The excessive amount of police force at protests during COP26 is indicative of a larger problem of control.
The mobilisation of a mass police force to “facilitate” peaceful protests, particularly this year, with regards to the COP26 protests this month and my own experience at the Palestine Solidarity protest in May, calls into question this notion of democracy – as these previously safe congregations for activism, through political policy, become some of danger, control and threat.
Ralph Doe wrote to the Glasgow Guardian following his experience at the COP26 protests in Glasgow. He said: “I was in the march that was kettled on St. Vincent Street for 2 hours, witnessing residents and passers-by being prevented from leaving the area cordoned off.” The control was immense, with Doe stating: “The police prevented everyone from crossing the road for the toilet or even a coffee; with many protesters forced to relieve themselves into a storm drain shielded by banners.” The police presence at this event was not a matter of facilitation, but control.
“The police prevented everyone from crossing the road for the toilet or even a coffee; with many protesters forced to relieve themselves into a storm drain shielded by banners.”
A few days later at the same location, two protestors engaged in a roadblock outside Santander’s offices protesting their £24.7bn contributions in financing the fossil fuel industry between 2016 and 2020. Doe explains: “A double police cordon around the two protesters prevented any contact by liaison officers or stewards with them. [This is] as well as blocking off the scene by means of police vans, before the special team arrived with grinders to unshackle the two protestors and remove them from the scene, preventing national media from broadcasting any action.” Police avoid any consequences of their actions on protestors and abuse their position of power to impose immense control on people through carefully designed methods. This state monopolisation of violence is taking away fundamental democratic rights.
Prior to COP26, I attended a protest in George Square to support the ethnic struggle under military rule in Palestine following the outbreak of violence against Palestinians. Upon arrival, I was met with an alarming number of officers who were giving menacing stares despite the backdrop of protesters who were passionate but calm. Following speeches from various commentators, activists and academics, protesters began making moves to march towards the BBC, subsequently leading to police resistance. There was plenty of pushing and generally minacious action from one party, which led to arrests being made. Again, attempts by journalists to broadcast were averted, with one journalist near myself being barged out of the way. Despite there being fairly limited coverage of the protest (due to the fact that Britain continues to fund this occupation to this day and have a history of imperial influence in Palestine), the police again limit the coverage of any violent or threatening behaviour on their behalf.
“Attempts by journalists to broadcast were averted, with one journalist near myself being barged out of the way.”
Ultimately, this violence will continue as long as political policy legitimises this so-called “facilitation.” The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was passed in July this year, which essentially grants the police force full power to shut down protests deemed “too noisy” or “causing annoyance”. As a result, this strengthens the state’s control through their monopoly on violence whereby they can shut down protests against the status quo.
The real-life playout of this bill is harrowing. The recent “Insulate Britain” movement has seen numerous roadblocks across the country, and protesters have been hit with significant jail sentences following annoyance caused to commuters. A very recent case of this involves nine protesters facing up to six months behind bars. While I understand how the method of protesting to commuters rather than multinationals can be seen as annoying, it cannot blind us to the bigger picture in that legislation is criminalising our ability to exercise our democratic freedom.
Despite the danger and threat imposed by authority, my takeaway message is to not let it stop you. When the act of protest participation is fully deterred, democracy dissolves.