Normally, and I say normally, I am in awe at the standards of policing I have seen at demonstrations. It always suprises me how literally thousands of people can march through the streets of London on protests, passing off peacefully despite some individuals being naturally a little hot-headed about their particular cause and all usually managed with very little police presence.
Of course there is more than a little visible presence. In side streets you’ll find vans positioned with back-up, a helicopter will often monitor large events from above. And then there are more covert means such as undercover officers usually looking out for those that seek to spoil otherwise peaceful demonstrations. From the many protests I have seen in general these tactics work very well.
But on Saturday the police got it wrong. Badly wrong. And i have no doubt it was because the police are falling into the trap of taking sides with some causes and not with others.
On that day I went along to see the demonstration the organsiers had called the We Do Not Consent Rally. I came early to get a good position that overlooked the protestors so I didn’t need to mingle with the crowd. I arrived mid-morning and the crowds gradually built up in Trafalgar Square for speakers that were due from midday. All was peaceful. The public address system was rubbish and I’m not how many could actually hear what the speakers were saying but that didn’t seem to matter to the crowd who were enjoying themselves. Many had made home-made placards which I took several photos of.
About 2.30pm people were starting to leave. The two main speakers (Piers Corbyn and David Icke) had delivered their speeches and the weather was starting to turn cold as the Autumn sunshine that had bathed the square was in retreat. The people next my right were packing up as they had thought the speeches were over (apparently there was a German doctor speaking or about to speak but as the P.A. system was no bad no one could tell). To my left a television crew were also starting to pack up, having being taken crowd shots of the square. Then, all of a sudden, a woman, shouted, ‘the police are coming’. People started to pack thier possessions and flee in all directions. Within seconds rows and rows of police descended onto the top part of Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery. They came in from both directions with the intention of shutting down the organisers tent in the centre. There was some minor scuffles as people found themselves (including me) boxed-in by lines of officers with riot hemets either deployed or at their waist, and batons ready. It was very intimidating.
There was no communication from the police as to where to go. No loud speakers telling us to clear the area, or even stay. To those of us in the crowd we did not know why the police had suddenly barged in. There had been no trouble at the event. The crowd had been there for several hours without incident. After several minutes I managed to get out through a path the police had formed to separate two sides of the square and get out from where I had been heemed in.
Later, we all learnt through a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police that they had moved in because the crowds were not social distancing.
Commander Ade Adelekan, leading today’s police operation, said: “As the crowds began to swell in Trafalgar Square, it became impossible for people maintain social distancing and keep each other safe. Likewise, there appeared to be no efforts by organisers to engage with crowds and keep those assembling safe from transmitting the virus.
“This lack of action voided the risk assessment submitted by event organisers the night before. Therefore, today’s demonstration was no longer exempt from the Coronavirus regulations. In the interest of public safety, officers then worked quickly to disperse crowds. I am grateful to those members of the demonstration who listened to officers and went home.
Source: Metropolitan Police statement (published Sep 26, 2020 19:08 BST). Officers injured and arrests made during protest in Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park.
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