Tag Archives: riot

I Grow Old, I Grow Old…

…I’ve joined the Establishment.

Yesterday (July 4th) was the day we were all worried about in Edinburgh, the day the anarchists planned (?) to rally in advance of the G8. Being anarchists, of course, they didn’t exactly file for a parade permit.

The Carnival for Full Enjoyment was intended to protest against the capitalist system, wage slavery, and pretty much everything the G8 has ever done. The attendees (can’t use the word organisers; they’re anarchists) suggested some fun things – clowns, acrobatics, and drumming. The gist of the protest – as described – was to demonstrate that there is another way to run the world than the current capitalist doctrine. I’m in full agreement there.

Unfortunately, their proposals for “not this world” didn’t include a lot of group self-control (yeah, yeah, anarchists, said that already), and not all of them were that keen on just enjoying the drumming. Some of them wanted to do the whole smashing and fighting thing. It didn’t come across as a good advertisement for the alternatives to the current system.

The current system was represented, in this little drama, by the police.

Now, the policing strategy in Edinburgh for the G8 has focused on letting people have their say, where they want to say it, if they can do so safely and without collateral damage. They let almost a quarter of a million people dressed in white encircle the city centre1 on Saturday for the Make Poverty History march. Saturday went off peacefully2.

On Monday, the police were using the same approach. I saw the carnival as I went home that afternoon. The police were letting people have their fun, if they could do it safely. Sadly, things turned violent3. The protestors blamed the police for provocation4; the police blamed the protestors for throwing paving stones, benches and staves.

And I believe the police side of the story.

I saw the operation as I passed by, saw the cops using horses and walls of riot shields to control and slow crowd movements, to keep the groups from massing too greatly. I also saw them letting uninvolved civilians get across the public spaces and through the guarded gates, so our lives weren’t too disrupted. I saw them letting the party go on but keeping the mob small. I saw that only a third to a half of the police had riot gear on; the remainder were wearing stab vests and flourescent yellow over their ordinary uniforms. And, of course, they were not carrying guns. I didn’t see the fight begin, but that was what it was like before the trouble started.

And in the aftermath, even pro-protestor sites like Indymedia are struggling to find a lot of photos of police violence, or accounts of serious injury. That’s because there wasn’t much, for all the breathless press reportage about “baton charges” and “pitched battles”. About 40 people were treated at hospital, with broken bones as the worst injuries. This in a confrontation where people were throwing park benches5.

So given the choice between anarchy, with drumming and clowning and no one asking the violent types to cool it down, and the current system, with police who let the peaceful speak and dance, but control the violent, I’m afraid I pick the current system. And that makes me Establishment.

I even stopped to thank a couple of police officers I saw on the street today. They did well.

  1. This is an interesting contrast to the American government’s idea of a “free speech zone” surrounded by barbed wire, miles from anything. Remind me who has a First Amendment?
  2. Peaceful means two arrests, not from the main body of marchers. No injuries beyond blisters and overheating. No violence. That’s an insanely good Saturday in the city, even in ordinary time.
  3. Punches were thrown. Truncheons were swung. Things were thrown at the police. In the shooting people, water cannon, tear gas, and pepper spray league, this was a Sunday school picnic. No one died, was maimed, or was permanently injured. I’ve seen more violent Old Firm games on the telly, and been in more violent riots in Berkeley.
  4. The use of the word provocation is interesting. Most of the protestors would not say that a woman can “provoke” a man to rape her by wearing a short skirt, but they allowed themselves to be “provoked” into violence by a line of men standing around looking like giant bugs.
  5. As one of my colleagues pointed out, the benches in question are donated by private individuals to the city, for the enjoyment of all. They’re often given in memory of loved ones, or in thanksgiving for years of happiness in Edinburgh, or to mark centenaries of civic organisations. Using them as missiles was not the way to win Edinburgh hearts and minds.