For great photographs and the low down on the G20 Summit, Protests and Demonstrations visit www.ravishlondon.com/g20
Protests at the Bank of England
The procession from Moorgate was the first to arrive at the Bank of England. Between twelve and one the remaining three marches arrived.
The Times reported that there were around 4,000 protestors at the Bank of England. I would say that there were nearer 7,000. Once the protestors had gathered on the steps of the Bank of England it wasn’t altogether obvious what was supposed to happen. A few chants were initiated, but by and large those with loudspeakers, had loudspeakers that didn’t work, and were not charismatic or well known or trusted enough to really engage the crowd in any kind of co-ordinated action. At about one o’clock one protestor announced that everyone now needed to go to the EdExcel Centre where the G20 summit was due to be held the following day. But he wasn’t going anywhere because by this time the police had decided to block off all entrances and exits from the Bank of England.
Quite why the police had decided to turn the protest into a ghetto is not clear. Certainly the official reason given by police at the time was that a small crowd, which had broken away from protests, had caused some damage, and that as a response the police drove them as well as everyone else back into the Bank of England, so as to contain the violence and activity. At about one o’clock, as it became clear that police were blocking off access to and exit form the protests, a small stream of young anarchists, dressed in black, made their way up Threadneedle Street, where a game of push and shove with the police ensued. During the push and shove, missiles were thrown at the police, and television footage clearly shows one policeman receiving a hefty hit over the head by a demonstrator armed with a pole. There was a lot of edginess between the police and the protestors, and a number of protestors hurled things at the police. None of the violence can be condoned. However just to reiterate, was this the end of civilization as we knew it, was London drowning in the blood of the bankers and police. No, in terms of the damage done, there have been worse scenes at football matches.
While there was a tussle going on up Threadneedle Street those who were less feisty had settled own in the central area of the Bank of England, which had been turned into a a theatrical ghetto. A variety of entertainment and stunts were being pulled off for the enjoyment of the crowd. Billy Bragg did a few songs. There was a samba band. Several young people were dancing in and around a statue area to a techno trance sound system that had been set up – how many people can say they had a rave at the Bank of England? People dressed up as bankers or as the rich strolled around ironically. Trannies against greed lapped up the photo opportunities.
The piece de resistance of the afternoon had to go to the guy who scaled the columns of the Bank of England, best described by Sister Kaff, who said, “Later on, a hooded scoundrel very skilfully scaled the façade of the Bank of England between the wall and a column, and after some perilous and impressive hanging on by his fingertips and gripping with his thighs, he secured two banners to the top of the Composite columns of the Bank – Stop trading with our futures U morons! Said one banner, and the other one said something like After years of struggle against capitalism, it ends all by itself! I couldn’t read all the second one as he didn’t manage to hang it out taught enough.” The message put up by this human chimpanzee got one of the biggest cheers of the day – this is what people had turned up for – and this is what the majority of the nation feel aggrieved about – the fact that collectively and spearheaded by the bankers – and fueled by our rapacious desire to be home owners – we gambled all our money away on deregulated banking and high risk investments.
It is interesting that all of the news reports, just like this one here, emphasized that the protests were generally peaceful. But that fact was given just a second’s thought before attentions turned to violence, which is always so much more interesting. The ITN News report summed up the day well, “Despite the size of the crowd the main gathering remained good humoured. The faces of those whose job it was to police it reflected that. But it was as the protest was breaking up the atmosphere changed remarkably. The demonstrators discovered the police had blocked all routes out of the City. Soon there was confrontation.” Even the Economist thought so, “Back in the office, we watch coverage of the day. From their headlines and descriptions, you would think full-scale riots had broken out. There were certainly altercations between the police and small groups of protesters but on the whole, it was fairly peaceful.”
Middle East News reported, “Eleven people were arrested for being in possession of police uniforms, a police spokesman told CNN. They had earlier been stopped while riding in an armored personnel carrier near Bishopsgate, close to the Bank of England. A total of 19 people were arrested, polcie said.”
Nevertheless the stories and photos that sell papers are those that stir the emotions, i.e. those that strike fear into the reader. And it is those stories that we will now revel in ourselves.
But first… The Flickr Revolutoin!
