Monday, May 04, 2009

A riot in Brighton

Sirens all afternoon and I was picking spinach on the allotment, returning carpet squares to CarpetRight, baking apple cake and now, they're still going on after supper. The police helicopter emerged from mist as I came down the hill from Tenantry Down and earlier was hovering over Mouslecoomb where the arms manufacturer EDO has a factory. EDO allegedly makes parts for missiles used by the Israeli army.

I hadn't planned to go to the May Day demo against EDO, I wanted to walk up to the Chattri and see an Anish Kapoor sculpture. I stopped off at his Joan of Arc installation in the old fruit and veg market (it is amazing) and when I got to the pier saw Fred Pipes on his bike. Maude had told me she was going and so was my son. So I decided to join it as it moved off towards the town. It was laid back, good natured, a bit noisy but unthreatening.....

So what's so stunning, crazy, call it what you will, is the brute force demonstrated by the police for such a small gathering. (The scale of their preparation is evident from a YouTube video showing a whole street of riot vans parked up near Five Ways.)

Mounted police set off at first, then two meat wagons, then a chevron of demonstrators in black and masked, with the rest of us behind. There was no violence, but every side street off North Street had police in it and as Fred and I skived back into the north Laines later - the demo apparently heading for the factory - we watched the end of it. At the very back, a couple of cyclists and a woman pushing a baby in a buggy. Behind her, four or five transits of police, smirking.

Fred told me a funny story about a Critical Mass demo when so few people turned up that he and the other three or four demonstrators went for a cup of tea on the seafront. They were confronted by vanloads of police who asked what they were doing and they replied they were having their tea. Above them, the predictable helicopter.

Anyway, so I held my breath for the afternoon, wondering what would be going on in Moulsecoomb and hoping my son would stay away from the flashpoints. I recognised the danger signs just before Fred and I ducked out - groups of pissed men joining the crowd, sharp faced troublemakers like ferrets.

Then my daughter rang to tell me she'd gone to a friend's birthday barbeque at Preston Park, arriving shortly after so-called demonstrators had rushed through, scattering the bowls players and terrifying her friend. And then my son rang just now from the seafront to tell me it had turned into a full-blown riot.

Do the police see any small demonstration now as an opportunity for some riot training? Has this become our only visible sign of policing?

Not a copper in sight to get the drug dealer doing four or five drops a day from his car around where we live, or the one at the bottom of the road who's also been sleeping with an underage girl, or the one who's now moved but was known to police and was also a paedophile or the couple who do their deals a few doors up from the nursery in Whippingham Road, blatantly, so confident they won't be stopped by anyone because when do you ever see police around here?

Not a copper, even, half an hour after the rush through Preston Park to stop a mugging. Not a copper, apparently, even on the seafront to do anything about blatant dealing in the crowd.

Policing is easy when it's macho shield battering, riding a line of horses into battle, taunting people who are mostly genuine about wanting to voice their opinions about an arms factory on a housing estate in their home town.

Is this all it boils down to - law and order - a line of police cordoning off the Level, the street alongside Barclays, wasting our cash on a helicopter and alienating our teenagers?

The Brighton festival organisers must have been quaking today as the 'Brighton Riot' moved into the Pavilion gardens where there's 24 hour private security for Kapoor's sky mirror. Read this.......

According to the local paper, he was spotted watching the demo in Queen's Road.

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