Debate: Police Tactics - Should 'Kettling' be banned?

Kettling: Fair, not Firm - James Moreton Wakeley

The policing of the recent student protests in London has come under intense scrutiny. Criticisms have ranged from the lack of protection afforded to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to the use by the Police of the tactic of kettling: containing a group of demonstrators in a certain area surrounded by Police personnel. Kettling has certainly proved controversial. Nonetheless, it is clear that it is a necessary, fair and justifiable use of Police force to deal with large and potentially violent demonstrations.

Containment is the result of the changed nature of protest in Britain. Following the violence and criminal damage committed at Millbank, which reveals the erroneousness of the accusation that later violence was in some way a result of kettling, it became obvious that a heightened level of crowd control was required.

Unlike more conventional recent protests, such as the march against the Iraq War, which kept to a previously agreed route culminating in a peaceful rally, the student demonstrations on fees have shown a tendency to dissipate mid-march and to give rise to groups seemingly intent on aggression.

As well as undermining the efforts of legitimate, peaceful protestors, these groups—whose members have used the fees debate as a facade to vent a wider ideological agenda—represented a real and present danger to life and both public and private property. Given the sheer level of violence witnessed, it was a miracle that no lives were lost. It would have been a serious dereliction of the Police's duty to protect the public if steps were not taken to limit the threat posed by violent demonstrators.

Importantly, it must be recognised that the Police possess the legitimacy to supervise the movements of demonstrators. The right to protest, to tell government what it may not wish to hear, is fundamental to democracy. However, in a society which is not only democratic but also pluralistic, in which no one group dominates public life, it is only fair that demonstrators do not and should not exercise a monopoly over public spaces. The views of the protestors in London have no intrinsic claim to superiority over the opinions of anyone else. Considering that the student marches failed to keep to agreed routes, the Police were fully justified to contain unpredictable crowds to maintain and guarantee freedom of movement for non-protesters.

Finally, kettling also achieves a fine balance between permitting protest and limiting acts of violence whilst preventing undue injury to protestors, officers and bystanders. Crowd dispersal techniques, such as baton and mounted-police charges, though justified in some circumstances, do have the potential to injure innocent people caught in the middle of disorder.

Kettling is ultimately a moderate tactic, which allows the safe public demonstration of grievance by peaceful marchers, leaving the Police to concentrate on those protestors breaking the law. Indeed, considering the contempt for civil society evinced during the demonstrations, the restraint shown by the Police has perhaps been too true to the duty of a democracy to facilitate lawful protest.

Kettling must be banned: It endangers democracy - Molly Gavriel

Kettling – the police tactic of forcibly containing large crowds during demonstrations or protests – should be banned. Its use, depriving protesters of access to food, water, shelter, toilets and medical attention not only calls to question articles 9 (protection against arbitrary detention) and 20 (guarantee of free assembly) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but is a fundamental infringement on the right to peaceful protest. As such, the use of kettling stands contrary to human rights, and to the core values of the democratic system.

During the recent London days of action against Tuition fees, protesters were kettled for up to 10 hours in temperatures below zero.

Tactics such as kettling represent purposeful intimidation on behalf of the state, designed to deter people from engaging in political protest out of fear. It is gross violation of the right to protest, as laid out by articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention, and makes doing so a practical near-impossibility for the disabled, the elderly, the young, the pregnant and the ill. In 2008, one protester miscarried after being kettled at the G20 protests following injuries obtained through police force. Indeed the realities of prolonged detention in this manner, and the paramilitary attitude of the police enforcing it represent a criminal disregard for human life

In such conditions, the role of the police escalates from the protection of the public to being an arm of state oppression and brutality. Kettling is fundamental to this escalation, and its use creates a highly volatile environment, which exacerbates tensions in a destructive and potentially fatal way: kettles boil.

To quote Simon Hardy in dialogue with the BBC, "people are bringing flares on demonstrations. What we have to see it is in context. The police have attacked us on previous demonstrations; people are terrified of kettling. They're terrified of the actions of the police". Protesters' ‘violence', the burning of benches and other acts of vandalism that have been so liberally circulated by the press is the inevitable consequence of containing thousands of tired and bitter people under insufferable conditions for hours on end

Add to this a wall of police who not only refuse to communicate with the mass they so cruelly detain but instead, choose periodically to crush it, using mounted police, charges, riot shields and batons as weapons against their captive victims. The protest changes from a peaceful exercise in democracy to a pitched battle. The kettle is indiscriminate; as video footage from the last two months of protest shows, the treatment of protesters by police – continued lashing out at people holding both hands above their heads in surrender, point blank refusal to let those with obvious wounds seek medical attention – is shockingly inhumane.

The result is one 20 year old protester, Alfie Meadows, in hospital undergoing emergency brain surgery. It is 44 others receiving medical attention in hospital for police inflicted wounds, and the injuries of numerous others who did not, or were unable to, seek immediate medical care. That there were no fatalities has repeatedly been described as a miracle.

"Kettling" must become illegal. If they ignore this call, the government is choosing instead to deliberately jeopardise human life, and to thoroughly endanger democracy.

Photo: Jess Touschek


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