Justice for the Charing Cross 10! (cont’d)

Posted on May 25, 2011

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Will and Kate’s wedding was a day of national unity, pride, a celebration of royal love. Republicanism aside, you might even believe it all went over quite nicely. But behind all the patriotic flag-waving, Friday 29 April had a different, darker side to it.

At 11.38am, 10 people were arrested at Charing Cross Station, central London. “Bobi Pasquale”, 21, was one of them, the “Charing Cross 10”.

“The idea was to hold a counter-demonstration to take emphasis away from the royal wedding and to the ‘pre-crimes’ or thought crimes that have been happening lately”, Bobi says. In the run-up to the wedding, Chris Knight, 68, anthropology professor at the University of East London, and Charlie Veitch, 30, were both arrested for “conspiracy to cause public nuisance”. Both had stated they would stage republican protests at the wedding. The police arrested them the day before. Similarly on the Friday, Bobi’s group packed placards and megaphones for a day’s demonstrating, but never got to use them.

“Trafalgar Square was completely locked-down, so we decided to go to the republican street party [in Red Lion Square].” They met outside Charing Cross station, where they were picked up by London Transport police.

“We had two placards in a bin bag,” Bobi says. “One said something like ‘Democracy Now’, the other, ‘It is right and fitting to die for your country’. There was also a megaphone hidden-up.” The students were reassured repeatedly by the police; things were “fine”, no arrests would be made.

But shortly afterwards the police invoked Section 60 stop and search powers. They inspected the megaphone, placards and a bike helmet – one of them had cycled there. “Climbing gear”, said the police.

Within minutes, around 40 riot police forming up outside the station got involved.

“They charged and kettled us – 10 of us. We were taking the piss and keeping light-hearted about it, but then at 11.38am we were arrested for prevention of breach of the peace. Two of us, including me, were arrested for actual breach of the peace.” Bobi says there was never any explanation: “We were referred to as ‘prisoners’”.

They were handcuffed and detained for around 30 minutes at Charing Cross station, before being led into an unmarked vehicle, a privately-hired coach – “to avoid media attention”, Bobi claims. Only one person was read their rights. The bus took them to Sutton, Surrey, some 13 miles and 40 minutes south of where they were picked up. There, five were put in cells, five in a station courtyard – all without water, toilets, or their one phone call.

In total there were 156 pre-emptive arrests that day, all on Section 60 grounds.

In 1981 the Court of Appeal defined breach of peace as ‘an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence, his property, or is likely to cause such harm being done’. But was a “counter-demonstration” likely to cause harm amongst fellow counter-demonstrators? Moreover, is protest now a crime?

No, it’s a “pre-crime”. After the “violence” of the student demonstrations over tuition fees, the police have begun cracking down on student-activists. They call them “political arrests”, an Orwellian-sounding word that – as Charing Cross shows – justifies arrest for any kind of supposed offence, before it has even happened. The 10 activists had not even started protesting when they were arrested.

Some will call it fascism; others, swift justice. “What it shows is that the police are not on our side; they’re protecting a State that’s fucking us all over”, Bobi says.

Meanwhile the Charing Cross 10 spent the rest of the day in cuffs. They were released between 4-5pm but never officially de-arrested. They weren’t even allowed to use the toilet after release. “The whole point was to intimidate us and to be as inconvenient as possible”, Bobi says.

The majority of the 10 have given full names in the press, but the day’s events have pushed Bobi to anonymity. “They’ve forced us to be,” Bobi says, citing the list of silenced Facebook groups as an example. It is not clear who warranted their removal – but presumably not just Facebook. “When you look, it’s mostly radical organisational groups” – the list includes everything from local anti-cuts and campus groups, to a tribute to George Orwell. “It’s to scare people”, Bobi says. “And to stop them organising.”

For more information and other accounts of student arrests, visit bobipasquale.wordpress.com/.

For the list of Facebook groups, visit http://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/FB_takedowns.

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Posted in: Politics