Another Demonstration Marred by Violence

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Preparation in the run up to the TUC march throughout London was detailed and complex, but at the same time very much down to guesswork. Nobody quite knew how many protesters to expect. An optimistic (or pessimistic) few predicted that it could be as many as a million people, whilst the official website for the march itself predicted a more modest 100,000 – 200,000 people. Given the well reported and publicised police errors that had been made by the inability to cope with 50,000 people at the NUS Demonstration, the Met were under intense scrutiny in the run up to this march.

Currently the estimated number of people who turned up is around 500,000. This goes to show just how many people feel that the cuts throughout the welfare state are not the direction which the government should be taking.  Having been present at both marches in a neutral capacity as a researcher, it was interesting to compare them. Straight from the outset it was clear that the TUC march far outstripped the NUS march in terms of size. Walking across Waterloo Bridge at 11.30am, the march stretched as far as the eye could see all the way along Embankment and Blackfriars before vanishing out of sight. This march would be almost impossible to fully police, and so other strategies needed to be deployed.

Keen to utilise social media to help them out, the Met enlisted the use of Twitter. Despite using it for previous protests, they used it far more actively here, sending out regular updates about where parts of the march were; areas to avoid; and any other useful information.

It did prove to be quite helpful, showing that there is definitely room for improvement in terms of utilising social media to keep people aware of what is happening around them on protests such as this. It was this service which alerted me to the fact that perhaps the march was not going to go as peacefully as people perhaps had hoped. I read the following tweet at around 2pm:

Be aware that police have had light bulbs filled with ammonia thrown at them in the Oxford Street area. #march26 #TUC #sukeyData”.

Followed soon after by:

“Last message was relayed for public safety – not linked to TUC March #march26 #TUC #sukeyData

Now I think that it is quite clear that police being attacked in Oxford Street perhaps did have something to do with the TUC march, but it almost seems to indicate that the Met had appreciated that these public broadcasts could also be used to attract troublemakers to areas of trouble, and from then on their tweets became more vague, not referring to direct incidences, but rather to generic updates such as:

“4 police officers injured. 1 being treated in hospital. 13 people arrested for criminal damage and public order offences #sukeyData#ukuncut

The rest of the tweets from throughout the day present a very interesting picture as the day moves on, and their change in tone perhaps show better than anything else just how the Met were viewing certain events, as the day unravelled around them.

Understandably many protestors were reluctant to leave, as this would signal that the march was simply a one day event, and not instead a deeply personal affair which everyone felt to be necessary to protect their own and others’ way of life. Unfortunately this led to the scenes in Oxford St, particularly in Fortnum and Masons, as well as later at Trafalgar Square.

On demonstrations such as this, people throughout the political spectrum can always find areas to criticise in retrospect, whether it’s aggressive police or violent protestors. More often than not it’s a mixture of both. The events at Trafalgar square later in the day leave a sour taste in the mouth. There are conflicting reports about what occurred, but the fairly common consensus seems to be that after an initially peaceful atmosphere, one event sparked up hostilities once again between protestors and police. From on then there were ugly scenes of people trying to escape riot police charges, who in turn were overreacting at the end of a mentally and physically exhausting day.

Whatever the cause, it seems that police steadily used aggressive tactics, such as containment (kettling), baton charges and arrests to dispel what had been an otherwise peaceful group of people, showing that not much has changed since 10/11/10.

It seems the Met wanted to make a statement that they were not going to be seen as lax, as perhaps they were after the Fund Our Future Demonstration. They launched a variety of strategies to keep the public informed, and attempt to keep people who didn’t want to be involved in any form of violent protest out of trouble.

Unfortunately this seems to have conflicted with wanting to be seen to be a strong, united force, even if this involves arresting those who had done nothing to merit it and allowing the real perpetrators to walk away. This is a state of affairs which helps no-one aside from those who should be prosecuted, and serves only to alienate police and protestors from each other now and in the future.

