It was only upon viewing the aggressive police tactics used against Occupy Democracy protesters whilst watching their live-stream one afternoon, that I decided to join the demonstration in a show of solidarity at Parliament Square. I was so impressed by the people I met on this first meeting - and the dignity with which they continued to conduct themselves in the face of overwhelming provocation, that I committed to attend as many of the planned occupations as I could manage.
What I witnessed and experienced first hand was extremely concerning. The readiness with which we were surrounded and hounded by the police on a daily basis was truly shocking. There were targeted arrests to scare off newcomers or those seen to be organisers. We were all pushed and pulled around the Square. I saw a man take an entirely unprovoked punch to the face by one officer, merely for sitting down. I saw one young woman dragged away by her hair and another woman who was pregnant rather viciously floored, despite clear pleas from herself and several others around her at the time. I even saw a disabled gentleman knocked from his walking aids during another provocation. All this to break up a gathering of around 30-50 people, sitting quietly on sheets of tarpaulin and hoping to discuss (somewhat ironically) if democracy was truly in trouble in the UK, to what degree and what might be done about it in a peaceful, open and civilised manner.
Charges ranged from the outrageous to the absurd: trespass, gathering in a public place, the playing of musical instruments, sitting on sheets of tarpaulin, holding banners and placards, even closing our eyes became an offence worthy of arrest as the authorities saw this as, "intent to sleep and therefore cause a nuisance". I even witnessed a guitar being issued an official caution, once officers realised that upon being cautioned ourselves we would simply pass said instrument to the next capable player.
Officer: "Look...erm...the guitar is being issued with a caution. If the guitar is found to be...playing itself again...the human being attached to the guitar will be arrested..."
I was arrested and charged with, "obstruction" for throwing a tub of hot food into the hands of Danny "Plinthguy" Freeman. By the time I had arrived at the protest on October 22nd, Danny had apparently had enough of the aggressive police tactics that he had been witnessing - and was 26 hours into a peaceful standoff atop the Winston Churchill statue. For health and safety reasons, the authorities were unable to forcibly remove Danny from his post. Due to his own health and safety concerns, Danny had refused to come down whilst police officers were still present.
|The standoff...(Picture: Nigel Howard)
Given what I'd seen, I have to say I sympathised with his position.
The police made their own position that day quite clear; anyone providing or attempting to provide food or even water to this person was to be immediately arrested and could even face criminal charges. I honestly couldn't believe what I was hearing - surely this wasn't legal? It certainly wasn't right.
Given the rough handling of the demonstration so far, I made it clear to the officers that I understood the consequences of any attempt to throw food to the man, clearly stating that I had no intention of resisting arrest. I did say that I thought it was ridiculous - and that such an act would symbolise the sad state that this country had become.
I steadied myself on my feet and made sure the camera's were monitoring. Admittedly I did taunt the officers gently by making several gestures of throwing the food over the fence, mainly to try and guage how serious they were about this threat. They didn't appear to be joking, or in the mood to be - at this point the officers started tiptoeing, reaching high and stretching their fingers into the air like basketball players in order to prevent the transition. To be honest, I'd had enough at this point. The man was hungry and had a basic right to food and water. Of course he didn't want to come down whilst they were still present - they were behaving like bullies. I dropped my guard, as if to have given up on the endeavour entirely, as the officers followed suit, I launched the tub over their heads and into Danny's direction as best I could manage.
Perhaps by some divine intervention, the tub sailed beautifully over the officer's heads, cleared the fence and landed neatly into Danny's waiting hands. The crowd went wild. Unfortunately, at this point, so did the police...
The arresting officers grabbed hold of me with such force that they ripped a chunk of skin right out of my left arm. This lead to bleeding, an immediate scar and some rather nasty bruising to come. They didn't mind that they were being watched, they didn't even mind that they were being filmed. Ironically this was exactly the kind of impunity with which the authorities had been acting all along: and which had inspired me to attend to the demo - and a fearful yet defiant Danny to climb the dammed statue in the first place.
|The injury, day 1...|
|The injury, day 7...|
Following an almost seven hour wait in a rather dismal cell at Paddington Police Station, I was lead into one of the available rooms, clutching a blanket and a terrible cup of coffee. Sitting awkwardly opposite my arresting officer, with a solicitor sat dutifully by my side, it was then explained to us that we were, "waiting for a detective to conduct the interview process."
"For feeding a man some chicken?"
After the officer assured me that this interview was about, "more than just chicken", my solicitor shot me a stern look, screaming silently, "no comment!"
To be honest I've always had trouble keeping my mouth shut in the face of injustice. It's why I do what I do, so to be fair to the man, I wouldn't want to be my solicitor on a day like this either.
As if on cue the detective then entered the room. He was a young man and was very sharply dressed in what appeared to be a tailored suit. He had fair blonde hair, bright blue eyes and clearly took this situation very seriously indeed. With coffee mug in hand and a fixed stare upon mine, he was certainly a far cry from the uniformed street officers that I was expecting to be dealing with.
The detective sat across from me and began the interview:
Detective: "Are you the leader of the Occupy movement, Mr Powell?"
Good lord. I thought. They think there's a leader? I mean, they think there's a leader? These guys haven't got a clue what they're dealing with...
This line of questioning continued:
Detective: "Do you know the leader of the Occupy movement, Mr Powell?
Detective: "Is **** ****** the leader of the Occupy movement, Mr Powell?"
A smile spread across my face, much to the unease of everyone in the room, including my poor solicitor. I wanted to tell them that we are all leaders and that yet, none of us were. I was keen to let them know that Occupy was more of an idea than a singular, "movement" - and certainly wasn't spearheaded by one or even several individuals that could be "dealt with" so easily by the powers that be. I felt compelled to remind them that the Occupy movements in the UK were themselves inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York - and no doubt in part by the extreme police brutality that they suffered for their efforts. I wanted to advise them therefore that the inhumane tactics they were unleashing upon us would inevitably create more discontent than they could ever hope to prevent. I wanted to explain to them that if they had been monitoring the situation (or myself) appropriately, that they would realise that I only attended the original Occupy London demonstrations twice. Not exactly leadership material, although I had written and performed in support of the idea and the philosophy behind it more than once. I guess that's enough in these times we now find ourselves in.
I was itching to remind them that the only reason I even attended the most recent set of actions in the first place was due to witnessing exactly the kind of aggressive police tactics that I had now become a victim of. I yearned to import to them that in every sense of the term and at every step of the way, that they were creating their own problems.
I longed to inform them that they were acting as if dealing with something completely alien to them, that in many ways, they were, and that was precisely why I was now being expected to suffer this unbearable "take me to your leader" routine, and all whilst sipping (extremely) watery coffee from a paper cup, whilst they sat across from me slurping smugly over real coffee served in actual mugs? The incredulous bastards!
Of course, I didn't say any of this. Fit to burst, I glanced right at my solicitor. The intensity of emotion in his eyes alone was enough for me to get the message...
"No comment", I replied.
|"You knew exactly what you were doing when you gave him that chicken"
- The Metropolitan Police Service