I’ve just been reading up on the controversy surrounding the use of police horses during the demo by school and sixth form students on Wednesday (and incidentally, I got very confused when the police spokesperson on the radio started talking about the horses chasing “at a Trot” and then slowing to a walk).
I didn’t see much of the demo during the day, but as night fell and I started seeing disturbing tweets from students ‘kettled’ on Whitehall, I went out to see what was going on. There were police officers standing guard, keeping passers-by away, at the end of Parliament Street, including some on horses. Further behind them was a wall of police officers, in riot gear, keeping the protestors in. And there were police vans on standby in Parliament Square and inside the Palace of Westminster grounds, and a helicopter flying overhead.
At one point about 8 police officers on horseback came to where I was standing, lined up in four rows of two with their backs to the protestors, and looked as if they were about to charge (but in what would have been completely the wrong direction). And then they gave up and aimlessly wandered off towards Westminster Bridge. I really don’t see why it’s acceptable, or even advisable, to use horses in such circumstances, or to use police horses at all. Ok, it gives the rider a vantage point, to survey the crowd from up on high, but the suspicion has to be that the horse is primarily there to intimidate, to charge at, to scare the protestors, and I don’t think animals should be used in such a way. Not to mention the fact some in the crowd were genuinely terrified when the horses came at them, and could have been seriously injured.
After I’d been outside – and it really was freezing that night – for about half an hour, trying to get some information from the police officers, but being told they knew nothing about when people would be released, they started letting a few girls out, two or three at a time. I spoke to several of them, who’d had been in Whitehall since 11am, and had been ‘kettled” since mid-afternoon. They said they’d been absolutely frozen, and everyone had thrown every last bit of paper they had on the fire that had been started in Whitehall, to try to keep warm. Some of them were upset they’d been separated from their male friends, and their phone batteries had long since died so they couldn’t make contact. One girl accused the police of planting an empty police van in the middle of Whitehall as a decoy, so they could “kettle” the protestors while they were distracted. That seems to be the common view, from what I’ve read since, and we’ve all seen TV coverage of the van being smashed up and the iconic photos of the young women forming a chain around it to try to stop any further vandalism.
Ok, so there were obviously a few idiots amongst the protestors. As I walked home along Whitehall much later that night I saw graffiti on the Treasury, “Less cuts, more sluts!” which probably isn’t the way to convince people students are a deserving cause. But the young women I spoke to (all between 15 to 18 years old) were intelligent, articulate, and above all, angry. Angry at their betrayal by the Lib Dems over fees, angry at the scrapping of EMAs, angry at being kept prisoner by the police for hours on end on a bitterly cold dark night, and angry that the Government was treating young people, exercising their democratic right to protest, like criminals. As one young woman said to me, “They’re doing this to try to break us. But it won’t work. It will just make us more determined. We’re not going to give up.”
For an account of being inside the kettle, check out Conor Pope on Labour List.
Interesting what he says about the music, but that’s for another blog post!