 

[The Met’s twitter page, and all tweets from the march can be found here: http://twitter.com/#!/CO11MetPolice]

 

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Discussion15 Comments

  1. avatar

    This march was not marred by violence. Very little happened. You needed to be there to notice how successful the march was. Don’t be a sheep and follow what the media says. Uselessly overhypeing very little violence destroys the credibility of such protests, and student papers such as the Wessex Scene should not be following this trend.

    Chris Shimwell
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    To be fair, the majority of the march was peaceful, and the photos I took show this. Unfortunately, like the NUS Demo where a large number of people were protesting peacefully, a number of people did clash with police and there were several noteworthy incidents which continued late into the night.

    It is not a case of following what the media says, and more one of seeing whether there is anything we can learn to maximise people’s ability to participate in politics without the worry of being caught up in something unpleasant.

    Nathalie
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    I agree. I think this gives a fair and balanced portrayal of the events at the TUC March. Its a shame that a violent minority can ruin the efficiency of a peaceful and well organized majority. Good reporting though Chris 🙂

    Anon
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    Nathalie, it is only ruined if you believe it is ruined. If everyone looked at the positives, then the deserved validity of the protests would shine through.

    We are all humans, and a certain degree of violence is expected, and in my opinion, deserved. People don’t understand the seriousness of what our generation will go through in the future. So, instead of choking on our tea at a few broken windows and feeling sympathetic for billion-pound organisations, let’s expect violence and ignore it when looking at the positive aspects of a march, instead of quelling the anger and voice of so many protesters.

    Don’t follow the crowd with these articles.

    Chris Shimwell
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    You make a valid point that there are number of positives to be taken from the march. However I would like to reiterate one more time that violence should always be reported, and if it isn’t then this sets a dangerous precedent.

    Nathalie
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    I am not following the crowd, nor doubting the validity of the protest. I am aware the reports blow things out of proportion. Nonetheless, violence should never be condoned in our society, whether it is a few broken windows or a fire extinguisher being thrown off of a roof. Whilst that is not a huge atrocity, it is a slippery slope and as Chris said-sets a dangerous precedent. Whether its petty violence in small quantities or not, it distorts the coherence and message of the March and could be done without. It is never deserved or necessary, when an articulate majority can get their message through peacefully.

  2. avatar

    “Another Demonstration Marred by Violence” That’s a very bad heading indeed…

    Ok, think about this…

    1. There are say 500,000 people present.

    2. Most of them are angry at the cuts

    3. Just by the laws of probability…even if 1% of them went overboard and got angry there would be 5000 violent protesters.

    Your saying that even if 99% of the protest was peaceful then the whole demonstration would be “Marred by violence”. This makes no sense.

    Fouad

    Nathalie
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    Just because a small minority undertook the violent acts does not mean the protest was not marred.Even if 1% undertook the violent act, it still would still have a damaging impact upon the message and peaceful nature of the march. Marred mean to destroy or obliterate.Marred usually means to ruin the soundness or peace of an event, which is exactly what happened here. The title is in no way “bad”. It is completely appropriate.

    Nathalie
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    Marred does not mean to destroy or obliterate* lol

    Anon
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    It’s only ruined if you believe so. Wake up.

    Nathalie
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    No need to be rude. Sad you have to resort to rudeness. The coherence of the message was ruined, not the entire protest. Im perfectly awake thanks, just had my morning coffee.

    Anon
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    Well instead of accusing me of ‘rudeness’, overhyping very little violence and staying die-hard to oppressive laws and police tactics, take a step back and have a look at the state we’re in, then take a moment to imagine how the future will be for us.

    I’m afraid there’s very little room for over-politeness at the moment. Sure, if you believe that those who run the country know best, I respect your point of view. If, however, you can see the wider picture, then you will find out that this ‘violence’ is quite pathetic, to be honest. Look at other countries such as Greece and France in order to see true violence.

    I have made my point and need no further discussion.

    Nathalie
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    I think that you need to stop accusing me of not seeing the wider picture and condoning what the Government is doing, because that is not what im saying at all. In fact I dont think you realise the point I am trying to make at all and I refuse to repeat myself for a third time. The discussion does end here. Good day Anon!

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