been any trouble on the score of Stop the War marches that London has scene hitherto. One particular officer, I will not give his number at this stage as I intend to make a formal complaint about his conduct and I am releasing this letter to the press, was quite simply out of control. He assaulted a young woman; he deployed his metal baton in a frenzied way; he ripped placards from the hands of several demonstrators when I can assure you the demonstrators in question were not using these cardboard placards in any improper way. He was standing next to a sergeant, whose number I also have, who if he tesitfies truthfully will bear out what I am saying.
A senior officer - I could see no identifying number, but I know he was senior because he was giving out orders - was actually taunting the demonstrators, including me in a display of political partiality such as I have never witnessed
.But the most serious mistake is one I believe you have a duty toinvestigate, and that was the tactical decision to deploy the black-boiler-suited riot squad - when there was clearly no riot. This decision, however, was one which appeared designed to start one. Given the small number of demonstrators involved - far less than the number of revellers on an ordinary Friday night in Romford - it was an unnecessary and provocative overreaction and served as nothing other than a provocation compounding the protesters’ feelings about the denial of what they and I regard as their rights as citizens in a free country.
This squad behaved intolerably. It was as if they were facing a dangerous crowd of molotov cocktail throwing, pike wielding insurrectionists. It was a scene redolent of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and cannot possibly be justified by the scale of this incident. This squad proceeded to deal out a shocking level of violence against unarmed civilan protesters, overwhelmingly young and many of them female. I have no doubt the large number of press photographers present and taking pictures of the scenes will bear this out.
This was not the Metropolitan Police’s finest hour, Commissioner. It was a sledgehammer to crack a nut and did harm to the reputation of your officers and their commanders, and I believe you have a duty to investigate it.
I look forward to a swift reply,
Yours sincerely,George Galloway MP