Thursday, 16 December 2010

King's students eyewitness accounts of Day X- Demonstration against the rise in tuition fees.

  Over 200 students joined thousands of demonstrators on the 9th of December, the day MPs voted to treble tuition fees by a narrow majority of 21 votes. We marched on parliament to voice our opposition to the government raising the fees and slashing education budgets. We were faced with heavy police repression. Three students from King's have written their account of the protests:

1. « Police surrounded us in their thousands. We chanted, determined to get our voices heard in the not so democratic Parliament, shook our signs and protested loudly but peacefully. »

For us it started at the Strand, where King’s and LSE students rallied and waited for others to join us for the march, the mood was hopeful and the police relatively few in number. We unfolded our ‘Our Austerity, Their Prosperity’ KCL Occupation banner and set off; the confusion started almost immediately when we got to Waterloo Bridge, as some considered alternate routes for fear of being kettled and thus prevented from exercising our right to demonstrate. We marched onto Trafalgar square and were greeted by the sight of Northumberland Avenue totally blocked off by riot police and horses, the two arches to The Mall were our only option. For me at least the fear of running straight into a kettle or people getting crushed in trying to get through a relatively small area was starting to set in, but defiance and anger were the stronger emotions of the day. Again chaos, fear, uncertainty as the crowd started to run, the police started to run, we got to Parliament square. The fences that the government had put up months previously to prevent other peaceful demonstrations in Parliament Square quickly got broken down. Police surrounded us in their thousands. We chanted, determined to get our voices heard in the not so democratic Parliament, shook our signs and protested loudly but peacefully.

A boy of no older than 16 was literally snatched from the crowd, 4 policeman breaking their line to literally swallow him up in their sea of blue. Apparently his crime was covering his face, no more so than the police who had done the same with balaclavas underneath their riot hats. We tried to calm his worried and equally young friend, giving him a bust card and ringing the lawyer for him, questions we asked the police were greeted with hostility and ambivalence. Our determined mood started to wane as the cold settled in and the only possible action there seemed to be was starting fires or fights with the police. So we again unfurled our banner and started chants with a megaphone. The police too had megaphones, and told the crowd ‘This is not a containment area, you are free to leave’, one of our group tried to leave and was pointed to the opposite corner as the place where this was permitted; he went there and was told to go to the other corner, and the other. It was too cold to keep track of time but it must have been about 3 or 4pm when we were well and truly kettled. We congregated near the tube station where people were trying to get out, there were surges, violence, journalists. In the crowd we thought we’d lost some of our group, I panicked as I thought my friends might have been hurt. The crowd chanted ‘Shame on you’ and ‘Your jobs next’ to the police as office workers and suspected Tories watched from the windows of the buildings surrounding us. We linked arms to prevent us from falling as the police pushed us back. We got out; found our friends, swapped injuries and heard the news that the vote had passed.

With renewed anger we chanted and as the cold and the dark had firmly set in we started to consider ways we might leave. We headed to the corner by Westminster Abbey where somewhat bizarrely, and ever so British-ly an incredibly orderly, long snaking queue emerged as there were rumours police were letting people out. However within about 10 minutes it became apparent this was not the case so we walked a bit closer and waited for perhaps an hour before giving up. I informed the police guarding the Abbey that this was against our human rights and was (unsurprisingly) met with sarcasm and derision. We used our banner as a blanket as we sat in a circle, eating the food we had left, the odd line from kum by yah was sung. Onto the next corner, more rumours we might be let out. We talked to the police guarding the line to the Houses of Parliament, not an entirely un-hostile conversation. The van from one of the previous protests was mentioned, a cheeky smile spread across all of the officers, one shorter copper made a poor ‘their VANdals’ joke. They said they were just doing what they were told, we told them we needed to pee, we told them our friend had been hurt, they told us their colleague too. They said it was our fault for going off our route, we said we’d had no choice as all other routes were blocked.

Finally it seemed we might, actually, genuinely, surely this time be able to leave over Westminster Bridge, we cheered and chanted ‘We’re coming home’, a cheer that we laughed at looking back, shivering on Westminster Bridge and still trapped by the Police two hours later. Some people joked that keeping us on the bridge was a conspiracy and they would bomb the bridge, the three 15-16 year old girls standing next to us were genuinely scared that this might be true. They didn’t know that as minors they should have been allowed to leave hours ago. We were utterly surrounded by police, in the air, in the water, behind us, in front of us. Finally some time after 11pm we could leave one by one, with police cameras taking pictures of us as we left and orders being barked at us, we were free. I repeat the question I raised as we were finally allowed to leave, who polices the police? My friend had earlier in the day asked for a policeman’s number, to which he merely replied, ‘I’m an inspector’ as if those three words could absolve him of the law.

