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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Is violence the way to fight perceived injustice?
Europe is counting the cost of yesterday's May Day riots. In London, shops were destroyed and monuments vandalised when otherwise peaceful demonstrations turned violent.
Meanwhile hundreds of people were arrested in the German towns of Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden after violent confrontations between far-right and far-left groups that left property destroyed and scores of people injured.
By contrast, rallies in other cities of the world passed off relatively peacefully. So are protesters justified in using violence to highlight perceived injustices, or do they damage the causes they champion? Are they at the vanguard of social protest, or just out for a good bank holiday punch-up?
On the one hand we have the outraged member of the public, incensed that such a spectacle could be allowed to happen in front of such a large contingent of officers, how dare they allow people to act in such a way! And on the other we have the poor affronted protestors, who only wanted to demonstrate peacefully but were coerced into retaliation by the antics of a few "rogue elements" and the heavy handed police. But wait a minute, how can it be that the Police didn't do enough and yet did too much, I will enlighten you, your own hypocrisy that is how.
For a long time the Police in this country have ceased to be a "force" and are now like some corporate adventure, run by Politicians and bureaucrats pulling the strings of the ever faithful Chief Constables to make their Forces more productive, more accountable, more err, user friendly.
Oh and before you jump on the pedestal and dismiss my comments as some dinosaur police officer yearning for the days of Dixon of dock green and the proverbial clip around the ear, I will say I am not and I do not. I am a modern officer in a unique position, I am privy to a lot that the public are not.
I agree that a Police Service should be accountable and should be forward thinking and modern but what do you as a public want from us? You want law and order, you want peace, you want tranquillity but you don't want the hardship that goes with it, you expect people such as myself to go out into our streets and perform miracles, when we are so bogged down by political correctness and Bureaucratic claptrap that it is becoming harder and harder to deliver the law and order that people crave.
Please don't ask me to move on rowdy kids, they have a right to express themselves, your car has been stolen, well we don't chase car thieves any more, it upsets the public! Solve your burglary? With what resources, this isn't the Bill you know.
Harsh words, no realistic ones, I will do my best for this country and try to uphold the virtues of the job I joined, but if you want to do your part, be incensed at the current state of affairs, renounce your Police officers, but take responsibility for the state of affairs that this country finds itself in, and don't act with such ridiculous indignation.
When a man who has been stabbed receives nothing in the way of compensation as a victim of crime, but a star receives £100,000 for the loss of luggage and you say nothing as a concerned member of public, then you know you have the society you created and the Police Service you deserve.
I was at the Legalise Cannabis March on Saturday in Brixton. There were three times
as many people as at the anti-capitalism rally, not even a single violent
incident, but nary a word about it in the press.
Perhaps we should have trashed a McDonalds to get some coverage?
The success of the Poll Tax riots has been cited as 'a triumph of Democracy'. To my mind it was a sorry blow indeed to democracy, and just demonstrated the weakness of a government giving in to anarchists. No consideration was given to non-demonstrating Council Taxpayers who were quite happy that everybody should pay their share of local taxes.
You don't need to shout in the streets and wreak havoc to get your view known. Write to BBC Talking Point.
Dorothy Baker, UK
Michael Kelly, England
Not the least interesting point to be drawn from this whole incident is the British obsession with class - Middle-class drop-outs, working-class agitators, et al. Perhaps if we thought outside of the box we were put in at birth we might have a better understanding of why conflicts arise and how to find means other than violence to solve them.
Also, I noticed rather a lot of those protesting were wearing clothes with names such as Adidas and Kangol, forgive me but isn't that supporting the very companies they were protesting about?
The media's ability to focus on the few who were violent has been remarkable.
It seems that the real losers are the majority of demonstrators who protested peacefully
Martyn Williams, UK
The issue in question does not exist. The world and our society has always been "capitalist" and so has everyone in it! It was just an excuse to bash up central London.
Grow up please. While capitalism has many faults, I can assure you that the alternatives are far worse. Think of Communist Russia (hardly a success for all the millions of people denied their wages), dictated Cuba, politically violent Africa...it really does go on.
Go and fight some real injustice: people are dying of cancer and AIDS; children are being sexually abused. Everyone else in our selfish capitalist society is working towards goals to abolish things such as these. Go and do the same, or move to South America.
Rioting is an honourable and long standing English tradition. It should never be compared to the violence of the ruling classes which is systematic and all pervasive i.e. poverty. The most violent thing to happen in England this year was Jack Straw letting Pinochet go free. However, the demo does signify the political immaturity of the English movement. These kids attack the symbols of Capitalism (McDonalds & Churchill) and don't hit it where it hurts i.e. in its productive heart. Still, the only boot boys on the streets last Monday (as usual) were the police who are the state's thugs with a legal remit to do what they want whilst the media look the other way.
