Last Saturday the police charged 138 people for peacefully occupying Fortnum and Masons with aggravated trespass. Most were kept for over 24 hours, had their clothing and phones seized, and were given bail conditions preventing them attending the royal wedding or Mayday.
Many commentators have criticised the waste in police resources in arresting so many peaceful protesters especially after evidence was published of Chief Inspector Claire Clark acknowledging their behaviour was non violent and sensible and informing legal observers protesters would be able to leave without arrest. Some have also claimed these arrests and the blurring of the boundaries between UKUncut and the black bloc have been deliberate acts to make the police look more effective in boosting their arrest numbers.
However, whilst this is an obvious beneficial side effect for the police, this analysis doesn’t allow for the success of UkUncut and the threat they pose. UKUncut were undoubtedly deliberately targeted, but they weren’t targeted because they were scapegoats, but because they have become the fastest growing direct action group the UK has seen for a long time. Moreover, the police have admitted in having difficulties gathering intelligence on them with a HMIC report highlighting the difficulties on gathering intelligence when most of the participants don’t have criminal records.
This was a massive exercise in both data gathering and intimidation. People who had regularly taken part in tax evasion protest without arrest suddenly found themselves in police cells overnight sleeping in paper suits. More worryingly, regardless of whether people are eventually acquitted at any subsequent trial, they will be labelled domestic extremists and files will be kept.
However, neither do the mass arrests, as others have suggested, detract from the threat of the black bloc. Given the opportunity, the police would have made mass arrests on the bloc. However the bloc was highly mobile and was a lot harder to corral and detain than the UKUncut occupiers. However, only time will tell how many post event arrests are made as the MET tries to reassert their credibility.
Meanwhile the state and the media are trying to label protesters, attempting to split people into different groups at odds with each other, squabbling over tactics, engaged in endless debates over good and bad protesters instead of focussing on having a broad and vibrant anti cuts movement. This divide and rule tactic is an old and effective method of control, and UKUncut should be credited for recognising this and refusing to condemn or condone the black bloc.
There is a need for tactical discussions, but these need to be based on mutual respect and solidarity rather than bickering. The strength of this growing movement is its diversity. None of the individual actions on Saturday, the march, the occupation, or even the window smashing would still be headlines if it weren’t for the combination of events. We have proved the anti cuts movement is strong, that people are angry and not scared to show it. The challenge is not to be divided, to grow stronger and resist this political policing.
Operation Brontide, headed by Detective Superintendent Matthew Horne, has released 18 photos of people wanted in connection to such heinous events as chanting from a roof and gesticulating at the police on 26th March. If you are pictured, DON’T PANIC and check out Fitwatch’s advice to identified students and our controversial advice about beating police repression issued in the wake of the media frenzy at Millbank.