Two things became apparent during this protest. The first was that there were more people who were coming to film the revolution than take part in. The second was that if Big Brother if it exists will not be one person controlling everyone else, it will instead be everyone controlling each other through the use of digital cameras.
There were photographers everywhere; the revolution really will be televised. In the procession leaving Moorgate at eleven in the morning there were an equal number of photographers to straight laced demonstrators. The Economist writes of how early on in the day at London Bridge, “There seem to be 20 journalists for every protester. They mill around with enormous cameras, frowning critically into the sun, scouting for shots that are not entirely populated by other journalists (no easy task).”
When I arrived at the Bank of England, I saw what on the face of it looked like the vanguard to a new revolution, all closely packed together under the statue of Wellington and his horse. On closer inspection I realized they were the vanguard of a new set of photographs, they were all photographers trying to gain a vantage point on proceedings. Duncan Campbell noted, writing for the Guardian, “One of the striking aspects of the 1 April demonstration was that, wherever you turned, someone seemed to be pointing a camera. The police were videoing from rooftops and windows, their spotters pointing out suspects. The protesters were cheerfully taking souvenir shots of themselves with mobile phones on the steps of the Bank of England. The media were there in numbers. The local CCTV cameras are also, it appears, always with us.”
The use of cameras was particularly evident on the front line, where the more aggressive and violent of protestors were confronting the police. Both police, but particular protestors were filming every action. Both sides realizing that if they acted out of turn and in a violent manner the moment would be captured on film several times and for perpetuity. And we know now of course that if it wasn’t for members of the public filming, we might never have known the truth behind what happened to Ian Tomlinson, the man who died at the protests, and of whom more will be said later.
It’s true to say that a lot of people had come just as onlookers – like myself it has to be said – voyeurs – wanting to live out our violent fantasies vicariously. Loads of people had come to watch the revolution take place, but not many people had come to make the revolution happen.
And just as there were hundreds of photographers looking for their Flickr moment, so there were tens of people all dressed up, posed on top of statues, wondering if their fifteen minutes of fame was going to be delivered on this day. Later on in the day the Economist comment, “The four Horsemen eventually congregate on the steps of the Royal Exchange, along with a string of policemen and a motley crew of protesters. With the phalanx of journalists thronging around them, it feels more like a giant photo-op than a crowd ready to rampage.” Russel Brand, who appeared at about one o’clock attracted one of the biggest cheers of the day, he functioned as a black hole sucking in a scrum of photographers.
According to the police, the violence began when a small crowd, which had broken away from protests, and was heading towards the west end, had caused some damage. In response the police drove the crowd, as well as all the protestors back towards the Bank of England, to contain the violence and activity.
At about one o’clock, as it became clear that police were blocking off access to and exit form the protests, a small stream of young anarchists, dressed in black, made their way up Threadneedle Street, where a game of push and shove with the police ensued. People climbed on to shop fronts and window ledges to get a better view of what was happening. During the push and shove, missiles were thrown at the police, mainly bottles and barriers, and television footage clearly shows one policeman receiving a hefty hit over the head by a demonstrator armed with a pole. Every now and then you could hear odd glass smash and a cheer.
This was the beginning of a series of violent events, between phalanxes of police officers armed with batons, shields and dogs, and protestors, most of whom had nothing, although some found objects to project. Although I personally did not witness any violence, reviewing the personal accounts left by many people on different websites including the Economist, the Guardian and Indymedia, it transpired that many people felt they had been subject to cruel, violent, bullying and injurious police behaviour.
PeterM leaving a message on the Economist website wrote, “The girl next to me was hit over the head by a baton and was knocked unconscious immediately. Blood was streaming from her head and the police kicked her to get up and continued to do so until people dragged her away, again being attacked by policemen. The blood dripped from her head as she was taken away. This was repeated throughout the day.” A great example of the needless use of physical force, was the case of Ian Tomlinson, more of which will be mentioned later. However, there was also an unreasonable and extremely hateful use of police force and brutality directed at the Climate Camp set up on Bishopsgate, where there were no reports of physical violence directed by the protestors at the police.
Why wasn’t the Royal Bank of Scotland Boarded Up?
Some of the demonstrators smashed the windows in the Royal Bank of Scotland building.
