Cordons are used frequently by police because they are very effective at ‘shutting down’ a protest. They are uncomfortable, unpleasant and deeply frustrating.
The ‘controlled area’ may take the form of a metal ‘pen’ made of crowd control barriers. Where that isn’t possible, they will circle the crowd and contain it with a human barrier of police officers, if necessary wearing riot gear and using shields. They may hold the demonstration in one place or move it ‘in a controlled fashion’ to where they want it to go.
The police may keep people in a cordon for several hours. They will usually only agree to release people one by one, with each person being photographed and forced to provide a name and address.
Cordons are a huge problem to those who want to demonstrate without being under the complete control of the police, but they are difficult for activists to deal with.
Even so, some tactics have been used to challenge cordons with some success (see below). Where there is more serious disorder the police may try to disperse a crowd instead, using baton charges, shields, horses etc. Which at least has the benefit of getting you out of the cordon….
Don’t be a sheep stuck in a pen!
Prevent the cordon being formed:
Keep together, keep moving. A crowd that stays in the same place for a long time, or which is moving only very slowly is easy to cordon. A crowd that sticks tightly together and which moves quickly is much harder to control.
Keep a look out – it is usually possible to see when the police are putting a cordon in place. If you see this shout to everyone that this is happening, and encourage your group to move out of the area quickly and together.
If you are in a cordon:
Keep moving. A still, quiet, passive crowd is easy for the police to control. Getting people moving, shouting, chanting, and acting together makes it harder for the police to keep the upper hand. People have often broken out of cordons, and even metal pens, by using this tactic.
Stick together. It happens rarely in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe activists have refused to be released one by one, or to provide ID or submit to a search. By sticking together they have often forced the police to release them as a group. This can be a very effective tactic, but it relies on a sense of solidarity rarely seen in the UK! It also takes time, so you’d have to be prepared for a long wait.
If you escape the cordon:
Don’t just give up and go down the pub, especially if the night is still young! It may be possible to regroup and attack the cordon from the outside. Police do not like being outflanked and can occasionally be ‘persuaded’ to pull back and open the cordon. Failing that you can at least make some noise, stretch police resources, or simply get essentials like bottles of water to those being contained.
These are teams of TSG (Metropolitan police boot boys) who go into a crowd to make an arrest. They can operate on demos or within cordons. If you see it happen, don’t just stand and watch! Grab hold of the person they are trying to arrest and hold on! Snatch squads cannot operate if there is good crowd resistance to them, and you could save someone from violence and imprisonment.
Police use ‘overt’ surveillance by uniformed officers in Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) controlled by CO11, the Metropolitan police public order unit.
They have three key roles:
Gathering evidence They take footage from early in the day so that they can later try to use the film to incriminate people or identify them from their shoes or clothes
Data gathering They gather data on people for their protester database, so that they build up a detailed picture of which activists attend protests repeatedly. They record visual images, ID (often obtained in stop and search), ‘known associates’ and any other personal details thought to be useful
Harassment style policing When ‘known’ (see above) individuals can become subjects of what the Home Secretary described as ‘harassment style policing’. People are followed at close quarter by uniformed officers, who will listen to conversations, phone calls, and generally be intimidating and unpleasant.
Don’t be a victim
Protect your ID Hoods, sunglasses etc are useful ways of not ending up on a database. Face coverings are useful too, but can provoke a violent police response. They have the power to remove and seize face coverings.
Don’t give them your name and address There is no valid reason for the police to demand your name and address for being at a demonstration. Tell them where to go. Don’t carry bank cards or anything else with your name on, they will use this to ID you in a stop and search.
Data gather on them Take their pictures, note their numbers, send them to us at FITwatch. It sounds such a little thing, but they hate it so much.
Block that shot Stop the buggers working. Placards and banners work very well, if you ‘just happen’ to be standing in front of the camera…
Don’t let them harass people Would you normally just stand by and do nothing if you saw someone being stalked and harassed? It’s not easy to challenge the FIT when they are tailing an activist, but anything you can do to make their job more difficult is bound to be appreciated.
Police also use plain clothes police on demonstrations. Beware the person who is without a group of friends, who may be trying to stop people taking action, trying to control the crowd, or who is loudly criticising confrontational tactics. Also keep an eye on who is standing behind you when you are planning or discussing action of your own…
We need more discussion about handling public order policing. Please feel free to post your views, ideas etc on the Fitwatch blog.