What I saw on Sunday looked to me like the violent death-twitch of a cause that has simply run out of arguments - or perhaps just doesn't care about them. It has now even given up trying to persuade people, preferring instead to preach to the converted, and to outrage and intimidate the rest - because, as became starkly evident last Sunday, it has nothing intelligent or creative to offer.
However, I did see the desecration of the cenotaph by what I call the Muppet Show (a handful of drunk cretins out for a fight with authority) and can say that most people there were furious about it. We held a spontaneous minute's silence in respect of the dead, but for some reason the media didn't see fit to cover that. I think the media have a real interest in making us look bad, they are all corporations themselves and don't want anti-capital ideas gaining credibility.
Revolutionary change can only be reached by revolutionary methods. The age of reformism is dead, capitalism is a system that can no longer support itself. Reclaim the Streets is a movement with good intentions. However, it has no direction.
Choosing the path of violence has been an utterly self-defeating move eroding any sympathy from the general public. The fact that such demonstrations take place show that there is a lack of public debate in this country and some people think Monday's actions are their only option. In a liberal democracy that fact is shocking.
Dwynwen Hopcroft, United Kingdom
Why don't you all move over to Africa as there is a continent that doesn't know the meaning of the word democracy and where intolerance of any opposing views in violently crushed - the examples are too numerous to give. Have a look at how far behind Africa is to acknowledge that violent protest is not the way forward.
Such protests will eventually lead to far more Draconian policing.
Find another way to get your ideas across. Violence will be met with only greater force.
There are members of the public that would be happy to see armed troops open fire on any future "occurrences"
Regarding the comments made by 'MP, England' about policing the streets with the army. I have two words for you - BLOODY SUNDAY. Do they ring any bells?
The term 'capitalism' should not be used as a general catch-all. While some multinationals are clearly unscrupulous in their pursuit of profit, there are others which pursue sustainable development and other ethical policies. Secondly, let us not forget that under Communist rule in Eastern Europe and China there was a considerable amount of devastation wreaked on the environment through inefficient and wasteful state-controlled agricultural and industrial policies.
Violence has been part of every big social movement, from our civil war for a democracy in the 17th century, to the right of women to vote (then smashed very many windows) and finally to prevent an unjust and unfair taxation system exploiting the poorest in our societies (Poll tax riots). All of these causes were backed up with ideologies, literature and considerable outreach. It has been the violence however that has catalysed action. These social movements, and the violence they involved, are what allow us to live in a country like ours today.
Many people seem to think that protesters have a "right" to media coverage, hence the violence.
Ubong Effeh, UK
We should do what we always do in these cases: catch those responsible and bring the right criminal charges against them. Would you be content if a person who vandalised your home and property was just to be "named and shamed"?
Excuse me! Can someone explain to me what these mindless thugs want as an alternative to the capitalist system? Being AGAINST something is easy, but what are they FOR?
It was strange to read the papers yesterday showing the violent protestors confronting the police, but look a little closer at the pictures in one of the tabloids and all you can see is reporters with cameras, scores of them, no wonder the police got their batons out.
Some people have made the point that had the violence not occurred, there wouldn't have been so much publicity. This may well be true. But perhaps the focus would have been on the actual issues rather than the vandalism. As it is, the media - especially the tabloid media - has focussed almost exclusively on the destruction.
Living and working in London for both of these so-called "Peaceful protests", I knew there would be trouble this year. The ethos which surrounds these anti-capitalist days has now been set in stone. They are basically an excuse to confront the Police (whom I believe did and excellent job).
Violence and damage does detract from the message that many people were trying to get across last weekend but in a society in which the young are becoming increasingly disenfranchised what other voice do they have.
Conal Presho, England
'Protestor, London, UK' has hit the Global nail on the head when he says, "that MacDonalds are the real vandals, the real criminals." It all becomes so clear now. Ronald MacDonald is nothing more than Global lackey, demeaning himself in front of the masses. A Big Mac is the secret contact code used by Global Freedom Fighters; watch out when they GO LARGE! As for Happy Meals, it's obviously part of a worldwide mind control process organised by Global Capitalists out to enslave the world. For me it's KFC from now on!
In pages of media coverage of "mindless vandalism" I've yet to see anything that explains why the Churchill statue or McDonalds is seen as a target. Yet the demonstrators have their reasons - why aren't we told their side of the story? Is it simply that it may not be so "mindless" after all?
Many of the demonstrators have chosen to live an alternative lifestyle, and become disconnected from mainstream politics. This leaves them frustrated and leads to a vague anti establishment political stance. I think the best way to fight the system is to get into it and change it from the inside. Politics does work and is fairer than violent demonstration.
