Malcolm Carroll, spokesperson for the organisation Plane Stupid, has written a short conversation piece for the Convention.
On Policing: Two short examples from grassroots nonviolent direct action and then five annoying suggestions
Sermon on the Runway
Actually it was the taxiway and it was an act of remembrance for the victims of climate change but it did shut down East Midlands Airport for the morning. That was Plane Stupid opposing aviation expansion and targeting binge-flying. It was peaceful, proportionate, accountable. When we came to trial, the magistrates thought so too and dealt with us mildy, most defendants receiving conditional discharges. Most were young – 21 and under – and for most this was their first arrest.
The police response had been to hold us in prisoner transport vans for hours (I had 5 hours cooped up contemplating the elasticity of the human bladder) then 36 hours in police cells. Our homes were raided, mine twice, computers and personal information seized. And cameras, gps, any storage devices, maps, mobile phones, personal papers and records. So I lost my firm’s laptop and my son had his PC and his mobile seized. The police actually seized files essential to completing my PhD which was then set back by 6 months. We were investigated by the (then) Serious Organised Crime Agency and although the magistrates viewed our offence as peaceful protest the CPS pressed repeatedly for us to be given ‘Crasbos’ – criminal anti-social behaviour orders. In my view this was punishment policing but, worse, also an example of political policing.
Plane Stupid continues with peaceful, proportionate and accountable actions which no doubt explains why we now come under the scrutiny of the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit.
A group of us squatted an empty Npower-owned building on the edge of a lake to prevent its use as a dump for ash produced by Didcot coal-fired power station. The lake was a County designated nature reserve. Red kite overhead, kingfisher on the bank, masked men outside the window. Npower bought an injunction which was based on contrived ‘evidence’ that we were inclined to violence and bought a private police to enforce it.
The injunction, in its own terms, was served on anyone who became aware of it, which Channel 4 News would later mock and challenge. It made me personally liable for anyone and everyone protesting at the site. Which included the Mayor of Abingdon and the local MP. The injunction was based on the Protection for Harassment Act 1997 and drawn up by Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden who, according to George Monbiot, boasts how his company helped draft the 1997 Act and how he can assist companies in the ‘criminalisation of civil disobedience’. I could not challenge the injunction because of the huge financial costs of doing so.
The policing was done by a company called Shercurity. This private police force wore masks and concealed their vehicle’s number plates but, in any case, the injunction prevented anyone from taking photographs. We tested it, a protestor photographed himself and was arrested. In the end, we took the campaign forward and won not with the help of a green campaign group but thanks to Liberty.
For a Monbiotic view on the above see
Five annoying suggestions:
1. Policing has become more politicised, more oppressive and will further develop along that path.
2. Policing is to protect business interests rather than ‘old’ state interests
3. The idea that policing is done by the police is so old fashioned. Expect more oppressive injunctions enforced by private police.
4. Nonviolent direct action should now change. The default action is maximum media hit with minimum hurt to the participants. This should shift to something more akin to Gandhian civil disobedience where one chooses the most innocuous act of disobedience but which will be met by disproportionately harsh treatment, thus foregrounding the moral case for change.
5. Thank you, Convention team, for the March 2009 Convention on Modern Liberty, a timely and important event. But we’ve an agenda that we must take to the streets. The task of our generation is not just debating civil liberties but creating civil liberties (see 4 above).