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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Were the police tactics justified?
Police are claiming their tactics were successful in dealing with Tuesday's May Day protests in London.
Most of the demonstrations passed off peacefully, although there were a handful of disturbances despite the presence of more than 6,000 police.
Metropolitan Police Authority chairman Lord Harris commended the police for their handling of the event. "I believe they struck the right balance between facilitating peaceful demonstrations and deterring violent disorder," he said.
But many protesters complained that the police were far too heavy handed and there was anger that many demonstrators were held at Oxford Circus for up to eight hours.
Do you think the police strategy was justified? Were they too heavy-handed? Or was the police strategy needed to prevent an outbreak of violence?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
We can only hope that the police show the same steely determination to uphold the rule of law should the petrol protesters decide to blockade the oil refineries again. Given the show of strength in central London on May 1, we now know that the police have sufficient resources to ensure that fuel supplies are kept flowing.
I agree with Lucy's comments. It is a shame that the focus is on the police tactics. These protestors were addressing issues the politicians will be doing their best to avoid during the election campaign they are about to inflict on us.
Why do you think there was so little trouble this year? It is because we, the police, were prepared to expect the worst. A repeat of last time round would not be wished on anyone. Had we not been prepared, criticism would have flowed once again. On this occasion, due to the police presence and the tactics used, very little damage was done and fewer people were both arrested or injured as a result.
The British police service can only work with the resources and information available. We had hindsight this time (last year's demo) and acted accordingly. Had we not, the possibilities are endless.
I work in the city, the comments of fellow workers helped me understand the point the protesters were trying to make. My previous job was working in a bar for a big (listed) company. I worked 60-70 hours per week at £5 pounds per hour, not out of greed, but to pay the bills. Not to go to France or buy a nice pair of shoes, but to buy food and once a week treat myself to a pint. With £10,000 turnover in one night and four barmen subjected to long hours, an acute health risk exposed to thick cigarette smoke, and abuse from a manager earning £30,000 per year, I now understand how people sink to a mindset where they are convinced society has forgotten them in the wake of greed.
I only ask that those policemen be paid minimum wage because they are not alone when complaining about poor working conditions, but because they enforce the wishes of the fortunate they are bribed with attractive packages. If minimum wage was £10 per hour, more people could afford to enjoy the fruits of a long day at work.
Have I no voice, no right to say I'd like to talk about this?
The policing was in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of justice.
I was stood in a group and therefore I was guilty. I don't own a newspaper and
can't afford bill-boards. How do I speak up?
So the police got it wrong. Had they sat back and watched London get vandalised, torched and looted they would have got it wrong. I prefer the way they got it wrong this year, than last year when monuments to those who fought and died for our freedoms were desecrated by people who take civil liberties for granted to such an extent they don't realise the UK is one of the most tolerant nations on earth. There were no water canons or rubber bullets like in Canada the week before.
It seems many are rushing to congratulate the police for their action to contain the protesters because they MIGHT turn violent. This is just the thin end of the wedge - the next step would be to ban all protests. Just ask yourself if you'd rather live in a police state that outlaws free speech. This was all about international tourism. After the foot-and-mouth debacle and an impending Tube strike, the Government did not want the world to think London was overrun by anarchists!
The police were right to act as they did. Nothing wrong with protesting, everything wrong with deliberate rabble rousing.
I felt that the police strategy was extremely heavy handed and perhaps illegal. These protests are a symptom of the fact that we no longer have a democracy that represents all interests. Increasing state violence will only provoke retaliation from the disenfranchised.
Peaceful protest is about raising awareness not about raising hell. The police had to be there, in full force, because every indication was the hell-raisers would be there.
If the next May Day is peaceful, then the police presence can be scaled back accordingly, but after last year, this year's protestors got the police presence they deserved.
By the way, in all of the interviews with protestors I've seen they are quick to say what they are against, but make no mention of what the alternative is.
Until they have an alternative they can't be taken seriously by the majority of people.
