Police forces are big fans of peaceful protests. That is, protests that are led by organisers who do what they’re told, who stick to a pre agreed route and work with police liaison officers to identify those engaging in behaviour deemed unacceptable by the state. Needless to say the police version of protests are only effective to a certain degree. As seen by the recent People’s Assembly march these kinds of demonstrations are good at bringing together lefties of varying stripes to momentarily stop traffic and listen to speeches. A good outlet for popular outrage against the state’s austerity politics but otherwise not much use.
Such occasions are heavily policed, mainly for reasons of crowd management rather than the expectation of serious disorder breaking out. This means that any anarchist or radical presence is quickly identified and monitored. This was seen at the People’s Assembly demonstration when the breakaway ‘no jobs bloc’ were quickly surrounded by a rolling kettle of cops which prevented any opportunity for radical direct action. Likewise in Trafalgar Square around 20 arrests were made for the use of smoke flares.
It is clear that a mass rejection of police facilitation tactics is needed, during our own demonstrations and within larger left marches. This can be done in a number of ways. Police constables have a limited understanding of the law. The first legal test a police officer is required to take is a multiple choice test – taken to become a police sergeant. This means that often police officers act unlawfully in attempting to arrest, detain or otherwise control demonstrators and rely on their position of authority to hide their unlawful behaviour. Therefore, when directed to do something by a police officer, it is important to challenge the legal power they are acting under. This might make the cop back down, but it also gives fellow demonstrators the impetus and the method to challenge cops themselves. Eroding the authority of police officers is a good step in creating unfacilitated protests.
Police surveillance and intelligence gathering is also something that should be challenged. The police maintain huge databases on activists, recording details or protests and actions attended, clothing, hair colour and associations. The Network for Police Monitoring encourages demonstrators to wear facial coverings to protect their privacy and to hinder intelligence gathering. If the police don’t know who key organisers are it makes it more difficult to disrupt campaigns and actions. In recent years police liaison officers have insinuated themselves into demonstrations in order to collect intelligence on protesters. We should look to enforcing a cop free zone within our marches to defend against intelligence gathering.
Of course, it is much more difficult to challenge the laws and powers under which the police act when you don’t know the laws yourself. It is a good idea to attend a Know Your Rights workshop, run regularly by legal defence groups Green and Black Cross and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group, to learn and keep up to date on police tactics and powers. On protests there often will be legal observers in orange bibs – there to record arrests, police actions and to answer legal question you might have. Additionally GBC run a weekly legal drop in at Freedom Bookshop every Wednesday from 12 to 6pm. If you’ve been arrested, hassled by cops or are organising an action you can drop by to discuss any issues and question you might have.
Unfacilitated protests should be the aim of all radical groups and campaigns and have been used effectively by groups such as Sisters Uncut at the première of the movie Suffragette or the Antifascist Network in their repeated actions against the far right across the UK. However it is not enough just to know your rights, mask up and challenge police authority. We also need to look after each other, both in protests, organising meetings are our social events to foster a culture of trust and mutual solidarity that will protect ourselves from police facilitation and harrassment.