Sunday, March 22, 2009
Bloodying the G20 protests posted by Richard SeymourThe Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that Britain is in danger of "serious social unrest", according to the Telegraph. It is a "moderate risk", but it is one that the sentinels of capital are apparently taking rather seriously. For example, it would be hard to miss the spate of increasingly hysterical stories, some based on alarmist interviews with police eager for overtime, about the upcoming G20 protests, particularly those planned for 1st April (rather than the main demonstration on Saturday 28th). Almost all of these are prefaced by some statement in the passive voice such as "violence is feared, as delegates gather...". Just as with the G8 protests, the media envisions rivers of blood. Alongside the usual banalities about 'the majority of peaceful protesters' vs 'a small minority of extremists', these stories feature quotes from activists and websites that promise a revolutionary situation, that compare 2009 to 1649, that urge young insurgents to "storm" the banks and hotels, and so on. According to yesterday's Independent, such chaos could be brought about by as few as 2000 people. All of this hot gossip, the police attribute to "anarchists". It is difficult not to laugh at such silliness.
A great deal of this scary material is apparently coming from one website, G-20 Meltdown. This website is described as an "umbrella group" for protesters, supposedly representing 67 different protest groups, although there is nothing on the website to show that this is so. The only indication that it might be is a list of organisations supporting the protests, but a disclaimer at the bottom of the list rectifies a previous 'error' which implied that these organisations were supporters of G-20 Meltdown. (This error has lead to some statements in newspapers implying that the Stop the War Coalition among others are in some sense affiliated to G-20 Meltdown, which I don't think they are). And far from being run by hotheaded anarchists, the website is run by Camilla Power, an anthropologist based at the University of East London, a trade unionist,
This would appear to be one of the objectives behind these scare stories, the others being to obtain overtime for coppers, and frighten would-be protesters and deter them from turning out. Yesterday, The Guardian revealed that the officers who had severely beaten the shit out of Babar Ahmad at his home, punching, booting, throttling and humiliating him, also had dozens of previous complaints of brutality on their records, disproportionately against people from ethnic minorities. At the end of the story it mentions that the Territorial Support Group, the police department that conducted the arrest and assault, will be "on the frontline" at the G20 protests, as they have been in other protests where the police have behaved violently. They don't just have batons, incidentally. If the problem is deemed severe enough, they have tasers, tear gas, and pistols (just the thing to destroy-the-brain-instantly-utterly). I bet you look forward to meeting those guys up close. At any rate, the police's strategy will almost certainly be to provoke a disturbance sufficient to justify locking down segments of the city, beating protesters and enforcing mass arrests. In other areas, it will be to isolate and corner small groups of protesters and then lay into them. They may not succeed in doing this, but the bloody yarns appearing in the papers are intended to prepare the public for that violence, and to encourage them to blame the protesters.
If you do intend on going to the April fool's day protests - and you shouldn't let yourself be intimidated - you might like to take a camera to record any attempted provocation or brutality (and also to record the successes, the scale, and the temper of the protests). Be advised, however, that it is now illegal to take pictures of police engaged in "counter-terrorism" activities. Given how broad the legal definition of terrorism is, and given how many protests have been attacked under the rubric of anti-terrorism, this is de facto a law against filming or photographing demonstrations where police are present. Again, don't be intimidated: loads of people will be filming and taking pictures. The law does give the police the right to detain you on spurious grounds, but the police already had the right to detain you on plenty of spurious grounds before. The point is that if you do capture anything interesting, you'd do well to avoid being spotted by the police. The gathering of such empirical data is of great value in undermining the inevitable horror tales should the police succeed in their aims.