From baton strikes, to baton rounds
On the morning of Tuesday 8th November, letters from the Metropolitan Police landed in the hallways of scores of people, effectively warning them not to attend the student demonstration due to take place in London on the following day. The letters were sent to 450 people who had been arrested at any demonstration in the previous 12 months, even if the charges had subsequently been dropped. The letter warns people not to “involve yourself in any type of criminal behaviour”, and that those who do so will be arrested. With a message akin to a recorded voice reminding you to “breathe in, breathe out” every few seconds, many see the letters as more of a threat than helpful advice.Just twenty-four hours previously, the Metropolitan Police had announced that “baton rounds” of plastic bullets would be available for use at Wednesday’s protest. The language is of violence and aggression; a far cry from the “duty to facilitate peaceful protest” that the police so flimsily claim to uphold. So, as humanitarian bombs tear limb from limb in Sirte and Bani Walid, and our beloved “Libyan rebels” tie up black citizens to die, and drive them from entire cities, our own police force prepare to use their own form of “tough love” on the streets of London. The plastic bullets announcement was met with incredulity, disbelief and claims of “un-Britishness” in news reports. I’m not sure that the citizens of Northern Ireland would agree; the family of Stephen McConomy have a more intimate experience than most of this “non-lethal crowd dispersion method”. On 19 April 1982, 11 year old Stephen was killed by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier. He was not the only one; 15 year old Paul Whitters, 14 year old Julie Livingstone, 13 year old Brian Stewart, and Stephen Geddis, at just 10 years old, all suffered a similar fate. They are young; soldiers aimed low with their plastic bullets, which subsequently met the heads of the shortest civilians. Far from being “un-British”, it was the British Army that pioneered the use of plastic bullets.
With such draconian measures, it seems that even remnants of illusory democracy have been cast away by the current government. Whilst our Foreign Minister has the impertinence to condemn the government of Syria, where an armed uprising has cost the lives of many security forces, as well as civilians of all political backgrounds, the government gives it’s full backing to our own police’s use of violence against unarmed student demonstrators. With plastic bullets the response to plans for a peaceful march, it is difficult to imagine what David Cameron would consider a proportionate response in the case of an armed insurgency in this country.
We all remember the fiery re-birth of the student movement, one year ago on Thursday, when demonstrators took to the roof of the government’s headquarters at Millbank. Since then, we have witnessed the crack-down in response. People being dragged through the courts for months on end, many of whom did little more than attempt to defend themselves from the baton strikes raining down on them. Tomorrow, it could be baton rounds instead. Two things this movement has somewhat lacked up to now is the ability to defend those demonised and criminalised for their actions, and the longevity required to effect a concrete change. Let us make those our aims as we demonstrate in London tomorrow.
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