Friday, 19 July 2024

Between a rock and a hard place: Policing Saturday’s controversial protests

Between a rock and a hard place: Policing Saturday’s controversial protests

(Picture of police in Parliament Square)

Police in Parliament Square

It wasn’t an easy decision as to whether, in the current climate, to attend the protest and counter-protests on Saturday for reasons of which we are all aware. I’d relied on live feeds and social media footage to view events during previous Black Lives Matter protests

During the first protest which took place on a Wednesday, I witnessed via social media, two officers being chased by a mob along Bridge Street and then a handful of officers retreating down Whitehall. Saturday saw more peaceful protesters leave before the remnants threw missiles at officers outside Downing Street which prompted the mounted police charge during which an officer was hospitalised.

Sunday, again saw a police operation that was roundly criticised as ‘light touch’ policing which was again the order of the day. As previously, most peaceful protestors had left when violence erupted exposing lightly protected officers. Credit to those Black Lives Matter supporters who stood between the thugs and the police.

Battle lines are drawn

So, that was how I viewed matters via my laptop but was my interpretation correct? I decided to take the plunge, using previously obtained words of advice from a friend who is an experienced, senior ITU nurse and one of the heroes dealing with the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Black Lives Matter had cancelled their own Saturday demonstration in Hyde Park but supporters from two other organisations stated that they wished protests to go ahead as did ant-racists, The Met therefore designated the ‘north end’ of Whitehall as the BLM/ANTIFA meeting area which would include Trafalgar Square while those engaged in ‘Monument Protection’ were allocated the south end including Parliament Square.

Tweet with the Black revs.

On my arrival at Trafalgar Square all was peaceful. About 200 mainly black youths and men were gathered by the fountains and a group of around twenty veterans were protecting one of the statues. There seemed no animosity and even some engagement and so it was down to Parliament Square via the Embankment.

Black and white officer looking over Trafalgar Square

Lull before the storm. Officers overlook Trafalgar Square

The ‘protect the monuments’ gathering in Parliament Square was, in part, organised by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, whose last appearance in the square had led to pitched battles with police over the Brexit issue. A Tommy Robinson video condemned the damage to statue and the actions, or lack of them, by police while various veteran’s groups also stated they would also be attending to protect monuments linked to our military history.

Military vets in T/Square

Military veterans in Trafalgar Square


The cancellation by BLM, of their event in Hyde Park probably resulted in a number of ‘monument protectors’ deciding not to attend. Although several thousand were present, there was plenty of room and social distancing wasn’t a problem. Police serials (each an inspector and around 20 officers) were at the junctions of all four streets that exited the Square but the atmosphere was reasonably tranquil with plenty of alcohol being consumed.

The arrival of the Veterans

Suddenly and dramatically that atmosphere changed. Cheering and applause rang out with the reason soon becoming clear; a group of veterans, marching smartly three abreast, entered the square. Interestingly, effectively leading the parade was a black ex-serviceman acting as a standard bearer. The veterans marched to the now boarded up statue of Winston Churchill.

Alas, I’d managed to switch my phone to ‘selfie’ mode’ and it wouldn’t switch back so by the time I’d switched it off and back on again, this dramatic moment had passed.

There was, surprisingly, no platform or facility for making speeches so after singing the usual variety of ‘patriotic’ songs including ‘Winston Churchill, he’s one of our own,’ the crowd slowly dispersed across Parliament Square with some deciding to head for home.

I then began to hear of trouble in Trafalgar Square and wrongly assumed it’d be Black Lives Matter supporters versus police. I decided to walk up and see for myself but on attempting to leave the Square via Great George Street I found it blocked by fully kitted out riot police. I then discovered, as did others walking around the square, that all exit roads had been similarly blocked. I was stuck.

Word spread and around two hundred protesters made their way to the police cordon that stretched across Great George Street. There were shouted insults, a few missiles thrown and the Tommy Robinson song sung together with another ditty which paid tribute to police killer Harry Roberts.

