Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Shame of the Metropolitan Police

In the early hours of yesterday morning, fifty Metropolitan Police officers dismantled and removed placards and banners that were being displayed by long time peace campaigner Brian Haw. This man has been camped out in Parliament Square for years protesting at sanctions and war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has never harmed anyone or used any violence. By carrying out this operation in darkness they obviously intended to avoid it being seen by many people. But several brave souls climbed on top of the sea container being used to throw everything into, and delayed the operation until daybreak so it was seen by many people and media. More reporting and pictures at Indymedia

Apart from being a blatant attack on the basic right to assembly and expression, it is hard to imagine how this can be a valid use of police resources. Jenny Jones, one of the Green GLA members, has demanded to be told how much this operation cost and how it can be justified when there is real crime (i.e. with victims) being committed. There may have been someone being mugged or raped while these police were wasting time repressing peaceful protest to spare Tony Blair's embarassment.

And I'm sorry, but the usual 'just doing their job' arguments aren't good enough. No one was at risk. No one was being harmed. The police have a choice which laws to enforce when, where to put their resources, for the general public good. This wasn't some spur of the moment decision where a finely balanced judgement had to be made between free speech and public safety. It was well planned and the objective was clear. Someone simply made a decision that this demonstration would no longer be tolerated. That there are limits on expression, and this man has now used up his quota of free speech. What a total disgrace. Only a few weeks ago Tony Blair had the nerve to say how wonderful it was that people could demonstrate and voice their opposition. Presumably he meant only until it irritated him too much and reminded him too much of his legacy that he is trying so desperately to rewrite.

A very sad day for our 'democracy', and I fear just the beginning of worse to come.