The state continues to use violence and intimidation against protesters, minorities and the working class. Mitch Mitchell looks at how our rights to demonstrate have been undermined – and what we can do to defend them.
There is no doubt the so called “war on terror” has been a gift to the ruling classes. They are now able to clamp down with increasing ferocity on demonstrations, even when they are ostensibly peaceful both in intent and deed.
Legislation which was brought in to curb the excesses of football hooligans is now being used against people legally demonstrating. We have seen the Public Order Act 1986 used against students with charges of “violent disorder” being levelled against them. This carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
There has also been increased use of tactics such as kettling and baton charges. Some politicians are even calling for water cannons and rubber bullets to be used on demonstrators.
Alfie Meadows and Zak King, two students caught up in the demonstrations of late 2010, were charged with violent disorder. On the 9 December 2010 protest, Alfie was struck so violently by a police baton that he had to have life-saving surgery. After three court appearances (one where the jury failed to reach a verdict, one which was aborted due to illness) both were found not guilty by a jury who accepted that on the day their actions amounted to self-defence.
Defend the Right to Protest had advised 19 students arrested to plead not guilty. Of these 18 were subsequently found not guilty. Leaving aside the other issues, what a waste of public money this is at a time when we are being told there is none!
It is not just in the UK where the state has become more and more draconian. In the USA, the Occupy movement demonstrated in various cities and often met violent attacks from the police and civil authorities. The recent murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida shows us that racism is still alive and thriving within the US legal system. All across Europe there has been a shift by governments to clamp down on those they see as potential trouble.
We have also seen that since 1990, some 1,492 people have died in police custody – and yet not one police officer has been held to account. This is despite coroner courts finding verdicts of unlawful killing in many cases, the most notable recently being that of Ian Tomlinson, the paper seller who was killed by PC Simon Harwood at the 2009 G8 protests in London.
On top of this the cuts in public services, which were started by Labour and carried on with even more venom by the coalition, have become a gravy train for private outfits such as G4S, Serco, Capita etc. G4S guards were shown at a recent inquest to be culpable in the death of “failed asylum seeker” Jimmy Mubenga. He died at their hands whilst being put on a plane to return him to Angola.
The recent changes in legal aid, together with the proposed further cuts, will mean that the companies like G4S plus, bizarrely, the Eddie Stobart trucking firm, would be able to tender for work. Legal representation for the poor will be the cheapest possible. It could lead to the situation where someone is represented by a G4S lawyer, driven to prison in a G4S van and serves their time in a jail run by G4S.
Another aspect which has come to light is the issue of police lying and changing statements to suit their side of a given situation. This has been highlighted by the persistence of campaigns such as the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and groups connected to the Orgreave miners. In both cases, the Thatcher government of the day ordered a cover-up and in both cases the police have been exposed as liars.
There are countless other examples where we, the people, have been the victims of state violence, lies and pressure. It is therefore imperative that we, as socialists, stand firmly and resolutely against them.
Campaigning forced a climbdown recently when the Department of Health tried to force cuts on Lewisham hospital. I was involved some years ago in a concerted campaign to stop Balfour Beatty and other companies from building the Ilisu Dam in Turkey which would have displaced up to 20,000 Kurds from their homes and destroyed valuable archaeological sites. We won that campaign.
So don’t be intimidated. Stand firm when racists like the EDL or BNP come to your area. Where there is an obvious injustice, stand against it. As the saying goes: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Solidarity, comrades!