The police did an excellent job and should be congratulated for dealing with the situation. In view of last years riot and demonstrations around the world, a zero tolerance attitude could only be expected. I do not hear any voice for the local inhabitants to go about their business without hindrance, why should these few thugs be allowed to impose their ideological and partisan views upon the mass law abiding hardworking citizens.
Instead of a thoughtful debate on how global economics if affecting the planet and its inhabitants we are all worrying about whether or not the police has the right to treat human beings like animals...
Richard, London, UK
What the police did on that day was quite simply illegal - but no one seems to care.
The police state is just round the corner. Enjoy!
MJO, South Africa/ UK
There are a core of ideologically driven protestors who I can only but respect for the way that they fight for their beliefs. But it is the ragbag conglomeration of charlatans and imbeciles that these type of protests attract that are the danger, and it is for this reason that police are wholly justified in clamping down hard. These thugs and vandals profess violence and so deserve anything that is given out to them. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.
Before the May Day protests the police and the media were constantly talking up the dangers to society of the protestors. However, come during the protest itself the only people I saw both on the streets, and in the media who were tooled up for violence the Metropolitan Police.
I think that the Police and the UK Government have really shot themselves in the foot over the May Day protests. All they have accomplished is to
radicalise people such as myself and my family who were previously not so radical.
Along with many others I will never trust anyone in a police uniform again.
In response to Jason Fillbrooke, I'd just like to say that I find it very hard to sympathise with him and his 'comrades' for having to spend a whole 7.5 hours without food, water, and toilets - poor things! No-one forced you to go there and make trouble.
Democracy is dead today. Under this Government anyone who fails to agree with it is immediately labelled an extremist. A citizen concerned about immigration thus becomes a racist, someone questioning the teaching of particular lifestyle in schools becomes a homophobe and so on. Debate is dead. The central pillar of democracy where people are allowed to hold opinions you disagree with has crumbled. So we see the right to demonstrate denied.
R.M. Dunn, Grenada
Police presence is directly related to media interest. Any violence by the demonstrators would be shown worldwide, so it had to be SEEN to be stopped. Motorists break the law on a massive scale and kill over 4000 people each year in the UK. Not much media outrage there, not much police interest either!
I think that the "herding" of the protesters is fundamentally wrong, but so was the graffiti last year - it is a right to protest, not a right to smash up what you feel and deface the country! If the protest was properly organised and worked in conjunction with the police - bringing London to a halt would have been easy. Thanks to the efforts of last year and the total non-compliance of the organisers - the police had no choice but to do what they did to protect the innocent people of London.
Is it OK for the London Marathon to bring the capital to a standstill, but not a lawful demonstration? When the establishment wants to discredit ideas that don't fit into what suits them, the first step is always to portray the people who believe these ideas as dangerous.
I don't agree with the views of the demonstrators, but that does not mean that I believe that they have no right to voice opinions and that the law should not protect them equally as it does me. Because I disagree with a person's views does not require them to be 'herded' to a designated place and forced to stay there until I've finished my business. Remember, folks, that it may be YOU next time, held by the police at their whim for as long as they want, because you have the same point of view as someone who 'may' break the law. We will then see if you change your minds.
From what we saw on TV I believe the police deserve a bonus. The protests are borne out of ignorance and we should ask the schools and some of the media why they do not teach the virtues of capitalism. The standard of living in capitalist countries is so obviously better than any other that I cannot understand why some cannot see this.
In terms of non-protestors being concerned about their "civil liberties" being violated, most of the people I have spoken to who work in central London were quite pleased at the opportunity of knocking off work early, and in fact found it very easy to get around because the streets were empty for the most part. In terms of the usual stereotypes about all the protestors being horrid smelly "doleys" or students, this wasn't the case either - it was quite a diverse bunch from what I saw. Now if you'll excuse me I must adjust my tie and get back to work!
I remain pleased that rioting was minimised - it can't be excused - however I cannot blame the protestors for not co-operating with a police force that shamefully obstructed Tibetan protestors during last year's visit of the Chinese Premier. Only eyes, not heads, rolled for what was an affront to liberty. People want their voice heard, and it seems this has at least in part been achieved, despite the posturing and intimidation of the government and its threats of rubber bullets.
If the smashing of windows on Tottenham Court Road had occurred before the police corralled 1000s of people into a small area, then I would have sympathy for their hardheaded approach. However, having read that it happened after people had been confined provocatively for 8 hours, might it not be said that the antagonistic actions of the police helped to create the type of anger and resentment that led to windows getting smashed?
Is the debate over the actions of the police and protestors more important than debate over the reasons for the protest? By putting the emphasis on the actions of police etc. the questions asked by the majority of peaceful protesters seem to go unnoticed.
No the police tactics were not justified. Corralling people into a confined space "just in case" something happens is not excusable. The media and police painted a lovely picture of violence and destruction before the day and then have to find footage to support their claims afterwards. It's a situation we have seen repeated the world over. The people who are busily congratulating the police are showing incomprehensible ignorance of the issues behind this and other protests and the way the media is manipulating them. Don't wait to be force-fed your views, go out and find the real issues.
Mike Parker, England
I find it easy, as a New Zealander, who has lived and worked in Britain, to empathise with the motivations behind the May Day protests. New Zealand has inherited, as a colonial progeny of imperial Britain, many of the social/class ills that still pervade British life. These protests are not about the evils of globalisation or the ideological superiority of one political system over another. They are about your nation's inability to judge an individual's worth on anything other than social status, breeding, or a talent for acquiring vast amounts of money. Look to yourselves, as we all should, and question your motivations and desires.
The question is not about how much money and valuable police time was spent on this - it's about not letting a vociferous minority ruin things for everyone else. We are very privileged in this country that we have the right to free speech and can protest against anything we wish, whenever we wish. There are millions of people in this world who have never known such a luxury. However, peaceful protests and intimidation of innocent tourists and those trying to go to work to earn a living to support their families are two completely different things. Surely I have just as much right to get to work and carry out my duties in safety and without fear of attack as these people have to demonstrate? After last year's problems, nothing is too much to show that such anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.
At the end of the day, it was an expensive and potentially disastrous operation. I wish good luck to anyone who tries to prosecute the police for taking such great liberties away. I thought the days of stop and search were over; the police have discredited themselves greatly.
However, while we are so engulfed in our privileged lifestyle, let us not forget most of the world that labours endless hours for a few measly dollars. The series of labour organised protests these past few years is the voice of the neglected and the concerned. It should be a welcomed means of checks and balances to the progression of our world today. As our world shrinks with every new innovation and expansion of communication technology, and as every developing country opens its doors for the "blessings" of capitalism, it becomes more and more apparent that the world is becoming a giant conglomeration of multi-national corporations. I commend the organisers of these protests for their concerns, insight and idealism. And although there will always be massive opposition towards such events, it can only get better and bigger. The fact that it is happening in western countries is truly commendable. My best wishes to you all.
"Live simply, so that others may simply live." - Mohandas Gandhi
Just as the protesters have a right to make their point peacefully, do I and my fellow London-bound commuters have the right to be protected from the thugs who regard smashing windows and terrorising businesses as an acceptable course of action? If not for the money I and others like me earn there would be no tax and therefore no benefits for these people to claim. Although corralling people for several hours is an extreme measure, it's not as if people weren't warned to stay away and I would rather see protesters corralled than legitimate workers (trying to earn a living to support our families) being terrorised into having our freedoms curtailed by the mob.
Glad to see the police protected Londoners from the threat of violence. Now, who will protect the rest of the planet from the violence and destruction perpetrated by corporate capitalism?
Well, firstly there was no violence until people had been penned in for hours. So what does that show.
Secondly I was appalled to hear from a friend who was forced by the work to come in (near the protests)
Because he was wearing jeans and a fleece he was treated appalling by police and they attempted to force him into the corralled areas, even when he showed he was legitimately going to work (under threat of the sack if he failed to turn up)
He was even threatened with violence and imprisonment by these so called, upholders of the law, just for trying to keep his job.
