Open Letter to Met Police Liaison Team, by Rebecca
The Met police liaison team recently contacted me after organising the Thatcher funeral back-turning protest, asking me if I’d like to come to a seminar to discuss police liaison with protesters. This is my response:
Dear XXX – I am so sorry I never replied to your email inviting me to discuss the role of police liaison for protests. Of course I remember you and your role as police liaison during the Thatcher funeral.
Thank you for your invitation, but I would have found it problematic to attend a seminar anyway, due to my work and childcare commitments. However, please feed the below into any discussions you have.
There will always be huge problems and issues with people liaising with police about demonstrations they wish to hold or attend. We have the right to protest in this country, have a proud tradition of it, it is a vital part of our democracy, and it is protected by legislation, including the human rights act. There is absolutely no need to liaise with the police about protests, as we should just simply get on and do it! The police should have no role in protests, and should only prevent law breaking (including corporate law breaking and neglected and under resourced areas such as wildlife crime).
I have never sought permission from or liaised with the police over the many protests I have been involved with. However I felt I had no option but to liaise with the police over the Thatcher funeral due to the media hysteria and the inaccurate reporting of a ban on protests. Also the recent history of the Met’s policing of protests shows an intolerance of peaceful protest, with the police actively working to make sure that protests are disrupted and not allowed to happen, with such indiscriminate policies such as ‘kettling’. Similarly the police often seek to render protests ineffective by forcing protesters into ‘designated protest areas’.
Also the Met’s decades long infiltration of peaceful protest movements with undercover police, the resulting miscarriage of justices, the devastating impacts on individuals’ lives this has had, and the Met’s subsequent and continued failure to confirm the existence of these spies, and attempts to strike out resulting legal actions have completely reinforced feelings that the police are not neutral, but are simply there to undermine and prevent protests – even if it involves breaking the law and causing serious harm to individuals.
Similarly the evidence of the role of the police in colluding with the illegal blacklisting of workers by companies again reinforces the view the police are not neutral, but actively take sides. Hillsborough also demonstrates how the police will institutionally lie and cover up their wrong doing. To use a current example, the violent policing of peaceful environmental protests by Greater Manchester Police at Barton Moss shows how far the police will go to protect corporate interests – by pushing over elderly residents, beating up a disabled man and smashing in a woman’s teeth in the back of a police van, to give a few recent examples.
So, the police have understandably been seen by the public as anti-protest and anti-democratic. Why on earth would anyone wish to inform the police of their protest plans, only for the police then to use this information to sabotage them?
My circumstances with the Thatcher funeral were that I needed to seek reassurance from the police they would not ‘kettle’ a peaceful, symbolic back-turning protest I wanted to publicise as I had child care responsibilities later that day. I felt so strongly about the state funeral of such a loathsome figure as Thatcher, I wished to make some kind of protest, but needed to assess and mitigate the risks to myself and my children. I knew there were many others in a similar situation.
I wasn’t seeking the police’s ‘help’, but was asking directly if the police would respond aggressively to an important protest. I resented the fact that I had to seek reassurance from the police that I would be able to do something I should have been able to do anyway. All my experience should demonstrate to you (the police) is not that I was a ‘good protester’ and a model of how protests can be facilitated in the future, but it shows the low expectations people have of the police’s respect for the right to protest, and the public’s justified suspicions that the police are there simply to undermine any protests, and the role of the PLO is to simply gather intelligence.
I was also worried about the possibly violent reaction of some of the supporters of Thatcher, and asked for a separate protest area. The police were unwilling to facilitate this for reasons that were never clear, preferring instead to create a potentially volatile situation where protesters mixed with mourners. My feeling afterwards was that the Met would not arrange a separate protest area simply because they wished to prevent those protesting from achieving a clearly visible presence for the media – yet again undermining our effectiveness and underlining the Met’s lack of neutrality.
So, I am of the opinion that there will never be a use for ‘police liaison’ at protests whilst the police continue to undermine protests, and there is a complete lack of trust between those who wish to create a better world, and the police who are there to maintain the injustices we protest about.
I hope the above is helpful for you to understand why there is a complete lack of interest in cooperation between protest movements and police liaison teams. Of course I am not speaking on behalf of anyone, and this is my own personal view, and others may feel differently.