We saw a change in police tactics for the Nov 9 student demo in central London. Apart from the tightly regulated route of the march (each sidestreet was blocked by a small army of well defended barriers) police had introduced a new and potentially dangerous element into the policing of the demonstration – the extensive and transparent use of undercover police.
Previously police would simply deploy FIT [see here] at strategic points on the edges of the demo to identify “potential troublemakers” who if arrested would be by uniform cops away from the main march.
The Nov 9 student demo saw numerous undercover police (dressed, badly, as protesters) within the body of the march extracting often violently those they want to arrest. This change of tactic may be due to a new top cop in charge, may be a one-off strategy to prevent another Millbank or maybe the first outing of a new and potentially far-reaching approach to policing major demonstrations.
Blocs protecting the integrity of the march are common place on mainland Europe, indeed it is an essential feature. They act as a collective political presence, but also ensure the dynamic between protester and police remains intact – both in opposition and in terms of penetration. In the UK we have no such understanding of the dynamics of blocs and as such often distance ourselves from them. (NB blocs does not just mean ‘black bloc’, a black bloc when active is an entirely different proposition taking on an entirely different dynamic)
This must, and will, change if we are to maintain any autonomy within the policing conduct and regulations of a demonstration.
This new police tactic, if it continues, will need anarchists to acknowledge our collective role on demonstrations. Any anarchists who continue to attend demonstrations as individuals, as opposed to a politically constituted element, will have to learn pretty sharpish a new way of thinking.
Nov 9 was a classic example of a police demonstration. The new and dangerous twist is the police are now an active and embedded part of the march itself.
A warning of things to come.
Violent arrest of a protesters during #Nov9 by a large group of undercover cops: