Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Keeping our streets safer

Isabel Parrott reports on legal and defendant support work surrounding the anti-cuts movement and student protests

May 7, 2011
4 min read

The recent wave of student demonstrations has seen newly politicised school children and students come onto the streets, acting as an inspiration for the broader anti-cuts movement. The protests have also seen the police break their record on containment, holding protesters for nine and a half hours on November 24, engaging in violent provocation and reprisals within kettles and making more than 300 arrests.

After the controversial death of Ian Tomlinson, we saw public order officials hold back on their response to protest movements. The policing of the student protests, however, shows us that this is no longer the case.

Organisations such as the long-standing Legal Defence and Monitoring Group and the newly formed Green and Black Cross have stepped up to the challenge, providing legal observation and training for the protests and engaging in the vital work of defendant support. Legal activists have been working to co-ordinate legal observers and medics at the student protests – they were hoping to organise a hundred legal observers on the 26 March TUC demonstration as Red Pepper went to press.

The activists involved work to support defendants by linking them up with good lawyers and accompanying them to court. They also aim to support defendants to launch campaigns, and have started a defendant-led campaign for the student protests.

In practice this means support campaigns, directed but not necessarily carried out by defendants, engaging in actions such as solidarity protests outside court hearings. They aim to hold the police to account and make people safer on demonstrations, stop defendants feeling isolated, and help them build a stronger case through good professional legal aid.

Andy Meinke has been acting as a legal observer on protests and supporting defendants since the miners’ strike and the poll tax riots. He says legal support is ‘more important than ever’ in the current austerity climate.

‘The legal system is more complicated than it ever was, and the cuts in legal aid are stopping people being able to defend themselves properly,’ he says. ‘We are going to see a big upsurge in protest, meaning increased police violence and more arrests.

‘Unfortunately the police are back on the rampage after being restrained by the killing of Ian Tomlinson and are acting in a more aggressive and provocative manner.’

The anti-cuts movement has seen the involvement of younger and less experienced activists, who need support and advice to keep them safe on demonstrations. They also need help to avoid charges that have the potential to derail their lives.

If we want the left to be a supportive place to organise then we should look out for defendants who have engaged in progressive protests, whether or not we condone all their actions.

Legal defence activists are also not simply engaging in defensive work but are also supporting people in taking action against the police for unlawful behaviour.

James Green, a UK Uncut campaigner, describes what happened at a demonstration on January 29. ‘A woman was arrested for criminal damage after pushing some leaflets through the door of Boots,’ he says. ‘We moved forward to see what was happening – and an officer CS gassed us and himself in the process.’

Legal observers collected witness statements for the case and facilitated a group meeting with a lawyer.

Legal activists stress that the police are not all-powerful and can be challenged, whether this is through legal observation or through defendant support.

In a movement that is sometimes fragmented and disorganised, making protests safer and supporting defendants is important – particularly as the anti-cuts movement has seen students charged who have little experience of politics and who do not have their own political support networks.

For more information and booklets to download on your rights and arrestee advice, see http://greenandblackcross.org and http://www.ldmg.org.uk

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones