Wednesday, December 15, 2010

plots and kettles

The protests by students et al. over the tuition fees were never going to achieve anything other than making the public and the authorities aware that many passionately disagreed with the government’s action. In itself, a worthwhile achievement and their voice should be heard. The problem with passion is that it is exhibited in different ways, by most through spoken, shouted or written words and by their visibility on protest marches, whilst by others, either pro-actively or reactively, through violent attacks on persons or property.

It is tempting to believe that the throwing of bricks at police, the smashing of windows and the forceful charging into riot shields are carried out solely by political agitators who are not really students at all. But it wouldn’t be true and there are genuine students who love the sound of breaking glass, the dare of defiling statues and monuments, the confrontation with uniformed authority. Some are self-motivated towards violence or get so caught up in the passions of the moment that the group psychology takes over and, in a red mist of detachment from their reason, they end up doing atypical but incredibly stupid and dangerous things, like throwing a fire extinguisher down from the roof of a building on to an area densely populated by police. This coupled with the abuse and obscenities screamed at any kind of authority presents to the country a distorted view of students and reinforces the view of a great many of the population that those wanting higher education are either not worthy of it or should pay substantially towards its cost. In a lot of ways students do themselves no favours.

But it is wrong to place all the protesters in the same category, and it is the responsibility of the police to discriminate between those who show evidence of criminal activity and those who do not. That is their job. It may not be easy but there is no justification for harsh retaliatory actions against anyone who they have no grounds to suspect are committing crimes or about to. Violent disorder must be dealt with very firmly, and by using whatever force is reasonable to bring it to a quick end. The perpetrators of violence, and those encouraging them, must be identified and arrested. But those who remain peaceful should not suffer punishment too. Video clips of police pushing teenage girls so forcefully that they go to ground, using batons on those in the front line who are pushed against them, and dragging a man from his wheelchair are deeply disturbing. We want police to have authority but not arbitrary and unjustifiable power.

Which brings us to kettling. The containment of people (innocent and guilty) in an area, depriving them of exit, access to water, food and toilets for several hours. The idea is to make it easier for police to prevent criminal offending and to halt the movement of the protest to areas where it would be more difficult to monitor, contain and respond to.

Such action is a violation of police responsibility; a catch-all attempt at a solution to a problem they not only can’t solve but exacerbate by the kettling itself. There will be potentially violent people amongst the kettlees so punishing the innocent is justified, or so they irrationally think and argue. But it is detention without conviction, charge, or arrest and caution, just as it would be if the containment were at a police station rather than on the streets. They have invented the right to do it and they know they can get away with it as our politicians are not inclined to interfere.

There have been legal challenges to kettling in the past, on the grounds that it breaches human rights, which have failed. There will be more, enabling lawyers and senior judges to spend many a lucrative hour sifting through the wording of Articles 5, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and engaging in highly intellectual semantic debates. Actually Article 5 is very clear that there is a right to Liberty subject to certain exceptions which clearly do not include people peacefully marching along a street. So that settles it; well no it is never that simple. The wigs and gowns will not want such a quick and easy end to the game they play. Bogged down by their knowledge and skill of interpretation of the words, they will entirely miss the point.

Stopping innocent people from going home or to work, stopping them from using a toilet or buying a bottle of water, stopping them from getting warmth and shelter, even denying them an answer to their requests to be released, and making threats towards them if they don’t do exactly as instructed, are so obviously breaches of their human rights that it is remarkable anybody can question it. Laws should reflect what reasonable members of the public regard as the rules by which we want to live. Laws are for protection of the people and if any law has allowed kettling to take place then it is not a law we want, and we should get rid of it. Better still, police actions should be ruled by fairness, common sense and justice rather than by the semantics of European human rights legislation. In the end the practice will be deemed unlawful, it has to be, but in the meantime kettling will continue and the final outcome may be a chilling one.



At December 15, 2010 9:24 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite agree. Callous tactics such as kettling are doing a great deal to alienate ordinary citizens from the police, and vice-versa.

At January 11, 2011 9:01 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I am a student and attended the protests over student fees and did so peacefully. Fortunately I did not end up in a "kettling" situation but I would have seriously resented it if I had. A government that cripples it's students with debt and removes much needed funding to education and then unlawfully allows it's police force to contain people who disagree with their actions without charge is completely mad and something must be done.


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