>This is the article that appeared as a Comment is Free peice on the Guardian website
As my arrest and imprisonment demonstrates, the preventative policing model is a licence to harass legitimate protesters
Fit Watch was formed in response to more than 10 years of harassment and intimidation of protesters by the Forward Intelligence Teams (Fit). Employing a range of tactics from blocking police cameras to monitoring their activities, we knew it would make us more unpopular than we already were with the Fit. However, the stifling effect of their presence at protests and meetings meant it was a necessary step.
I first became aware of Fit in 2001. Fit officers were taking photographs outside meetings, and then greeting me by name in crowds of thousands of people. Before long, they were at every meeting, every demonstration, calling me by name, making derogatory comments, and following me long after a protest had finished.
During 2002, they arrested me four times in three months, raided my house, seized my personal diaries and tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to have me remanded.
None of the charges came to court, and eventually I received compensation. However, I was driven so far over the edge I ended up drinking heavily to the point I broke down and was admitted to hospital, vomiting blood, on a drip and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics.
It never occurred to me to challenge this policing – even ending up in hospital didn’t make me realise we needed a collective response. And my experiences, although extreme, were by no means isolated. Many people had breakdowns, or simply withdrew from political activity because they couldn’t deal with the levels of police harassment.
The police have always sought to justify their actions against me, and others like me, on the grounds we are the nasty protesters – the ones they warn about when they spin media stories about hardcore troublemakers arriving at climate camps. This subtext was made crystal clear at our bail hearing after the Kingsnorth incident – the crown prosecutor described us as “violent” and said the “police were anxious” we would go back to the camp, “create disorder” and “put people in fear of mental and physical injury”. However, as the video shows, we did nothing other than try to monitor the policing operation.
As the dust settles from the G20, and various bodies compile their reports into public order policing, it is this arbitrary distinction between good and bad protesters that is likely to be drawn. The distinction is subjective, based on dubious assumptions and police “intelligence”, details of which are near impossible to access and challenge.
I know I’m not a violent troublemaker. In simplistic terms, I believe a better world is possible, and that real changes – whether it be women winning the vote, the abolition of the poll tax or the fight against environmental destruction – only occur when people stand together, say no and have a direct impact. Refusing to accept the police’s parameters for protest is not being a bad protester – it is an essential part of effective dissent.
While the preventative policing model remains – including use of Fit tactics, systematic stop and searches, kettling people for hours without access to food, water or toilets and baton charging anyone who dares leave – there will continue to be civil liberties abuses at protests. Arresting, harassing and imprisoning people because they might commit an offence is not acceptable whatever their political beliefs, and it is essential we stand together to resist this form of policing.