At the time, protest seemed an unconditional good. It was how "we", youth, the international proletariat, people with nifty haircuts kept the world on the straight and true path. And I still think nuclear weapons and apartheid are bad things.
What I don't understand is the opinion shared by 'Protestor' and Richard L that McDonald's somehow provoked the attack. Did it attack first? Attacking McDonald's seems the most anti-democratic, anti-pluralist action conceivable, as it seems to say "We don't like their burgers, no one else should."
And if Kurac thinks that a bit of paint on a couple of statues addresses injustice... Look to the beams in your own eyes guys...
Dave Weeden, UK
The vast majority of people at the demonstration do not condone violence. Most of the violence I saw was directed at us from the riot police. I saw one girl being beaten on the head by one of them simply because she wouldn't move. She was not breaking the law. The vandalism of monuments is unnecessary, and it was sad to see such violence from some protestors as it only gives us a bad name. But can't one argue that violence can be justified if it is directed from the oppressed to the oppressor?
It seems that protests cannot proceed without violence and destruction. Maybe these protests offer an opportunity for violence on the part of unconnected people, like soccer hooliganism.
I wonder how many critics who question
the political awareness and authenticity
of the vast majority of us in London on
May Day were actually there, and how
many are themselves au fait with the
critical issues we were raising non-
violently. Do they condemn all their
pub-going friends for the routine post-
closing-time violence of an idiotic
minority across the land every
It's a shame that due to violence we are as bad as the
political side by just making things worse and not keeping to our
promises. What happened to loving our country and making it a better place
for our children to grow in. I'm ashamed to be British. It hurt to see
such a country to be tortured.
Our forefathers to fought to keep peace this side of the world.
What are we coming to?
S Millington, UK
There is a chronic injustice here. A bunch of mindless drunken louts smashes up business premises and gets away with it. If I drive on an empty motorway at 75mph I get hauled before the courts and fined for it. If this behaviour is considered acceptable, perhaps the middle classes should riot in protest at the constant erosion of our rights to work and provide for ourselves.
Poor little middle class boys and girls rebelling against mummy and daddy! I'm sure they are back in their mundane, though well paid office jobs by now!
Just a quick question during last years riots in the city why were many of the protesters using cashpoints and shopping in Tesco's ...I thought they hated things like this?
Violence seems to be the only way to make sure the capitalist system sits up and takes notice.
If they stopped to think instead of jumping on the anarchic bandwagon, they would realise that they have a lot more freedom than if they lived in many other cultures.
The mayday scenario is to be expected and to be repeated. A government who self righteously continues to ignore the voice of the people, regardless of its message, should expect "the two fingers" with regularity. Companies like McDonalds must learn to live with the insecurity their methodology earns them. Statues? Might as well be running the country.
To fight against capitalism is fighting against the world and its people. Capitalism does work and has advanced us as a race to a point where we can have, accept and condemn violent struggle. Get the message, socialism is dead.
I read about the violence in London and Europe and I realised that all I felt was sorrow for the residents and police of these beautiful cities who have to put up with these mindless, self destructive idiots who by their violent, primitive behaviour just push themselves further and further away from the real world and its people.
The late and lamented I.F. Stone was asked a similar question regarding violent protest. His response was "it may be therapeutic...but is it politics?"
Don't forget it was Maggie's Conservative Government which stopped May Day celebrations for workers in this country, we weren't supposed to be workers with dignity and rights but slaves to the system.
Doug, London, UK
What else are people supposed to do than protest? Plus, the only way to attract media attention seems to be to act in this way.
The current 'democratic' process in this country is unrepresentative and parliament does not represent the full range of people's views.
Environmental and protest groups cannot afford the lobbyists or the back-handers required to get politicians to do anything in this country, so who can blame them for using the methods they do have at their disposal?
I would like to know how defacing memorials to the brave people who died fighting for the freedom of our country supports the anti-capitalist cause. How could the police standby and watch such a disgusting outburst by these mindless thugs?
If the protesters ever had any support they have surly lost it forever now. I just hope that next time the police will not stand back and watch these sub-humans deface our nation and do everything they can to bring these criminals to justice.
In response to William, UK - he is completely correct in the fact that violence works in this country, look at his examples! I also believe however that the majority of the people involved in the May Day riots were not doing it to make their point but more for the sake of just doing it. After all there are much more productive ways of 'fighting the state' without resorting to blind-faced anarchy!
Tomasz Domanski, UK
The unfortunate reality of any demonstrations is that it has the potential to attract a minority of hooligans. But I think we should not let this distract us from the fact that there are many genuine people from all backgrounds making a stand against the current world order and are seeking a more accountable society.
