Usually the Economist Magazine is sourly offensive when it comes to reporting public demonstration against policies of the government. Read, for example, their brief on the Greek riots, council and university occupations that have been ongoing since December 6th, 2008. That article, They Do Protest Too Much, described the riots as “ritual clashes with riot police” and dismissed the widespread anti-hierarchical occupations as the actions of a few scatterbrained ‘self-styled’ anarchists.
However, with the G20 Summit coming to London this week, the Economist has admitted in its article Brace Yourselves, that, “Too often, it seems, police see it as their job to disrupt protests, rather than manage them.”
… That is particularly dangerous given the fact that much anti-terrorism legislation leaves a lot to officers’ judgment. A recent law made it an offence to elicit information about policemen “which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism” (even if no such person exists). Could this include merely photographing a policeman? The government seems content to use ambiguity as an all-purpose deterrent.
The right to protest is further eroded by the growth of pseudo-public space, such as shopping centres, office plazas and other privately owned but publicly accessible areas, in which demonstrations are forbidden. London’s financial district is full of such squares and courtyards. It will be intriguing to see if the banks have the nerve to turf the demonstrators out.
Britain’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in their document, Demonstrating Respect for Human Rights? A Human Rights Approach to Policing Protest, recommended a “no surprises” approach to protest policing at the London G20 Summit. That is supposed to apply to both sides of the barricades. Is that naive? It seems as though they would like to see agitators obey some kind of standard, traditional rule – (reminiscent of 18th Century warfare where droves of fighters would politely line up to shoot each other in battle, and the last army standing wins.) Given the asymmetrical situation, it is unlikely protesters could ever win if playing by the government’s rules.
The JCHR said that riot police, with their heavy weaponry and gear, stimulate anger in peaceful crowds and will “overheat” protests. They recommend the London police use tactics similar to those of the Northern Ireland police, who – according to the JCHR – are skilled in the art of calming protests non-violently.
Emails circulating amongst bankers and city workers say that they should “dress down” and not wear swanky outfits so that protesters will know they are bankers. Others articles found in the inboxes of bankers are more lighthearted, including this one – The Proper Way To Respond to G20 Protesters – which advises bankers to throw wads of twenties and fifties at crowds to get them whipped up in a frenzy, and to throw buckets of ice onto them in order to “render them harmless”.
Suggestions like that, if they were circulated on indymedia by protesters, would have police arresting everyone for assault charges.