The Metropolitan Police Service has in recent weeks been used to breakup political protests in the capital city. For the last two Saturdays, they have been sent into wholly peaceful and calm protests, not to “Engage, Explain and Encourage” as their Covid-19 public mantra states, but to wade in from the outset wearing full riot gear with batons at the ready. Wading into crowds of thousands, made up of a diverse mix of men, women, children and elderly. Women in floods of tears trying to flee the subsequent melee, in disbelief that the previously calm and festival like atmosphere was smashed in such a physical and clearly over the top and unreasonable manner.
Charges of twenty to thirty riot officers were on a number of occasions on both weekends sent into the crowd, only to be subsequently surrounded by the crowd who were outraged by the aggression of the officers’ arrival. Chants of “choose your side” rang out each time. On occasions, the officers’ faces looked nervous, even scared, as they were thoroughly outnumbered. Nearly every face looked like they did not want to be there, demotivated, disengaged and unhappy with the situation their seniors were putting them into. Feelings that they were not being used to do the job they had been employed for, but were being used as pawns in the Covid-19 strategy of the current Government.
Never have I previously seen this look of despair on the faces of Police officers in moments of public order.
There may be a question on whether large scale protests such as these should be allowed or not under the current situation, my firm view is that they must be allowed. However, any level of consistency is clearly lacking as we can all remember the recent history of repeated Black Lives Matter protests being largely left alone by the Police. But even if the conclusion were that these protests should not be allowed, sending in under resourced officers with batons is going to have two quite devastating effects. Firstly, it will lose the Police the goodwill and support of the population. Britain has always been rightly proud of its Police officers and our principle of not using tear gas, water canon or rubber bullets, but the far superior method of policing by consent. As this Government is currently doing on so many fronts, they are now jeopardising this principle of the British culture that so strongly glues us together.
And secondly, it will further demotivate police officers. Already, many officers are handing in their public order licences, having lost respect for their senior officers who put them into scenarios they are not comfortable with. This can only now continue, with the resource of public order trained officers becoming even more depleted.
Let the senior ranks of the Metropolitan Police Service remember who we are as a society, we are not the scared servants of a totalitarian regime which fixes its elections and then beats its people if they dare challenge or disagree. You are our servants, and if we see you act in such a wrong way, there will be some very unfortunate repercussions for all of us.