>When people think about Fitwatch, there is an immediate focus on the cameras. This is not unsurprising. Fitwatch actions have generally been focused on either us taking pictures of them, or us physically getting in the way of their cameras.
However, it is important to remember it’s not just about the cameras. I commented on an email group recently that I would not have got so involved in Fitwatch if it was just about the cops taking my photo. It’s not nice, but it’s something I can live with. This is not to denigrate anyone who feels upset or intimidated by having their photo taken – it can be a very frightening experience the first time it happens – but what myself and others have dealt with is far more serious.
Announcing she intended to extend FIT operations to problem estates, Jacqui Smith admitted she wanted targets “harried and harassed.” And this is exactly what they are doing on demonstrations – they are trying to harass people enough they know longer attend.
This harassment takes many forms , but if you end up on one of their target lists or spotter cards it can be anything from repeatedly having your photograph taken (and anyone who talks to you having their photograph taken), being stopped and searched, derogatory comments, being followed, assaults, wrongful arrests, and false imprisonments.
There is no respect for family life, something I’m sure the residents of the Five Links estate in Essex are realising. Not only have I been followed home on numerous occasions, I have been followed whilst heavily pregnant, and with my child. I’ve been photographed breastfeeding. My child now distinguishes between “good” cops and “bad” cops – the “bad” cops being the ones who wear “blue and follow us”. I’ve now reached the point where I won’t take him to protests.
I was last convicted of an offence in 2002. Since then, I have been arrested twenty five times, the majority of these have been by, or due to, forward intelligence officers. I do not have a single conviction from any of these arrests.
The psychological damage of these tactics should not be under estimated. In 2002, I ended up in hospital after drinking too much, vomitting blood, and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics. I still have regular nightmares about cops chasing me. I have to steel myself before going to demos because I know what the situation will be – I can’t just go on a march – I know I will be photographed, followed and spoken to. I know the cops will end up outside whichever pub we decide to visit.
This has not just happened to me. It has happened to a number of my friends. And, it is one of the reasons I became involved in Fitwatch. It is the reason why I wanted to start fighting back.
In this article the police admit they do not want their photos taken because it “unnerves” them, and they fear “revenge attacks from civil liberties groups”. Good. This is a huge victory for Fitwatch, and one we should celebrate.
Furthermore, this has given me an even larger personal victory. I no longer feel unnerved by them. The tables are turning, and we need to build on this initiative until we have driven FIT off our demos, and off our streets.