Today is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Some readers may know what that was but, for the benefit of the others, it was a mass action in 1936 to stop thousands of members and supporters of the British Union of Fascists from marching through a largely Jewish part of East London. I suspect that the majority of those who have heard about this will think it was a battle with the fascists. It wasn’t, it was a battle with the police. Here’s a newsreel clip: Battle newsreel on YouTube
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been on a demo when trouble broke out. Every demo or march or event I’ve been at where a ‘riot’ occurred was started by the cops. Sure someone may well have thrown an empty drinks can at them, maybe even a bottle, but those individuals are always safely back in the thick of the crowd. The ones who get battered and arrested by our increasingly well-armoured police are those brave souls on the front line. This is called ‘keeping the peace’ or ‘protecting public order’ and that’s when the fighting begins.
These confrontations have a long history, both here and across the globe. One of the most notorious in the UK in recent times was the Battle of the Beanfield. On 1 June 1985 the Peace Convoy of travellers, trying to get to Stonehenge for a festival, were intercepted and some forced off the road by police into a field, whereupon their vehicles were attacked and wrecked. The people in those vehicles, including pregnant women, were beaten and arrested. A brief video clip was aired on television some time later and what it showed was brutal – unarmed and unprotected people being manhandled and hit with batons, windows being smashed, the interiors of vans trashed. What it also showed was police in riot gear, with their ID numbers concealed, causing criminal damage and assaults which, if had been done to them, would have been classed as grievous bodily harm. In other words, it was a police riot. No charges were brought against those officers*. Journalists and photographers were arrested or threatened. Films were ‘lost’. The travellers lost their homes and I’ve been told that some of the travellers even lost their children, because they were taken into care by Social Services and sent for adoption.
One officer, who was present, left the police and became a criminologist. He later made this observation, “When you have a body of men … and a hierarchy of authority, violence is bound to occur.” This is all I can remember, but what it means is, that it’s not sufficient to blame the men on the ground for breaking the rules, because they know their actions have been implicitly sanctioned by their superiors. One policy could be banned is that of officers being told to conceal their identifying numbers in these situations … and advising reporters to stay away!
Now, not all coppers are bastards but the point I’m making is that the job is. The question is, whose ‘peace’ is being kept, whose ‘order’ is being protected? Why do fascist marchers get more police protection than anti-fascists? Why do strikers and pickets get beaten up but not thieving bosses? Why are Romanies and other travellers prevented from stopping for a night’s rest, while you’ll be told to shut down if your party or festival music disturbs the sleep of well-off neighbours? Work it out.
As J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, said in 1968, “Justice is merely incidental to law and order.”
That’s telling it as it is.
[* A number of the travellers successfully sued Wiltshire Police for ‘false imprisonment, damage to property and wrongful arrest’ and one police sergeant was found guilty of actual bodily harm. It was only a token victory because legal costs swallowed all the compensation they were awarded. If you want to see some more, here’s a documentary made in 1991: YouTube video ]
A word to the wise
The word ‘mob’ comes from a legal term in Latin, ‘mobile vulgus’, which my dictionary translates as ‘the fickle multitude’ but I prefer ‘the mobile common people’. The state wants you screwed into your place (and in debt) – Don’t move! Sit still! – and, especially, don’t organise yourselves without the authorities sayso.