Eyewitness account of student protests

Kieran Miles is a third year Politics with Philosophy student. This is his diary of the student protests yesterday:

01:40, 9 December 2010.

I just got back home from the London demonstration, called on the day parliament voted on whether to increase tuition fees. Why so late, considering the march was meant to have started 14 hours previously? Well, the crowd was kettled without food, water, or toilets for nine hours, in the freezing cold. The situation was dire – I ran out of food and water by 6pm, having shared it all. I was wearing 6 layers, as well as my hood, gloves and a scarf, and I was still shivering. It was so cramped people were having asthma and panic attacks. Yet I was kept inside Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge for 9 hours, and subjected to what I can only describe as police brutality.

At the start of the day, the march was entirely peaceful and good-spirited. There were chants and marching bands and witty placards. In fact, the protest was so peaceful and easily directed that we walked from Malet Street to Westminster in about 12 minutes, without any stops. But then we were instantly kettled upon walking towards Westminster. The kettle wasn’t formed in response to outbursts of violence, it was made pre-emptively. There were at least 300 police waiting for us at Westminster, who surrounded us immediately.

Naturally, the more people became frustrated, the more violence occurred. I offer no justification for throwing fireworks or other missiles, it endangers life – of both police and protestors – but the violence was a response to kettling. Had the protest been allowed to continue the way it had started, everyone would have been home within a few short hours in time for Countdown. It is very frustrating that the police kettle people, wait for violence to occur, and then use it as a justification for their kettling in the first place.

The police response was also very disproportionate. There is a big difference between identifying the violent few, and punishing the entire crowd. I was feet away from getting crushed by a charging horse. This video shows the speed at which horses charged: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11962905. However, whilst in this video there was room for the crowd to move back, when I was charged, there was no room whatsoever. The crowd was so tightly packed that everyone was touching everyone else, shoulder to shoulder and chest to back. Yet the horses ran straight into the crowd like battering rams. People fell to the floor, and were then beaten because they didn’t get up in time and couldn’t move backwards. People were screaming and crying in panic. It was honestly one of the most horrifying things I have ever witnessed.

I was pushed in the chest by charging riot police, consequently meaning I fell over a wall. Tonight my friends were getting hit in the face with batons & shields, one was pulled to the ground by 5 police officers for asking a question about being photographed, and one was arrested after leaving a kettle for … leaving the kettle. I saw riot police running, who whilst running, knocked someone down, and instead of helping her up, or even just telling her to move, trampled on her, about 20 of them consecutively. Afterwards, her legs weren’t straight, but contorted in unnatural positions, a bloody and twisted mess of torn flesh and broken bone. She had to be carried to the medics, screaming and fainting on the way.

I saw people being told to move back by riot police, and instead of understanding that the crowd was completely crushed and was unable to move anywhere at any speed, they just hit them round the head, often to unconsciousness, allowing them to be carried to the medics, just so they could thin the crowd. (Although, I also saw many people actually denied medical treatment from the police, having to move from one side of Parliament Square to the other just to get a bandage. Many members of the protest, myself included, found themselves delivering first aid to broken fingers and small cuts). I thought one person was wearing a mask at one point, and then I realised that they were bleeding from 3 or 4 different points in the head, so severely that their entire face was covered in blood. Although we had been kettled for a few hours, and there had been horse charges, the police had been relatively restrained until about 6pm, especially considering all the bottles and other things being thrown at them (unnecessarily). But after 6, they basically lost all control and just aimed to injure the crowd.

Neither me nor any of my friends vandalised any property, threw things at police, or set fire to anything. Yet we were treated in the same way as the violent ones, and not even proportionally to the crimes being committed. If today was a let-down to the student movement, it was also a let-down to the police. Never before have I seen the police as intentionally aggressive. Never before I have seen so many people beaten and herded like cattle. Never before have I been genuinely scared for my life.

Plus the vote passed anyway. Tuition fees will be raised to £9000. The disadvantaged will be forced out of a soon-to-be ‘marketised’ education system.

I am angry beyond words.

Update: 09:00, 10 December 2010:

Looking through the various reports on yesterday’s demonstrations, I just wanted to clarify a few points and dispel some rumours (or lies?)

Scotland Yard released a justification for their kettling yesterday afternoon:

“It has been necessary to put in a containment in Parliament Square due to the level of violence officers are faced with. Missiles including flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls have been aimed at police….”

This is incorrect, the majority of missiles were thrown at police after they were kettled. The crowd, as stated above, was pre-emptively kettled before any violence whatsoever occurred.

“Officers will use tannoys to talk to those within the containment to explain what is happening.”

This wasn’t the case, the police didn’t speak to us for about 5 hours, and when they did, the borrowed a protestor’s megaphone!

“Those who are clearly not involved in any violence and want to join the agreed rally point at Victoria Embankment will be allowed to do so.”

This is almost certainly a lie. The group I was with split up to try different exits, and we rotated from street to street. I went to 3 different exits, where at each they said they weren’t letting protestors out, and directed me to the next exit. My friends had similar experiences. Eventually, we were let onto Westminster Bridge – only to be kept there for 90 minutes. We emphasised multiple times that we were peaceful, hadn’t committed any offences and just want to go home, but everyone was treated as a criminal suspect. This is no exaggeration, they let people out of the kettle one at a time, taking their photographs as they left, and searching people and taking their details if they tried to cover their faces.

“Officers will also pay special attention to anyone within the containment who is young or vulnerable.”

Sadly not, there were small children there, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, who the police refused to let through their lines. There were people inadequately dressed for the cold, and weren’t allowed to leave. And there was one man who was physically pulled out of his wheelchair. They didn’t help the young and the vulnerable, they targeted them.

Kettling is a barbaric way of punishing entire crowds, and only leads to frustration and injury. I call on everyone to write to your local MP, sign the Young Green’s petition to the Metropolitan Police Authority (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ban_kettling/), and protest against this ineffective and indiscriminate method of policing. If the Prime Minister truly wishes to “punish the mob that perpetrate that violence”, then perhaps he should look at reviewing police policy and sacking anyone involved in yesterday’s affront to democratic protest.

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