Friday 12 May 2023

What does a police state look like?


The more we read about the police handling of protesters associated with the coronation, the worse things get. After arresting people taking part in an anti-monarchy protest the details of which had been agreed in advance with the police force, it then emerged that, the previous night, they had arrested three women’s safety volunteers who were wearing hi-vis jackets with the Metropolitan Police logo on them who were taking part in a scheme run in partnership with the police to hand out rape alarms to vulnerable women. Today, it has emerged that they also managed to arrest a fervent monarchist who was handcuffed and then held for 13 hours, for the inadvertent ‘crime’ of standing too close to Just Stop Oil protesters. There was even a report that one person had been arrested for being in possession of a piece of string, although the length of the piece of string remains, as is ever the case, unknown. One common thread running through it all is the utter failure to talk to or listen to those arrested, with the police preferring to simply incarcerate them for hours before attempting to establish any facts.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might be tempted to believe that this was all entirely deliberate on the part of the Metropolitan Police, in an attempt to undermine the new laws by showing just how stupid and arbitrary they are. Sadly, however, given the Met’s record in recent years, I just don’t believe that they are clever enough to do that, and we have to look for other explanations. Such as incompetence, lack of co-ordination and communication, authoritarianism, and a desire to please their political masters. Somewhat surprisingly, they seem to have achieved the last of those: government ministers seem to be queuing up to declare how wonderful it is that the Met took a firm line in arresting people, and seem to be not in the least embarrassed that some of those arrested – maybe even all of them – had done nothing which justified charging them with any criminal offence, even under the new open-ended anti-protest laws which were rushed in in time for the coronation.

And that underlines where the real blame lies. The Met deserve – and are getting – a lot of criticism for their approach, but the real culprit here is a government which is determined to stamp out the traditional right to protest in the UK. It appears that there is now no form of protest which is permissible if the police decide otherwise, even if the details are agreed with the police in advance. Worse, it isn’t even ‘the police’ as a whole who make that decision, or even individual police forces; power has been given to individual police officers to decide for themselves what behaviour they will or will not allow, and to arrest and detain anyone who does something that they don't like. That looks like a classic definition of a police state to me, yet that’s where we’ve got to. And the official opposition can’t even decide whether it wants to reverse the process. Wales really can do better for itself.

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