Thursday, April 02, 2009

the strong arm of the law...,

Guardian | By 12:30, no one was allowed to leave the protest, and no explanation was given. When we asked a policeman why, he said it was simply an order to prevent "a breach of the peace". We said we were journalists trying to cover the protests, but it made no difference. We were stuck.

People were feeling claustrophobic, hungry and aggressive. One woman sat down because she was feeling faint. A few others had just come to see all the fuss, and weren't protesting, but were not allowed to leave either.

It's worth stressing that the police decision to form a cordon and not allow people free movement started becoming a focus point for their annoyance. For a while the chanting was their only form of protest. But we felt like we were in a pressure cooker. By about 1pm, people kept pushing against the police cordon and chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!" A few bits of food and the some paint started getting chucked at the police.

We were at the front line of the police cordon because we wanted to leave, but there was no way to get out. The crowd pushed us forward, the police pushed us back – sometimes quite brutally by using batons against people and hitting some. The police were rattled by the crowd and seemed to have little idea of what their plan or position was – other than to contain us.

With so much anger, other protesters started gathering to see what the fuss was about. When they felt they couldn't leave, they started pushing. The four horses from the protests gathered at the lines ready to charge. They had found a focus point for their anger and started surging forward in waves. When they still couldn't get through, more bottles began to get hurled, gas was released and individuals pushed through more heavily.

Any resentment to do with the financial crisis was now being added to by a sense of injustice towards the police – at one point, it felt the reason we were there had been swallowed altogether. The police, in short, were making things worse.

We've seen this problem time and time again. The police seem confused about their role. They are not there to control the protesters – they are there to manage and safeguard them.


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