2. « I really think the tactic of kettling of thousands of students for hours at a time is indiscriminate, unjust and needs to go. »

At about five o'clock, protestors actually kettled the police line near Westminster tube station.  The police line blocking off Parliament Street was allowing people to enter but not leave. Everyone was tired, freezing cold and a lot of people were trying to talk their way out of the kettle, to no avail. A large group of protestors, led by a SOAS banner, came from behind the police line and managed completely non-violently to force a human wedge between the police line and the corner of the treasury building, allowing people to escape the original kettle. These protestors really were fucking heroes, they risked serious injury entirely for the benefit of those stuck in the kettle. The police, numbering about 40 officers, were completely surrounded but for the two or three vans at their backs. A chant of "We have you surrounded, lay down your weapons" came from the crowd. At this point, a few officers clearly panicked and began lashing out wildly at the crowd. I saw two officers, without reason, repeatedly strike a student about the chest. This student was one of those who had led the human wedge, he had his hands raised above his head and was trying desperately to reason with the officers who reacted with violence and anger. Another officer deliberately stepped out of the line and struck a woman simply holding a placard (bearing the line 'No police brutality to women and children'), she fell to the floor screaming and clutching her arm. The officers involved were not Territorial Support Group officers and I think they lost their cool and completely overreacted. Unsurprisingly, they did not enjoy being kettled. I really think the tactic of kettling of thousands of students for hours at a time is indiscriminate, unjust and needs to go.

3. « I myself required to go to hospital and recieve stitches after being wounded on the head by, ironically, a police medic, whom i have also identified, but have yet to get an angle with his badge number. »

On 9/12/2010 i marched along with tens of thousands of students hoping to protest outside the houses of Parliament against the forthcoming cuts to education. The first act of violence of any kind i witnessed occured when there was confusion over which route the march was taking, with some students believeing we were supposed to cross the river (if i remember rightly at Waterloo Bridge). As people began to move towards the bridge the police became extremely aggressive, unreasanoble and confrontational. As my friend walked along the bridge a police officer came out of nowhere and needlessly rugby tackled him to the ground, luckily he didnt hit his head on the concrete. The same officer then ripped the banner we were carrying from me and would not give it back to me, nor explain why he had taken it from me, he continued to aggressively shout and shove me when i was simply trying to ask why he had taken a small fabric banner from me.

The march then recoconstituted itself, in no way with police assistance, and continued towards the meeting point at trafalgar sq. The police remained at the roads they had chosen to form lines in front of, to give the march a single route to proceed down, and there was no signs of aggression from protestors as most police officers, kept their distance as we chatted to other protestors, reporters photographers, and in my case a couple of police officers milling round in front of protestors. The mood was anything but violent, anything but aggressive.

The next instances of violence began when the march came to a halt in front of a line of police and police vans outside parliament, as i have seen on the past demonstrations this is when confrontation usually occurs, a peaceful demonstration becomes squashed, uncomfortable, and faced with unreasanoble circumstances becomes far more frustrated and unreasanoble. Some protestors tried to reason with police to allow us to march further, or to allow us to fan out onto the grass, they didn't seem to get any sort of response After around 20-30 minutes some protestors began throwing eggs and the thin wood used on placards at the police vans in front of them. Others began to remove the fencing seperating the road we were penned into from the grass in front of Parliament, eventually leading to the crowd jubilantly spilling onto the grass square.

What was generated now was a party atmosphere, music, dancing and chanting, as well as people being cheered on as they climbed lamposts and waved banners from them. I dont know when or how the erruptions of violence between police and protestors started in the corner near parliament, but as they did people began passing their hardhats to the front of the condensed lines of protestors as people were getting injured by baton strikes. Some people also uprooted fencing to "put in front of the police lines to stop people being hit". Later there was a sudden surge to the right corner towards victoria street, i made my way there hoping to find leave and find a toilet and food and maybe return. When i got there the mood was chaotic, police were hitting people in the front lines indiscriminantley with truncheons, people were unable to move back through the crowd which was becoming fuller and more squashed all the time. There were fireworks being set off by some protestors as well as sticks and placards being thrown.

One of the most disturbing images was seeing a few police officers who were clearly relishing the chance to beat defenceless students, many of them young women, with batons. One officer's actions, who i have identified through a video uploaded on Youtube, prompted the crowd to chant 'stop smiling' he continued to grin through bared teeth as he continued to beat people over the heads with batons and kick them if they went on the floor. There are numerous videos of this officer kneeing, kicking and striking the crowd, even as they backed off, whilst most other officers used their shields to hold the engorged crowd from moving forward.

It is wholly illogical to attack viciously those at the front, who are being pushed by those at the back, and obviously not throwing missiles, yet this seemed to be the police tactic.

I myself required to go to hospital and recieve stitches after being wounded on the head by, ironically, a police medic, whom i have also identified, but have yet to get an angle with his badge number The strike was not sufficent to knock me out so i asked him why he was acting this way when he was supposed to be a medic, he laughed and said "hurts doesn't it! and hit someone else with his baton" someone standing immediately behind me then told me i was bleeding heavily from the head and i gradually forced my way through the crowd, and many people moved as best they could out of my way when they saw i was injured.

It then took my around half an hour to find a police medic, who thankfully bandaged me head, he then pointed me in the direction of an ambulance (which it turned out was non existent) and i found a small van type one about 20 minutes later. The paramedic then drove me to hospital where after being in the waiting room for 5 minutes more protestors poured in, from the same area in the square that I was in, one female the other 5 male. Most had head injuries, one had been knocked unconcious, all sustained by police batons.

1 comment:

  1. This scene is too shocked, government incompetence, the masses have many rights and many wvw engineer build to produce.