LONDON — Students from all over the United Kingdom took to the streets in protest last Thursday against the proposed rise in university tuition fees and cuts to education funding.
In many places violence flared up from both protestors and from police.
Media coverage the next day focused on an attack on Prince Charles and Princess Camilla while the behavior of the police was once again ignored.
I have been to two protests, the one last week and another on Nov. 24. On both occasions I witnessed the unconstitutional brutality of police tactics and watched on as protestors were wound up until a few eventually gave in and became violent.
The most controversial of these police tactics is “kettling,” where riot police surround protestors and will not let them out.
As with anyone who is forced to stay within a confined space, this drives the protestors to violence. More importantly, it also denies them basic human rights.
Indeed, the right to peaceful protest is one of the most important rights we have but it becomes increasingly difficult to exercise when you are being forced into or are at risk of confinement.
On Nov. 24, there was a recognized march to Downing Street, where the prime minister lives. The police had been given the required legal notice and had consented to the march.
Arriving at Whitehall, I saw an angry but peaceful protest.
After about an hour, the riot police had the protest surrounded. The vast majority of people inside had committed no crimes and there were enough police officers to deal with those who had.
Yet everyone was trapped within a loose but impenetrable police cordon.
At this point, the police decided to push everyone out of Whitehall.
Despite the legality of the protest – prearranged by the student unions with the police – we were denied our democratic right to protest.
Unsurprisingly, people refused to move, and were forcefully pushed back by riot police.
Bearing in mind that this march included people who were as young as 11, what happened next was dangerous and simply disgusting: The police ordered their horses to charge at the protesters, forcing them to flee.
After forcing us down Whitehall, the police then opened a gap in the kettle they had created.
Having been confined for so long, and following the brutality of the horse charge, the protestors ran out of the gap and into the streets. Police seemed to accept that students could run then amok.
It had been cleverly timed to provide news crews with footage of protestors running riot and to showcase the need for more police funding.
The Metropolitan police later issued a statement claiming “the use of police horses to disperse and distance the crowd was an appropriate and proportionate tactic at the time.”
The statement said, too, that “the police horses were trotting.”
This was simply untrue.
The horses charged the students.
If nothing else, the use of horses was unnecessary because the march was legal. As we have the right to protest, the police have no right to force the protest to disperse through the use of violence.
It is no surprise that the week before this happened, the government had announced that they were cutting funding for mounted police. Clearly part of the reason for their deployment was as an advertisement for the necessity for the police to have horses.
My experiences last Thursday were slightly different.
Those inside the kettle last week told me they were detained for many hours without food or water. People who were not allowed to leave were forced to urinate within the kettle – and a few were even arrested for it.
However, I did not even make it that far.
Having arrived slightly later than the last time, I soon realized the second major problem with the tactic of kettling. Not only does it restrict your right to protest from inside the kettle but it also restricts your rights if you are outside the police cordon.
I was simply not allowed in. How, after all, can I possibly have the right to peacefully protest but then be barred from that protest?
So how did the police get away with their behavior and why does this violence benefit them?
The answer lies in the demographic of the protestors.
Students and young people in general tend to have low voter turnout and are seen as apolitical.
So the police believe that they can scare us away from protesting through the use of violence since they think that we do not hold strong political beliefs.
Moreover, with low voter turnout they feel that they have little to worry about come the election as young people will not turn out in enough numbers to make a significant difference to governmental policing strategy.
The police don’t think that we are dangerous to the public.
They think that if they kettle us then we won’t try to protest again.
They are deliberately encouraging students to be violent by leaving unprotected police vans in the middle of protests.
Really, this is what the protest was about in the first place. Students are fed up with being ignored and treated as a post-ideological generation who don’t care about politics.
In many ways the actions of the police showed remarkable similarities to the actions of the government that we were protesting against.
The police are not serving as impartial protectors of public. They have demonstrated a clear bias towards the government and towards self-gain.
It’s obvious the police are on the side of a government that is declaring war on a whole generation.
Noah Kidron-Style is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.