If I was the protesters held in Oxford Street (and the tourists who missed their flights) I would be looking into suing the police for assault, harassment and illegal imprisonment right now.)
If you don't want people taking their frustrations out on the police and private property then give the people a legal and influential way of contributing to our democracy.
This would allow the police to manage the rogue element in whatever way they see fit (within the law) and let the rest of us make our point.
The police are damned if they do and damned if they don't. But if I'd been trapped for hours in a highly claustrophobic environment without access to water or a loo, I'm certain my more animalistic survival instincts would have taken over. In this instance, their measures were inappropriate - they went too far.
Congratulations to the policing of this "event". The tactics were spot on as prevention is far better than cure. Are people forgetting about what happened last year when the police let these so called protestors get away with pretty much anything? If the same tactics were used as last years riots then you would all be slating the police for not doing enough. Granted only a few hundred cause the problems but those on the marches do not need a lot of encouragement to get involved. So much for anti-capitalism as well, with more than 80% of them carrying mobile phones and radios and some even complaining about lack of facilities and of all things car-parking spaces! The sad thing about the marches are most of them haven't got a clue what they are meant to be campaigning about.
Jason Fillebrook, UK
Several have asked why people posting here are siding so much with the police. Well, think about it. If, every single year, your capital city, in which you work, was subjected to violent mobs claiming to "protest" against capitalism and whatever else they feel like, by smashing legitimate business' windows and closing down parts of the city, then you'd be sick of them too. You'd want the police to nip this kind of puerile activity in the bud as quickly and efficiently as possible. The happenings in Tottenham Court Road just went to show that unfortunately (or fortunately) the police can't be everywhere at all times.
The police did a marvellous job yesterday. It is easy to forget that those people in riot gear are actually human beings with families, partners, children, pets and lives away from the images we saw. Just a last word on globlisation - how come most of the people arrested turned out not to be from the UK? If going to protest in a foreign land is not globalisation, then what is?
Personally, I feel it is a shame that the "moral majority" in this country care more about a few windows getting smashed than about legitimate complaints about Third World debt and the way this country treats the less well off. Congratulations to those who had the courage of their convictions to protest about these issues despite those in power trying to persuade them not to attend.
For a day described as peaceful, from what I saw of TV news coverage, there seemed to be rather a lot of windows getting smashed and fires started.
John Alkire, UK/USA
Judging by the personal CD's, mobile phones and Walkmans that were on display; although Capitalism may be extremely undesirable, it does produce some very nice little electronic goods.
I would fight until my last breath for the right to protest and demonstrate peacefully. However, the view of many of these activists is that no one has the right to disagree with them, and those who do are legitimate targets for intimidation. In any other context, this would be branded fascism.
Andy P., UK
For a day described by yourselves as peaceful, from what I saw of TV news coverage, there seemed to be rather a lot of batons being wielded, and police boots going in.
Could someone please tell me how the rabble that were arrested carrying weapons were only reacting to police heavy handedness? Did they go into the local "Thugs R us" after being intimidated by the police to purchase knives etc? There are many decent people that work in London and they don't deserve to be harassed because they pay their way through society and contribute to the country as a whole.
Jo Duff, England
After watching pictures from the demo yesterday one image sticks in my mind and that is of a policeman on a horse his face contorted with rage brandishing his baton trying to get at the protesters to have a go. Who are the violent trouble-causers?
I arrived at Oxford Circus at 6pm to see a group of protesters surrounded by riot police. There were a group of protesters at the front sitting down and calmly talking to the police when a woman stood up to speak to a policeman and his colleague smashed her in the face with a riot shield and broke her nose-TOTALLY UNECESSARY!! We were herded like sheep and kept for about 2 hours. As we were jostled around tensions frayed and of course things started to happen. The moral of this story is if the police treat us like animals then they should expect us to act like animals.
Will the police be stamping on the next fuel protesters' illegal blockade/go slow drive through London in the same manner? Or will they, as last time, be barely in evidence? It all looks very political.
Keith S, UK
I work for good wages at a company that supplies stuff to the global capitalists, but even so I feel disenfranchised by global capitalism and support even the scruffy and unwashed demonstrators. Your contributors who suggest that it's only middle class students with nothing better to do or blind smash-everything-anarchists who think that there is something wrong with global capitalism couldn't be more wrong.
I fail to see how trashing a few shops on Tottenham Court Road is going to persuade anyone of the flaws of capitalism. All the protesters are doing is alienating themselves from the majority of the country, and their message is therefore lost. In reality, if the protesters want their argument to be heard, a large publicity/advertising campaign is what's needed.
Yesterday, I was advised to dress down, so I didn't look like a commuter. I was advised to make sure my mobile was off and out of sight. I was advised to only leave the building when I was going home, not at lunchtime. I absolutely support people's right to free speech - but I resent being intimidated.
Overall, I think the police did a thorough job of suppressing the inevitable violence. Isn't it about time that the protesters looked amongst their own ranks and made efforts to abolish the extremists from tarnishing the valid protests?
Shouldn't we be reflecting on the reasons behind the May Day protests, rather than allowing attention to fall solely on the tactics used by the police? At least these people stood up to the injustice in this world, whilst the rest of us conveniently do nothing.
I agree that the police were well organised. They orchestrated a plan of discouragement in the lead up to the demonstrations and then controlled the crowds admirably. I was disturbed however by the image of those people being corralled by public servants who don't seem to be able to protect average citizens in the streets at any other time. From watching yesterday's events I have to say that what we saw was a political move by the government attempting to make a statement in this election year. People seem to be confused by the media about what this protest was intended to be about - not anti-capitalism, but against the fact that governments these days are more concerned about wealthy businesses' and corporations' cash flow, than the rights of citizens to voice their complaints. How in this day and age are we supposed to voice our concerns? Protest is the only avenue left.
The police acted admirably and as usual the "do-gooders" and civil rights activists feel the need to criticise them for the sake of it. As with too many protests, the "issues" protested about nothing more than an excuse for civil disturbance and vandalism, with the alleged protesters caring nothing about the "cause". Full marks to the police for handling the situation well.
The police action was probably appropriate and justified. On the other hand, I look forward to similar threats of riot police and plastic bullets the next time fuel protestors or the Countryside Alliance decide to come to London.
Totally unjustified. Yet another example of the encroaching police state, where no one can raise the slightest murmur against "President Blair" and his pal "President Mammon". Which people are the police protecting?
Three thousand demonstrators corralled into the small area of Oxford Circus for eight hours. No food, no water, no TOILETS, rain and cold. On dispersal at 10pm photographs and names and addresses were demanded illegally (they had committed no crime.) The non-provoked violence and property damage occurred mainly on Tottenham Court Road during the time most protesters were stuck in and around Oxford Circus. There were no police attempting to stop the inexcusable violence on Tottenham Court Road. These are facts; draw your own conclusions.
Having watched the scenes of demonstrators being penned in at Oxford Circus, I could not help feeling a sense that justice was prevailing after the ugly scenes we saw last year. I recognise the right of people to protest and to voice an opinion, but I don't think this should overshadow the rights of normal, law abiding citizens, and it felt good to see the police standing up for that majority.
It appears that people in Britain have odd ideas about what being "heavy handed" means. Heavy handed is when mounted police in riot gear gallop into a crowd of protesters and club half of them senseless. I've seen it done here once. Herding people into Oxford Circus so that they can still express their views, without being allowed to vent their anger by torching half of London, seems to me to be the epitome of restraint and good sense. I think it's high time the bleeding-heart civil liberties groups gave the cops a break.
Bravo to the police. Anyone quoting
'civil liberties' as an excuse for no
police action to be taken should consider
the civil liberties of the non-protestors
who were unable to enter areas of
London through fear of violence or
intimidation. But peaceful protest
such as that of the cyclists was
(and should be) allowed to happen.
