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

×

The Olympics’ security legacy

Hosting the Olympics could have a serious impact on the civil liberties of people in east London, writes local resident and community activist Kevin Blowe

July 27, 2012
7 min read


Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


  share     tweet  

Bobbies on the beat? Around 12,000 police will be on duty for the Olympics

Londoners, it seems, are not as excited about this summer’s Olympics as its organisers would like. Even the city’s Evening Standard newspaper acknowledges that ‘the sense of anticipation has been held back by recession and the fact that, as a major world capital, there is always something else to preoccupy us – from riots to a royal wedding’.

But as the London organising committee and most of the political and media establishment busily try to manufacture consent for the Games with funding for street parties and tickets for school children, insisting a ‘groundswell of support and excitement’ will soon emerge, the feeling among many residents in east London is less anticipation than trepidation.

I work in a community centre in Newham that is close to the Olympic Park, live locally and spend much of my time working with the borough’s charities and voluntary groups. What I hear, even from people who are not vocally antipathetic towards the Games, are growing concerns about massive travel disruption, scepticism about the promised legacy – and genuine alarm about plans for a massive security operation around the stadium in Stratford.

Militarised zone

It seems to be taken for granted that the only way to stage the Olympics is to turn parts of east London into a militarised zone. There has been an almost gleeful media focus on the deployment of 13,500 uniformed military personnel, plans for ground-to-air missiles, snipers in helicopters patrolling the skies and even, at least according to the Sun, a new top-secret underground SAS bunker.

The commentator Simon Jenkins has warned that ‘the Stratford Olympics site will resemble Camp Bastion in Helmand’. On top of this rather chilling scenario, there are the expected 13,000 staff to be supplied by global private security firm G4S, alongside the security personnel of individual nations (the US has 500 FBI agents coming to the UK) and of sponsors like Coca Cola. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, around 12,000 police will be on duty across the different venues on peak days. There have also been reports that a central police control room will have the ability to remotely tap in to any CCTV network in London and that the police are planning to use unmanned surveillance drones.

At recent activist meetings I have attended, people hoping to highlight issues such as the conduct of London 2012 corporate sponsors like Dow Chemicals and BP have understandably begun to speculate whether they will be forced into the kind of ‘authorised protest zone‘ that has been a feature at every Olympics since Sydney in 2000. They also wonder what to make of the suggestion by the Metropolitan Police’s Olympic security co-ordinator Chris Allison that there may be a repeat of the pre-emptive arrests seen before last year’s royal wedding.

The imminent presence of large numbers of armed police brings back memories, particularly strong within Asian communities, of the anti-terrorism raids in Forest Gate in 2006. A neighbour in the next street from me, who had no involvement in the conspiracy that dubious police ‘intelligence’ accused him of, was shot and then held in Paddington Green police station for days on end. No Londoner, meanwhile, can forgot the terrible fate that awaited Jean Charles de Menezes as he travelled to his fatal shooting by police at Stockwell station in 2005. We have all seen how heightened tension can easily lead to a breakdown in channels of communication and command that has frightening consequences.

Stop and search

The community civil liberties group Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), which I am part of, is concerned that private security guards with limited training may have a poor understanding of the limits of their powers – as incidents in April at the O2 arena and the Olympic stadium (where guards forcibly and illegally attempted to stop the media taking photographs from public land) would seem to suggest. However, by far the greatest concern, shared by youth workers locally, is that young people without tickets who are out on the streets on summer evenings and are inevitably likely to gravitate towards events in Stratford become the targets of the repeated use of police stop and search powers – which studies have shown was a key factor in the level of the antipathy towards the police before last summer’s riots. Youth projects in Newham, which have suffered huge cuts over the past year, fear that they face severe challenges in trying to open their facilities for longer or provide young people with alternatives to renewed confrontation. Some plan to try to take their members away from the borough altogether.

Concerns about stop and search are based on experience. Late last year, a report by Newham Council acknowledged that during June and July 2010, compared to neighbouring boroughs, Newham’s police carried out the highest number of stop and searches under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which is most prone to accusations of racial profiling. A Freedom of Information request last year revealed that the use of this power on under-16s rose from 251 stops in 2007 to 6,503 in 2010, a staggering 2,540 per cent rise. ‘Section 60s’, unlike other stop and search powers, do not require an officer to justify having a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person may be about to commit a crime.

The government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is expected to become law just before the start of the Olympics, plans to introduce another power that does not require evidence of reasonable suspicion. This is a replacement for the notoriously misused section 44 anti-terrorism powers that the European Court of Human Rights ruled was illegal in January 2010. It will require the prior authorisation by a senior officer who must ‘reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place’, but given that we are repeatedly told there is a ‘severe threat level’ throughout the Olympics, it is inevitable that anti-terrorism stop and search powers will be used extensively. However, when pressed by NMP, local police have been extremely reluctant to explain the likely impact of the Olympics on the disproportionate use of the different stop and search powers on young people and black and Asian communities.

Monitoring the Games

With the prospect of overlapping, potentially chaotic security arrangements, it will be extremely difficult to monitor how often the civil liberties of local people are trampled on to facilitate the freedoms of the 40,000 members of the international ‘Olympic family’ heading to London. NMP is offering a dedicated Olympics telephone helpline, rights cards and, for the first time, street-level community legal observers who will monitor policing and security around Olympic venues. Looking back on our experiences after the riots last year, we have also decided to set up a network of local people who are trained to gather information about stop and search and are alert to incidents of heavy-handed policing in their neighbourhoods.

As well as ensuring access to proper legal advice and the opportunity to seek redress, the reason for gathering comprehensive evidence is to look at the security legacy long after the Games are over. Having created new policing powers, spent millions on security infrastructure and tested its effectiveness thoroughly over the summer, government and security institutions are looking for long-term gains. This means east London is likely to remain an ideal venue for major, heavily securitised events. Potentially this may mean far more than events such as the World Athletics Championship that will be held in London in 2017. When the UK takes over the G8 presidency next year, for example, it will need somewhere to host a summit. Where better than a part of the capital that the state knows how to militarise?

To volunteer to become a community legal observer with Newham Monitoring Project over the Olympics period, contact info@nmp.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.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


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

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes