I was asked on Monday by @quietriot_girl to talk to @DAaronovitch about the brief moment when I was threatened with arrest on the day of the March for the Alternative. It was fleeting, and the officer and I were both firm but polite, so I hadn’t really thought about putting something down about it. Especially when compared with wider, more serious betrayals by police officers, the conflation of UKuncut with the Black Bloc, mass arrests for peaceful occupation, and the general media hullabaloo that typically follows such a large protest.
However @kmachin and a couple of others asked me to put this up on my blog, as opposed to Twitlonger, because it’s more easily linkable. So here you go, don’t ever let it be said I don’t pander to public pressure.
I was approached by a sergeant Hanna (pictured right) while I was walking along Oxford street with #anticutsleeds folk after the march (early evening; cold!) and asked to remove my pink scarf covering my mouth and nose under section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act, or I would be arrested. It was quiet, with just a few stragglers walking around. Most of the ‘action’ was then happening about 5 minutes away at Fortnum and Mason. I replied that I thought I couldn’t be required to remove clothing, and he explained that special measures in the CJA which can be signed into effect by a senior officer allow concealing one’s identity to be an arrestable offence. You can (a later google found out) be imprisoned for a maximum of 51 weeks for doing so.
I asked if I could take a picture of his I.D., and he reminded me that I was still wearing my scarf. I remarked that we had a similar name, and removed my scarf. We smiled at each other slightly ironically, and I moved on.
The encounter was brisk, but polite. Why is it notable? If I have nothing to hide, why not show my face? Because our criminal justice system should not require me to prove my innocence – not by what I wear or any other means. Reasonable suspicion, and the burden of proof; semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit – “the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges”* those are the principles by which we consent to be policed.
These powers of removing items that obscure identity were plainly brought in to enable their FIT officers (plenty on the ground) to get clear coverage of everyone – to build up a picture of regular protestors to target. For that same reason I believe the #ukuncut lot were arrested whilst the black bloc were running amok causing much more media-friendly trouble – for their phones (all confiscated); their networks.
Our criminal justice system works on a basis of innocent until proven guilty, not coercion and intimidation. Kettles, FIT, infiltration and arresting peaceful protest outfits like #ukuncut are all erosions of the principle of the right to protest – they are about scaring people off.
The media drive to distinguish the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ protestors supports this erosion. The round condemning of so-called*** violent tactics demanded of all involved in protest, serves to limit the debate that protest seeks. It also allows Teresa May the ‘black and white’ tabloid fodder that she requires to ‘help the police with their work’ through legislature banning people from protest altogether. How can anyone oppose such moves if the only alternative to condemnation is being ‘one of them’?
Indeed, it’s worth noting that Yvette Cooper backed these measures. And I’m not making a party political point; rather that this false dichotomy of the peaceful protestor vs. the ‘violent few’ erodes the principles of free protest for us all. Think carefully about what powers we allow our government, because we might not always be able to trust the way that they use them.
“The spectacle of terrorism provides a socially cohesive common enemy, legitimises needs for vigilance, security, and new forms of police repression, and encourages the opinion that even the faultiest of democracies is superior to the reign of terror.” – Sanguinetti quoted in this book.
I say this earnestly as both a protestor, and a copper’s daughter (in one riot, my dad had a bit of paving slab chucked at him) I will not condone violence, but it is not my place to condemn it. What I want to talk to you about is how much I love all of the people there that day, police and protestors. What I want to talk about is half a million people, putting their bodies, one way or another, between the state, and the Tory-led government steamroller.
I am not a radical, I’m a lecturer, PhD student, theatre-writer who on Saturday was threatened with arrest for wearing a pink scarf over my face. I feel very strongly that our country is being torn apart by what you might term ‘real’ radicals. I wish someone would remove Cameron’s veil.
*oh yeah, quoting fucking latin, baby. **
** sourced from Wikipedia, though, like.
*** violence vs. vandalism; lets not get into it.