Middle East News reported, “Demonstrators also spray-painted the word "thieves" and the anarchist symbol on the side of the building. The ailing bank has been the target of much anger following reports that its former chief executive was given a multi-million dollar pension payout despite overseeing record losses.”
Sky News questioned why the bank hadn’t boarded up its windows. One viewer of YouTube has claimed, “RBS was left unboarded on purpose. the police were a few metres away but didn’t intervene. also the protestors were channeled down into threadneedle street. this was most likely done to invalidate the protests by being able to say ‘look they trashed a bank’.”
Given that the Royal Bank of Scotland wasn’t protected, and given the undoubted professionalism and effectiveness of the police in all other matters that day, questions have been raised as to whether the bank, the government and the police agreed to leave the bank unprotected, as in some way an enticement to the extreme minority of more violently minded protestors, so as to create a ‘violent event’ and thus providing the police with a justification for creating a ghetto, and humiliating the protestors.
The present of the Royal Bank of Scotland provided by the authorities, the police and the government, for the usual minority element of hooligan minded protestors, also allowed gave the media the opportunity they wanted – to provide an image and story which massaged the erectile tissue of their readers – instead of the bland reality of a largely peaceful protest.
The Ghetto or the Kettle
At about one o’clock the police decided that they were going to keep everyone confined within the Bank of Area. All exits and entrances were blocked off. Photographers with passes were allowed to enter through the cordons into the demonstrations but no-one else was. Apparently this tactic of police officers is called ‘kettling’. It is a good metaphor – because it contains all the excitement in one area – by confining people to one space it also makes people feel nervous, anxious and makes them more prone to using violence. The police know this – they have trained psychologists who can tell them – not that you’d need a psychologist to tell you.
George Monbiot writing for the Guardian said something similar, “The way officers tooled themselves up in riot gear and waded into a peaceful crowd this afternoon makes it look almost as if they were trying to ensure that their predictions came true. Their bosses appear to have failed either to read or to heed the report by the parliamentary committee on human rights last week, about the misuse of police powers against protesters. "Whilst we recognise police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury," the report said, "the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests."”
Louise Christian, also writing for the Guardian, explained that, “Containment tactics were first used over a long period of time on 1 May 2001 when an anti-capitalist protest at Oxford Circus was corralled by the police for seven hours in bad weather and with no access to toilet facilities. Lois Austin, a demonstrator, and Geoffrey Saxby, a passerby caught up in the demo, challenged their false imprisonment in the courts and on 28 January this year, after Saxby dropped out of the action, the House of Lords ruled that the police had behaved lawfully and Austin had no right to compensation. Delivering the leading judgment, Lord Hope said that even in the case of an absolute right the court were entitled to take the "purpose" of the deprivation of liberty into account before deciding if Article 5 was engaged at all.’
A lot of people started becoming exceedingly frustrated at being kept in to what was a temporary ghetto at the heart of the city. Why, everyone was asking, but the police wouldn’t give us a reason. They speculated, guessed, said they didn’t know, but no-one would give an official reason. This arbitrary, unaccountable and unexplained use of force provoked an image of a police chief rubbing his hands, watching the small bulge in his trousers grow, surveying the CCTV aerial images, and thinking to himself, ‘Well you wanted to hold a protest in the Bank of England you’ve got all day to do it now”. We were stuck in this place, and many people wanted to leave. Meanwhile many people wanted to get in but were prevented by the police. At one point an officer told me that the people on the outside of the demonstration were people who had originally been inside but had since decided that they had wanted to get back in. The police are usually quite genuine people and when they try and lie its as bad as when they try and crack a joke.
