We never did.
Anyone who’s looking should go read What I saw, an eye-witness account group blog which desperately needs more contributions but has some very interesting ones already there.
I’m going to assess the provenance first, then start picking out specific elements I think need focusing on.
Eye-witness accounts never entirely agree; any copper knows that. Specifically, eye-witness accounts never agree precisely, particularly on details and timing. There are eight reports here so far, in some cases reciprocal in the sense that eye-witness A mentions a friend who then writes report B. Most are from younger protesters; inevitably, as they are the most conscious of the power of the internet for getting the word out, and are the most likely to actively use mobile phones. The eight reports agree suspiciously closely on many of the narrative events; from which I conclude they have all seen the same post-action news reports and read some of the same online articles. That’s fine; we have a pretty good idea of those aspects. In detail, there are discrepancies of precision, which is exactly what you would expect, and some discrepancies of observation, which is also what you would expect. So, these seem to be legitimate, in the sense that they do not agree so closely as to give rise to suspicion of group fabrication.
Somehow, the official story does not seem to be able to join the dots which lead from enhanced surveillance and documentation strategies on the part of our political masters to the unwillingness of those who protest to be identified. It’s not exactly hard to figure; we know that the government and particularly local authorities and police forces are abusing their powers. We know that the authorities are going to fight on the barricades for their story of violent anarchists marauding in our streets. Therefore, it is in the interests of anyone who wants to not have their phone bugged and their post intercepted not to be identified when they disagree with the government. Anonymous blogs are therefore one of the few safe ways of getting the word out; I don’t think there is any reliability issue implied by the anonymity of these sources.
Most of the really interesting things in these reports are unsubstantiated within this data-set; that is, there is rarely anything in here which wasn’t already generally known or admitted, and which is also reported by two independent voices within this set of reports. So we need to gather a whole lot more; I am not going to be able to do any kind of meaningful web-mining to collage sources from all over, though some of the investigative guys over at LibCon might want to direct their attention to the task. But also, I encourage anyone who was there to add a report to this site, or a link to a pre-existing report if you have one. Particularly, What I Saw has no photos to date.
Two of these eye-witnesses are specifically medics. That’s interesting.
Okay, so let’s look at details, now:
These reports mention in several places the festival atmosphere and the bicycle-operated sound system that were in operation at the Camp. That agrees with everything that I’ve seen since the day after; the camp was a relaxed and convivial atmosphere until some point circa 1830-1900 when police actions brought that atmosphere down. One of the things that wound up the police so much was probably exactly that. They’d been waiting around all day, in heavy gear, on quite a warm spring day, for the riot their bosses had predicted, while the other side were having a party at them. Also, with a proper out-door sound-system, a level of Camp coherence was being created and strengthened with every hour. Never underestimate the impact of soundtrack on modern humans. Everyone there has the same music in the background of their memory; that’s a powerful emotional coherence agent. It is not surprising that the reports mention in more than one place that early on, a police team specifically targeted the bike-rig and smashed it up (more on that later!).
Excuses and provocations
In the reports it is noted that there were people in the crowd engaging with the police before they charged. In two cases: “there were a few (<10?) drunk idiots slumped round being incoherently rude to the police”, “An apparently drunk girl climbed on top of a police van and was cheered, but I personally did not see any missiles ” we see what may be a pattern. Drunk people get leery; drunk people shout at police. I would argue this constitutes an excuse for official violence, not a provocation to it.
These reports agree pretty solidly on the timing of police action; between 1830 and 1900, something changed and the police began actively squeezing the camp with violent baton charges. As far as I can tell, this seems to imply that whatever happened over at the bank, where there was a certain amount of property damage and a clash between protesters and police circa 1300, was used by a central controller as a sufficient ‘They started it!’ excuse to initiate violence aganst the Climate Campers. Clever tactic; if the peaceful disclaim the Bank of England protest, we undermine the impression of broad-based popular support and if we don’t, then they can claim we started it. Interesting though; the only clash I’ve seen any legitimate reporters blame on protesters happened at 1300 and they didn’t move on Climate Camp ’til 1830. Odd to wait so long if the move to clamp down was a response to a genuine crisis situation.
It had become apparent when I was writing on Friday that one of the points of the kettling tactic is to shed ‘official’ media representatives and legal observers. It makes sense; reports (including this one from the DPA’s Digital Journalist of the Year) indicate that people with NUJ cards were let out through police lines that would permit no-one else to pass. As it gets tighter and the mood gets nastier, people who can get out, and are not actually there to make a point but to observe one being made, will decide the time has come to call it a day and leave. That provides a considerable advantage to the police if they plan to kick off.