Capitalism may not be a perfect society, but at least it gives the individual the freedom to make money, gain more opportunities, and allows you to have control over YOUR life! Some of these left-wing groups also claim to be 'Pacifists', but from what I saw in London and Seattle they don't exactly act like it! I also think some of these people would prefer living under a Communist dictatorship, instead of normal democracy!
Whilst activities like vandalising war memorials are stupid and self-defeating, a peaceful protest would have gone unreported. Economic dictators who do not want to inform the general public of such things control the media. Had the protest been peaceful, then it would have got a paragraph or a 20 seconds news clip no matter how many people were there.
These people are full of their 'rights' but pay little attention to their 'responsibilities'.
Global capitalism is probably the greatest threat we, as a species, now face.Tthe fact that people are prepared to stand up to big companies gives me hope that we will one day learn to create a strong global economy with an ethical conscience. All of this, though, is a million miles away from the mindless violence we saw yesterday. Anyone, ANYONE who thinks that defacing a statue of Winston Churchill or a war memorial, is going to win the hearts and minds of the people of Britain is an idiot.
What I find strange is that May Day as such is not celebrated by people in the UK.
People have a day off on a Monday in May, but it does not have any meaning to them.
In other countries people go to outdoor festivities, to parks to funfairs (and not only leftists).
It does not necessarily have a political message, but everybody knows it commemorates Labour Day.
Maybe if people in the UK remembered the true meaning of this "May Bank Holiday" the vandals could not hijack the event and cause such chaos.
Once again, middle-class youth assuages its guilt by biting the hand that feeds. Pathetic!
Protestor, London, UK
I also wonder how many of these people are working class, oppressed by the capitalist regime and how many come from wealthy middle class backgrounds. It's thanks to capitalism that they have the financial resources to spend all their time involved in organising stunts like this instead of doing a decent day's work.
The person in charge of the police operation stated on TV that he did not know why the McDonalds restaurant was targeted. Either he is lying or he is incompetent.
I do not agree with violence against people, but many of us are very angry with this government which is putting money & power above justice & truth. How should we respond if peaceful protest goes unreported or is suppressed (as during the visit of the Chinese head of state)?
I wholeheartedly agree with Tony Blair's comments regarding the vandalism of the Cenotaph.
If it wasn't for the sheer bravery and determination of these men and women 50 years ago, these small minded idiots would not have had the chance to protest.
Creative protest is to be admired and applauded. Violence and destruction is moronic and childish. As I passed the Strand on the way to work this morning I was puzzled by the logic which sees smashing the windows of Rymans or small tourist gift shops as combating the 'evils' of capitalism. Grow Up!
When there is injustice in today's world only one response matters. A response that demands attention from people and the media. The media, unfortunately, only responds to extreme events. In this case, VIOLENCE.
Rudi Schmidt, Germany
I am sure that yesterday's demonstration attracted ideological hooligans.
But they do not represent the majority of the people who got together yesterday, nor do they really understand what the demonstration was about. They were just there to have a "laugh" and a "rumble". It was good though to see a McDonalds being smashed to pieces. As far as I am concerned they are much more dangerous and "subversive" than any of the "protesters" who smashed things up.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of MacDonalds it is sheer thuggery to attack innocent employees who are merely trying their best to earn money so they can achieve a decent standard of living. It will take MacDonalds a day or two to erase the damage to their store - the same can't be said for the effect on the staff there. It was curious to see these brave vegan warriors trashing the store only to redistribute the burgers!
Jason Thomas Williams, London
There is no excuse for violence and destruction of property. Did anyone give a thought to the staff of the shops and restaurants, ordinary people on low incomes, who will probably lose out because their workplace has been made unfit to work in?
In a democratic, free society, anyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate their views and beliefs. They do not have the right to run riot, destroying the fruits of someone else's labours. When people do that, I believe the approach of the totalitarian states to be entirely appropriate. Whatever means necessary should be used against these scum - if a few of them died in action the rest of them might think twice before causing such misery to the majority.
Revolutions seem to mean throwing bricks and smashing McDonalds windows these days. Its pathetic. I would bet that the same people would have gladly joined the Nazi Brownshirts for a chance to smash things. Ideology my foot, its just an excuse to vent their miserable frustrations about themselves onto others.
Perhaps in other countries the media reports demonstrations regardless of whether or not they end in disorder.
Therefore the reason disorder occurred in London but not so much elsewhere is because without it the media would have ignored the demo.
I note with interest that not once single programme on terrestrial or satellite TV on May 1st was dedicated to Labour Day or labour issues. Surely in a democracy International Labour Day should not be ignored as it has been by the British media.
02 May 00 | UK
Police defend May Day tactics
02 May 00 | UK
In Pictures: May Day violence
01 May 00 | Europe
May Day riots erupt in Germany
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