Yesterday I went to the Public Engagement Event on the possibility of the Metropolitan Police purchasing Water Cannon. The event was very well attended by a variety of people of all different ages, cultures and societal groupings. Nine people were given the opportunity to ask questions. You can see the event here:
I am not going to report on what was said there, apart from the fact no voice spoke in favour of water cannon apart from Mark Rowley the Senior Met Officer who presented the meeting and Stephen Greenhalgh the Deputy Mayor. This may have been due to the overwhelming *against* views that were very vocal and passionate.
I have always understood that the Police were policing by consent. It appeared from what was being said, and how it was being said that the decision TO purchase the Water Cannon had already been made and that the meeting was just part of a box ticking exercise. I hope that that is not the case, it was certainly the strongest perception that came across to me.
I would really like to know where the idea originated. Was it a political one via government, worried about the effects their austerity measures are having on the populace or was it from the Met? This makes a difference to me. If it is from the gvt then it actually gives me a glimmer of hope in the sense it shows that they realise the garden is not as rosy as they would like us to believe. If it came from the Met it grieves me more.
By saying that Water Cannon are needed the Met are saying to the people of London that all their attempts to engage with communities over the years has been wasted; they have lost control and have neither the numbers or the will to police protests without the assumption that mass civil unrest will follow on.
We were told that the Met want them as backup, a kind of insurance policy that they can deploy if needed. We were told that they recognised that the presence of Water Cannon on the streets could be inflammatory so they would be out of sight. I may be naive but I think three large trucks are going to be pretty hard to disguise, even if they put flowers in the nozzles and pretend they are planters.
I am disgusted by the thought that I may be at a lawful protest and have to walk past a water cannon truck somewhere. It would symbolise to me that those who are there are expected to behave in the worst way possible. By it’s presence I would feel my democratic rights were being threatened. It is a tool to create fear. It is a tool that is used in other countries to suppress legitimate protest. How could anyone think this is a good image to give to the rest of the world or our own citizens? If they were off in the backstreets social media and mobile phone communications would pass this information on quickly. What would this do in the psyche of the protestors? Would it make them feel they had stood up and shown what they believe in or would it inflame them to react? Would the police seek injunctions to jam signals so communications would not be able to be passed on?
What is this sounding like to you? It sounds like intimidation and suppression to me.
I truly am not trying to trivialise the safety of officers or other members of the public. They are deserving of protection. I am saying how gut wrenchingly close to feeling like a dictatorship this move would make me feel. I am old, I have protested about issues I believed in since I was a teen. If I was a young person with little hope what would I have to gain by behaving in a compliant way? What would I have to loose by behaving as dissaffected as I felt?
What ever your view, rushing the purchase through by the summer tells me the Met is scared.
I suspect that it will come to pass this summer.
Tragic… it will cause tragedy.