Unfortunately for them, this isn’t a field in Scotland, it’s the middle of London; and when Gleneagles happened, the mobile internet revolution hadn’t got off the ground properly yet. By the time the police let him out an NUJ journalist had already published such phrases as: “5:40 pm Does the Met have a clear idea about how to end this impasse? When exactly will it reveal what that is? The longer this goes on, the less confident I am that it will end peacefully.”, “6:15 There was a mass chant of “Let us out!” Why wouldn’t they? It wasn’t obvious, and by now we’d been corralled for well over two hours. […]police-dogs were brought barking from their vans. What’s next?”, “They’d have to let us out eventually, so why extend this to the point where they’d made people more volatile, not less?”
When I read this, my first thought was “Well, they’ve shot their own feet off now”.
c 10pm??? they started doing baton-charges down the street. they were going for medics (with red crosses) and legal observers (orange high-vis jackets) early on. I was still wearing a red-tape cross, picked up the first aid kit and ran with it, trying to stay out of the way of police whilst looking after people they’d hurt – running out of supplies by now though, mostly inside climate camp? Saw the police hit someone down, they were bleeding heavily+++ from the head, police kicking, batoning the guy on the floor. Two remaining medics and I went in to drag the guy away from police, police jumped us, I got hit with baton – head, chest, back, fortunately had backpack on & hair in bun took the worst of it but other medics down.
Unfortunately, this is as yet uncorroborated; I’ve not seen anyone else specifically identify the police as targeting the medics and legal observers. In the immediate instance it doesn’t matter: what we have here is an identified, female medic (wearing a red cross) who is physically carrying a man with a head-injury, being personally assaulted by police. She reports that others with her were ‘down’ed. If we can substantiate this from anywhere in the demonstrations, ideally with photographs, then they’re fucked. Even soldiers in the civilised world know you have to leave the red crosses alone. But I can see why they’d take down the protester medics. That way, anyone hurt has to go through police medical teams to be taken are of; which means they can be identified, documented and if the police so wish, arrested.
The most recent post is also from a medic, who seems to have been treated appropriately. No mention is made of that medic wearing a red cross. That could imply a substantiation; being a medic but not being identifiable got you treated better than being one who was, but that’s very thin. So I’d love to find out if there are enough other reports of this behaviour to be able to really get to work on them.
I also want to know if any legal observers have reported being batoned while wearing their identifying orange jackets. Cos they’re well-placed to make such a report stick…
“Sit down, next to me”
Another line from the James song is “If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”; particularly apposite to the recent financial crisis and the Fred the Shed fiasco. But what’s relevant here is the coherent reporting that the protester’s response to police charges was to sit down. That’s not the reaction of violent people.
In 1649, something happened in Britain; and it started a civil war. Under cover of that, a group of early collectivists occupied St. George’s Hill and began to farm it. They were eventually dispersed, violently, by the forces of the landlords. Their houses were burned, their fields destroyed.
The one thing the protesters did which cannot be denied is a considerable quantity of vandalism. Not the Climate Camp guys; and not (initially) directed at the police, but yeah, people broke a lot of windows and wrote on the walls. That’s what happens in angry cities. The refrain of official response has been that the police legions going in was justified to prevent property damage. Specifically, to prevent damaging the property of rich people.
These reports make clear the extent to which this principle is privileged: a genuinely private law which the hired men and troopers will enforce with violence. The possessions of the climate campers were destroyed and skipped; the street-bike sound-system was specifically targeted for destruction. Now, those things are not cheap to build. A decent sound-system cost someone money, and making it portable cost them craft skill and love. This is not control, or moderation, or channeling; destroying that bike was punishment. Someone decided that the kids needed to have a point made, and made it by destroying their stereo.
“We come in peace, they said…
… To dig and sow,
We come to work the lands in common
And to make the waste-grounds grow”.
A picture is resolving out of many, many pixels in the blogosphere and the traditional media. It’s become apparent that the commercial media have been complicit with the forces of authority in a propaganda campaign to convince the world of the culpability of the protesters, not only over Ian Tomlinson’s death but over the outbreaks of violence all around. It is rapidly becoming clear that this was not the case. The six-hour gap between the early outbreaks of vandalism and clashes by the bank, and the vivolent invasion of Climate Camp; the escalation of police actions after the NUJ-carded press had been squeezed out, and the extreme escalation after 1am when really no-one was going to be looking, illustrate well the point of kettling. It’s a tactic designed to rile up the hired men, to divert commercial media attention and to pressure the protests to the point that one can start a fight with pacifists.
The crowd had been getting a bit rowdy by the time the police charged, but it had stayed peaceful and mostly organised. Then we got kettled. I still can’t work out why they wanted to kettle us, because it resulted in five totalled police vans which had been parked outside the side gate. They were vandalised and had their tires let down. The walls of the street which were previously covered on chalk were covered in spray paint. A thousand people trapped in a single street for four hours with six buckets to serve as toilets? The pavement ran with urine.
Culpability is about intent as well as action. The intent on one side of this confrontation was peaceful. The evidence is gathering that the intent on the other side was not.