#facebookpurge & #squatageddon: we should have seen this coming

Posted on April 29, 2011 by | No Comments

We should have seen it coming. All of the pieces were lined up. When the police told most of the people arrested at Fortnum & Mason’s that their sole bail condition was that they were banned from being in central London on the day of the Royal Wedding, it should have been clear quite how big a day this was in their calendar. The opportunity to bury the news of a crack down on protest is immense. And if any news did leak out, the police knew that they had a cast iron PR shield. Standing behind a smiling young couple, their usual screams of “anarchist!” would be even more effective.

But ultimately we should have seen it coming because the police told us it was coming. Gary Dunion has already highlighted this quote:

“Let me make it clear. This is a day of celebration, joy and pageantry for Great Britain. Any criminals attempting to disrupt it – be that in the guise of protest or otherwise – will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response.”

- Cmdr Christine Jones, Metropolitan Police

And so it began in earnest with yesterday’s raids on social centres, market gardens, and squats in London and Bristol. These police actions were clearly targeting places that activists are likely to be found, though the Met needed other excuses to send 40 officers to drag a bunch of market gardeners out of their beds in the middle of the night. Apparently at one place they raided they claimed to have suspicion that people were handling stolen goods. Suspicion that coincidentally led to them taking the same riot police who normally deal with protests, with photos of activists that they wanted to intimidate, and a crime they suddenly came to suspect on the day before the royal wedding – coincidentally at the same time as they came to suspect other similar crimes at similar places all across the city.

At the same time as legal squats across London were being raided on various pretexts, police in Bristol were cracking down once more on the residents of Stokes Croft – with accounts of horse charges and kettling of residents. It now seems that around 30 people have been arrested.

Over in Cambridge, Charlie Veitch, comedy anarchist stunt man, was pre-emptively arrested for planning to protest  - “on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”. So was the equally comic if less charming Chris Knight, back in London.

Arresting people pre-emptively isn’t new – the Nottingham 114 were arrested before anyone had, you know, done anything. But is it right that the police can arrest someone on suspicion of conspiracy to shout through a mega-phone?

The latest (final?) piece of this police disruption on Will & Kate’s day of bliss was a much quieter act. Over the course of the day, it has become clear that at least 50 Facebook pages for activist groups – mostly anti-cuts groups – have been removed. These online communities have been built up over months and are in many cases key to the way these groups organise.

It seems unlikely that Facebook themselves would choose to delete these pages without a request from the police. So, I have just sent the Met this Freedom of Information request:

“Any correspondence between the Metropolitan Police and the company Facebook in the 5 weeks to 30 April 2011.”

We shall see what comes back. Clearly, disrupting the ability of campaigning groups to organise is a key tactic of the police.

Of course, cracking down on those who attempt to organise dissent is a key part of the Shock Doctrine being imposed on this country. The Government know that they won’t be able to push through massive and unpopular cuts and privatisation programs without disrupting organised dissent. The willingness of companies like Facebook to be complicit is, surely, as unsurprising as the willingness of Britsol’s police to attack local residents in order to defend Tesco’s right to trade.

And so while it is shocking to see people arrested on the grounds that they may be planning to shout through a mega-phone messages that the Met don’t think are suitably adoring, it should come as no surprise. And we will have to do our best not to let them distract us from the injustices that got us involved in the first place.

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