Crushing the Right to Protest (Alfie Meadows Charged with “Violent Disorder”)

The UK seems to have decided to join the Russian Federation in the race to the (police-state) bottom…

Take a deep breath, and don’t let it out until you’ve finished this sentence: the Metropolitan Police are charging Alfie Meadows with ‘violent disorder’. Now you can collect your jaw from the floor.

Alfie Meadows is the student who was beaten so badly by police that he had to undergo serious brain surgery. He was also, reportedly, denied an ambulance by police for a considerable period of time. When he finally boarded an ambulance, police attempted to prevent the ambulance from delivering him to Charing Cross hospital on the grounds that the hospital was reserved for the treatment of injured rozzers, not their victims. This happened on the afternoon of 9th December, Day X 3, the day of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees when tens of thousands protested in Westminster and across the country. It was on that evening, you may recall, that police engaged in a particularly nasty, punitive ‘kettle’ of protesters on Westminster Bridge. Alfie Meadows was beaten across the skull by a policeman with a baton, but is being charged for an offence that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Eleven people have been charged with various offenses under the Public Order Act by the ‘Operation Malone’ unit of the Metropolitan Police. The unit in question was set up with 80 officers solely to investigate the student protests, and as such represents a massive outlay just to arrest people who are either innocent of any crime, or at most guilty of very minor ones. The inclusion of Alfie Meadows on the charge sheet is clearly politicised, bearing in mind the IPCC’s ongoing investigation into the case. One also has to take into account the recent High Court decision that the kettling of G20 protesters was illegal, which could and should result in thousands suing the police. But it’s also typical of the police’s way of handling cases where they may be vulnerable. You might recall the example of Jake Smith, who was arrested after the Gaza protests in 2009. The case collapsed when it was disclosed that the footage showed, not Jake Smith engaging in ‘violent disorder’, but rather the police engaging in a violent attack on Jake Smith.

Of course, everything that is done by the state with reference to the student protests has a wider social mission, which is to preemptively criminalise the coming social struggles and validate the police’s pre-meditated violence. Take the case of Edward Woolard, the 18 year old who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ. He was disgracefully given a sentence of 32 months. This was longer than the sentence handed out to some rapists, though no one was harmed. The judge’s homily explained that the court was “sending out a very clear message to anyone minded to behave in this way that an offence of this seriousness will not be tolerated”. Of course, sending out ‘messages’, or rather heavily moralised threats, is what the criminal justice system does by nature. And we get the message alright.

Yes, they beat someone’s skull in. Yes, this was part of a series of violent tactics deployed by police, which included assaults on young boys, and teenaged girls. Yes, if the protests had continued, and the police had continued with their tactics, they probably would have killed someone just as they killed Ian Tomlinson. We’ll be lucky if, in the next few years, they don’t kill another protester. And their very clear message is that whatever happens, just as they did with Jean Charles de Menezes and the Koyair brothers, they will always find a way to blame the victim, exonerate or protect the guilty, and continue as before.

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Reaction to the charges brought against Alfie and the others yesterday has been, in the main and entirely reasonably, a combination of bewilderment and anger. The only places I can see where people haven’t responding in this way have been on an anonymous police blog and a similarly anonymous police forum, where posters are desperately trying to cling on to ‘rumours’ that Alfie was hit by a ‘concrete block’ and not by a police truncheon (rumours generated by those sites in the first place). It’s pathetic, but predictable and suitably cowardly that active (though nameless) members of the police force would be so desperate that they would resort to such weaselly and baseless insinuations. Similarly the idea that there’s something ‘suspicious’ about Alfie’s ‘silence’ in the past few months: well, a combination of recovering from major brain surgery, a major IPCC investigation and legal advice might have something to do with it -but hey, unless the spectacle gets fed constantly I guess people start to forget that there’s life beyond the internet and TV…and seriously, ACAB, fuck the CO19 with their shoot to kill policy for the royal wedding, fuck banning people from the city they live in and fuck the version of a fearful world that cops inhabit and try daily harder to bring into existence for everyone else.

The charges brought against Alfie and the others are purely politically motivated in every respect, from the timing, to the charges themselves, to the specific people they picked on. Anyone who still believes (or ever believed) that the police are in anyway related to justice has got to wake up and quickly: similarly, how long can it go on that the IPCC never, ever finds against the police in any serious way? Something’s got to give and hopefully before we see yet more unchecked police arrogance and unpunished brutality towards those exercising their desire to protest freely.

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In what can only be described as a colossally misjudged act of PR, the Metropolitan police have decided to charge several of the student protesters arrested in the wake of last year’s demonstrations with violent disorder, affray and criminal damage. They include Alfie Meadows, the student who had to have brain surgery after he was allegedly hit with a truncheon.

These are serious charges which carry potentially heavy jail sentences. Their timing does not seem to be coincidental. The hearing dates for those arrested had been set for late May and June; they have now been moved forward. But to what end? This weekend will see not only the royal wedding, of course, but also 1 May protests stretched across a four-day holiday (for some, anyway).

By charging these allegedly dangerous individuals and banning them from Westminster and the City for the next week, the Met can reassure the public that they are pre-emptively protecting them from a violent social menace – despite the fact that none of the protesters have yet been found guilty of anything.

But apart from the crudeness of such tactics, does this kind of political policing achieve anything more than public disgust at such underhandedness? The police seem to be operating under the misapprehension that the recent protests have been led by identifiable leaders who can then be picked out, thus leaving crowds bereft of direction. What the protests at Millbank, Whitehall and elsewhere demonstrated, however, was that this assumption is increasingly wrong. A mass movement doesn’t need to rely on charismatic figureheads for strength.

Protesters at recent demos know very well what the coalition is doing to students and workers alike, and that so many of them are prepared to stand up to the government and those paid to violently enforce their policies is clearly causing consternation, and more repressive responses, among the powers that be.

Alleging protester violence rather than questioning their own dangerous tactics, such as kettling, the police can try to put potential protesters off; they can try to make those with families afraid to march with their children (though the huge TUC march last month provided plenty of evidence that this tactic isn’t working); and they can intimidate those who may never have protested before.

At the same time the police (some of whom work for “counter-terrorism”) are creating large groups of criminalised youth, largely young men between 15 and 25, some of whom are students trying to save their EMA and their chance to afford university in a few years’ time. Fingerprints are taken, names and faces noted, and photos of those “wanted” are splashed all over the media, destroying anonymity and carrying the implicit message that if you protest, for any reason, we can and will destroy your future.

Many of those arrested for the first time are unaware of their legal rights, coerced into accepting cautions and distressed at the thought of bringing disrepute to their families, schools and colleges. At the same time the expense to taxpayers created by heavyhanded policing and high-profile arrests is immense.

But there are ways of fighting back. One student arrested in a dawn raid after the 24 November protest, Bryan Simpson, has set up a campaign which is holding a rally in Glasgow on 29 April.

A new campaign group, Defend the Right to Protest, has been launched with the support of John McDonnell MP, Naomi Klein, Tony Benn and others. There are many in Britain who may not ever want to attend a protest, but they’d be certain they’d want to live in a country in which people could protest. This pre-emptive criminalisation of protesters and the propagandistic tactics of intimidating future protesters is a worrying sign of things to come.

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1 Comment

Filed under political repression, protests

One response to “Crushing the Right to Protest (Alfie Meadows Charged with “Violent Disorder”)

  1. Pingback: The royal ban on Free Speech and Protest – April 29 | 4TheRecord (4TR)

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