The correct stance was taken.
The police did a marvellous job in minimising the disruption to London and containing the violence. How can the protestors claim they were unable to make their point? "Reclaim the Streets" were able to carry out their demonstration because they were peaceful. Even the mob at Oxford Circus had plenty of media exposure..they were on the news for almost six hours.
The police should have wheeled out portaloos and issued vegan food and drink. They might not have eaten the food and drink, but the protestors wouldn't have a complaint about human rights or whatever. You probably would have had a huge food fight, and the mood might have turned light-hearted.
The protesters are saying that the demonstrations were on the whole peaceful and due to this fact the 'huge' amount of police in riot gear was unjustified. Have they thought that the reason it may have been 'largely' peaceful was because of the large number of police? I support the police hugely in their tactics and hope they use them next 'May Day' and many other 'May Days' to come.
I wonder whether last year's total damage exceeded the total cost of this year's events? Combine the cost of policing, clean-up, loss of business and what have you, and it seems to be much higher than the cost of a couple of broken shop windows and impotent graffiti.
I haven't seen any evidence that there was any trouble before the police had kept people unlawfully imprisoned for several hours. Frankly, if I was kept 'penned in' like that for that length of time then I would start to get a bit tetchy. The actual level of trouble there in total hardly matches up to an average "Old Firm" game (Rangers v Celtic) up here.
Despite keeping everyone pinned down in Oxford circus for seven hours, the police failed to identify and stop the 60 or so troublemakers until they had trashed Tottenham Court Road. Five thousand people were held to "prevent a breach of the peace" which was not actually prevented. With a less confrontational approach, the 1% of troublemakers could have been easily removed, without provoking the 99% whose intentions were initially peaceful, and for the most part remained so.
Fraser, Essex, England
The police action would have appeared heavy-handed if the demonstrators hadn't ransacked parts of Tottenham Court Road. The protesters really shot themselves in the foot with that act of mindless vandalism.
I am glad the protesters had their 'fun' spoiled. Long may it continue!
I think the police did a really good job yesterday. People complaining that they were held in Oxford Street when they weren't there to demonstrate should have known better than to go anywhere near!
Was interested to see a "Womble" interviewed on TV who said they were there for peaceful protest. Wonder why in that case he felt the need to wear a mask?
Whatever approach the police take to policing demonstrations they always comes under fire from one side or the other - they can't win. However, the tactics on May Day clearly demonstrated that it is the protestors who set the agenda - when it was bicycles and veggie burgers the police let them get on with it, but when they started throwing missiles and vandalising property, the police rightly got tough.
D. Barrington, London, UK
Yes, I think they were. Whilst legitimate protest is acceptable the criminality that accompanied last years Mayday March and the previous J18 action must not be tolerated.
Violence and vandalism are heavy handed tactics for protesters to use, and if there was genuine risk then I wouldn't blame the police for doing whatever was needed to contain or prevent it. However when I saw the footage of the police herding the crowd into a confined space for hours at a time I couldn't help thinking it was a heavy-handed safety risk.
The police strategy was correct. There is never an excuse for vandalism and destruction. If you don't like government policies then vote for someone else... its called democracy.
Yes, they were, given the amount of damage done in previous "demonstrations" of this nature and the refusal of the organisers to co-operate in any way with the authorities the police had little choice.
Brilliant work by the Police. They have my total support for the sensible and measured way in which they handled the threat of violence and destruction on 1st May.
No I don't think the police zero-tolerance was too heavy handed. If the police didn't act the way that the did...there would have been another May Day Protests of last year and luckily there were only a few fights¿
Not only were the police tactics wholly justified, they did an outstanding job executing them! How the demonstrators can complain that they weren't allowed to exercise their freedom by trashing stores is beyond me! And why the media should give them the time of day to voice their "opinions" leaves me incredulous!
02 May 01 | UK
May Day protest clean-up starts
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