Wandering around the ghetto, a sense of panic set in, what would people do without food or water, and where would they go to the toilet. For men its OK, you can have a piss wherever, but what about the dignity of women. Apparently we were all to be denied what we thought were our basic human rights of freedom to move and associate, either for no reason at all, or because a handful of young people had smashed a few windows. There was nowhere to buy and food or drink from and few toilet facilities. There was evidence of a few portaloos in some videos I have seen since, but no way near enough for four thousand people. Men took to urinating against the walls in Cornhill, releasing a sea of piss which covered the pavements and spilled into the gutter. Super Kaff wrote, “As the news that we were imprisoned sank in and spread around the square, the festive atmosphere deflated to a hum of irritation and frustration. More and more people sat down and started chatting, playing cards, reading papers, dozing, twiddling fingers.” The Economist reported, “One man pleads to be let through because he is diabetic and has no food or insulin with him. The officers are unyielding. It is an “absolute cordon” and no one is going anywhere. Scrabbling around in our bags and appealing to the crowd, we manage to scrounge together a banana and a chocolate bar but he is shaky.” It wasn’t an absolute cordon though – two of my colleagues were able to escape through it at some point – and at another point I saw someone with a press pass allowed through. I asked the policeman why certain people were allowed through a second after the guy was allowed to pass through. The policeman said no-one was allowed through, to which I replied I had just seen someone pass through as had he, to which he replied he didn’t know why. The police seem to either have developed the habit of or be trained in a complete inability to treat the public with respect in dialogue with them. In this case the policeman lied to me and then decided to feign ignorance.
For a few hours I was sat in the garden outside the Bank of England, feeling quite sick about being cooped up. I spoke to a girl, who had been drinking a bottle of brandy, who told me she had been to quite a few of these events, and we could expect to be here until ten o’clock. I was going a bit insane. We were momentarily living inside a Ghetto. I started thinking about what life must have been like for the Jews in the ghettos in Germany. Obviously the two hardly compare but I couldn’t help but feel degraded and angry for being treated by the police in this way. The police will of course say that they didn’t have the resources to deal with several hundred breakaway groups causing violence all over the city, so they resorted to containing everyone within one area. I don’t buy that argument, if several hundred groups want to break away and cause violence at multiple sites they can do it just as well at nine o’clock at night as they can at two in the afternoon. The only thing I would say, is that by nine o’clock they’re going to be feeling a lot more tired and drained. One thing I’ve learned is bring a packed lunch and a bottle to piss in.
After a while I suggested to my friend that we walk around the perimeter of the streets and protests, just to see what was going on at the different sites. At one point at the end of the street, the police line, if it had ever been there, seemed to have cleared away, it was about four o’clock. We started walking down the street, the street ended in a very narrow alleyway, which people seemed to be walking down in quite a happy carefree way. They weren’t protestors! We chose to walk down the alleyway and found ourselves coming face to face with another police line, but at this point, as was confirmed by the police, we were on the outside rather than the inside of the protest. As we walked away, we could see hundreds of people still waiting against the police lines either waiting to go in or come out, and I wondered for how much longer they would be waiting not knowing of the secret exit we had found. As I entered London unrestrained, a wonderful sense of freedom overcame me, as I could now move where I wanted.
It seemed like a similar protestor, Sister Kaff, had the same experience, she wrote, “A moment later, I passed a large, recently built boom-before-bust building, conceived of curves and stripes of dark pink and sandy stones. At its base was a pedestrian underpass, the entry was dark as Hades but with a flash of promising daylight at its other end. A diverse range of people were going in and coming out, and looking quite unperturbed, so Bunty and I went in. On either side of the dark and curvy corridor, were shops full of extravagantly vulgar things one would only buy with loads of money and no breeding or taste. But right now being a cultural bitch didn’t interest me, I sauntered nonchalantly past two nervous, fluorescent policemen, and out into the daylight of Poultry. My heart soared as off to my left, to the west, the road was clear, all the way into the distance, I was looking at my freedom and could have cried out with the elation of release. It was fantastic, and we stood a chance of getting our train! All the same, the road was lined with police vans full of large policemen (I hope they opened their windows from time to time) so I saved the victory fist until the end of the road.”
On April 7th Paul Lewis of the Guardian reported that the cordon was still in place at seven o’clock, which is quite amazing given that I had found a route out at about four o’clock. Lewis said, “The main protests of the day had ebbed away but hundreds of people were still penned inside a police cordon near the Bank of England around 7pm.”
For great photographs and the low down on the G20 Summit, Protests and Demonstrations visit www.ravishlondon.com/g20
Posted by G20London2009 on 2009-04-09 04:52:14
Tagged: , G20 Summit , G20 Demonstrations , G20 Protests , G20 , April Fools Day , April Financial Fools Day