Saturday, 11 December 2010

Say no to kettling

The recent vote on tuition fees has been to some extent overshadowed by the associated student protests. It has been on a scale such that it is very difficult to argue that it is "just a few troublemakers". As David Cameron put it, "I don't think we can go on saying a small minority were there. There were quite a lot of people who were hell bent on violence and destroying property". It would be easy to look at the violence and to say that it de-legitimises the students' cause.

Tempting though this analysis may be (and it's certainly the case that there are a few demonstrators who set out with the aim of causing trouble) it ignores what seems to me to be a big cause of much of the violence. It's called "kettling", and it's a police tactic which has no place in any country which calls itself civilised. It has been going on for some time (see my blog on the Peterloo Massacre, 28th November) and which has been demonstrated over and over to be counter-productive.

The demonstrators, along with any bystanders who just happen to be in the same place, are blocked in by police cordons at every exit. For maybe eight hours or so they will have no access to food or water or toilet facilities. It gets its name, presumably, from the way it forces protesters to boil over like a kettle, no matter how peaceful their initial intentions may have been.

Sometimes small numbers are allowed to leave, but only if they give their names and addresses. They aren't legally obliged to give their names and addresses, but if they don't then it's back into the kettle for them.

Presumably one purpose of this practice is to reduce the likelihood that any of the protesters will ever re-"offend", by making the experience as humiliating and degrading and uncomfortable as possible. But in a democracy people should have the right to protest without being humilated and degraded. Many of the protesters in the recent demonstrations were children, being kept out in the cold until late while their parents could only worry impotently about them. That seems to me to be the opposite of what police should be doing. Previous instances of kettling have led to serious injuries and deaths. Fortunately there have been no deaths reported in the recent instances, but I can see no justification for the continuing use of this tactic.

Change the world.

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