It seems at this stage (I was at the back struggling with my not so smart phone) the veterans intervened and stood in a line in front of the police. The crowd then melted away back into the square. The veterans were, apparently, allowed to leave.

Police under attack

All seemed quiet when suddenly the crowd galvanised itself as one. They ran into Parliament Street and up towards the police barriers, behind which were fully equipped riot police. I was puzzled as to why, what had become a mob, should decide to attack the most strongly defended exit.

They focussed their efforts on the left side of the barrier and launched a determined attack on police officers. In addition to the missiles, that end of the police barrier saw some ferocious hand to hand fighting. Officers on the other side of the road manning the barrier could only watch as to move and help their colleagues would mean the rest of the crowd would pour through that section of undefended barrier.

Protestors in Whitehall facing police.

Protestors attempt to force their way past police and into Whitehall


Eventually, the crowd went running back down Parliament Street as the penny began to drop with me that they were in fact trying to get up to Trafalgar Square, Both my mental and tweeted criticism of Met tactics in their apparently arbitrary kettling was clearly unfair.

The next point of attack on police was at the top of Bridge Street by Westminster Bridge. Again, some fierce fighting took place. At one stage a serial of officers marched up Bridge Street and through the mob to reach their colleagues. Quite who ordered a deployment on those lines should be confined to permanent dog fouling patrol on Wanstead Flats. The officers were predictably attacked, both with punches and kicks together with missiles.

Later that evening, I saw on news broadcasts further violence in Parliament Square that could only have occurred after I had left. This involved mounted police officers. However, I was glad to have escaped.

A little incongruous.

Whilst kettled with those of the far right and football ‘firms,’ in the context of the event there were some slightly incongruous occurrences. Two groups of black males walked around the square completely unhindered. As the cordons were lifted a young black lad entered the square on a Boris bike. He was well received and when one individual behaved aggressively towards him about 30 angry protestors rushed to his aid.

A young black girl was my hero of the day. Amidst the mayhem and the plethora of cans and bottles, she coolly wandered around the square with her charity box, collecting money from far- right protestors and she did rather well. Once the cordons were lifted, she strolled out past bemused officers. She would certainly have boosted her funds had she approached them.

The charity collector in yellow.

A rose amongst thorns!!


The violent aftermath

Getting home was tricky as Trafalgar Square was sealed off by police. Walking up Haymarket, I saw youths running around the back streets. This was as the result of the large numbers of far-right activists ignoring police directions earlier in the day and engaging in running battles with Black Lives Matter supporters in and around Trafalgar Square: Hence the attempts by those in Parliament Square to provide assistance to their allies by breaking through police cordons.

Police in riot gear with carriers o/s T/square

Trafalgar Square sealed off.


This was in turn to lead to serious problems for the far right and other ‘monument protectors’ as they made their way home. Anyone who BLM supporters deemed to be a ‘racist’ was chased and beaten. Serious disorder occurred around Waterloo, as white males were attacked along with police officers. It was clear from social media videos that such was the severity of the attacks, were it not for the intervention of police, then the attacks on those white males deemed to be racists could well have ended in tragedy.

During this disorder, the now iconic photo of Patrick Hutchinson, rescuing an injured white protestor from the melee, emerged.

Tweet featuring Patrick rescuing the white protestor


This was a huge policing operation and, despite the violence, it would well be argued that police tactics and interventions saved lives. If several thousand far-right protestors had managed to ‘escape’ from Parliament Square and made it to Trafalgar Square then the consequences would have been severe.

Equally police interventions where individuals were getting badly beaten could also have saved lives.

Will they receive any credit from the protagonists on either far right or the hard left including the BLM organisation whose stated aim is to abolish police? I suspect not.




Picture of PC Keith Palmers memorial.

The man who urinated by the memorial to PC Keith Palmer has been arrested and sentenced to two weeks imprisonment after walking into a police station.

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