Monday, January 27, 2014

Why do the Tories want to deploy water cannons against political protests?


In January 2014 countless inaccurate articles appeared in the mainstream corporate press making misleading claims about "the police" wanting to deploy water cannons on the streets of England and Wales. It was essentially the same interpretation of the same story, reiterated time and again via the process of churnalism.

When we dig further into the story, it turns out that the main advocates for using water cannon on British protesters are Boris Johnson - who is not a policeman - and ACPO  - a private company which claims to be "independent" but which until 2013 accepted most of its funding directly from the Home Office (which is headed by Theresa May) and receives the rest of its funding from the Home Office indirectly through the various Police Forces of England and Wales.

ACPO (The Association of Chief Police Officers) masquerades as some kind of tactical oversight team for the police forces of England and Wales, however it has been caught up in numerous scandals including (but not limited to) blatant profiteering, developing (or allowing to develop) a secretive undercover team to embed agent provocateurs within protest groups, promoting the tactic of "kettling" (mass detention without trial) in order curtail the right to peaceful protest, openly fantasising to the press about using more "extreme measures" on peaceful political protests, unlawfully hoarding the DNA records of a million innocent people and using £1.6 million of anti-terrorist funds to rent some 80 Central London apartments, the majority of which remained empty for most of the time.

Despite their claims of "independence" from ACPO and the Home Office, it is absolutely clear that ACPO is a Home Office funded quango with an appalling track record of behavior.

When mainstream corporate media reports that "the police want water cannons", it is very important to remember that all of these claims have been based on a document produced by ACPO, which is a private company not "the police".

When we look at what the ACPO document actually says there are a number of deeply concerning issues to consider:

Probably the most noteworthy parts of the report are the sections in which the admission is made that the use of water cannons would have been almost totally ineffective in halting the "fast, agile disorder" and "dynamic looting" that took place during the August 2011 riots. The report goes on to admit that the only times in the last decade where water cannons could conceivably have been deployed in an effective manner were the Countryside Alliance protest of 2004, the protests against the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2008-09 and the student protest of 2010. All of these protests were largely peaceful political protests that had been infiltrated by a tiny minority of trouble-makers (and who is to say that some of these trouble makers weren't agent provocateurs - which is hardly beyond the realms of reason).

These admissions are enough to demonstrate that ACPO are more interested in using water cannons against political protests than against the kind of mass rioting and blatant criminality that the public are actually concerned about. If their admission that water cannons would have been ineffective against the rioters and looters in August 2011, and their admission that they would have liked to use them against largely peaceful protests aren't enough to convince you that the deployment of water cannons has more to do with crushing political dissent than preventing criminality, then perhaps the next quote from the ACPO report may be sufficient?
"It would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest"
ACPO are assuming that the Tories ideological austerity experiment will lead to more political protests as the public wake up to the fact that they are being shafted by the Tory party and their rogues gallery of dodgy donors - therefore ACPO want water cannons. If you're not somewhat disturbed by these open admissions that ACPO want water cannons in order to suppress political protests rather than criminality, then you must be the kind of person that doesn't give the faintest damn that we have a legal right to express dissent in this country, and that the establishment are ever more determined to revoke it from us.

Here's another damning admission from the ACPO report:
"The mere presence of water cannon can have a deterrent effect"
The deterrent effect on people considering whether to exercise their legal right to peaceful protest is obvious. If you're elderly, disabled or have children that want to attend the protest with you, the thought of being blasted with a high pressure cannon of very cold water, which according to the ACPO report would be capable of "causing serious injury or even death" is obviously going to be more than a little offputting.

The threatening tone of the report is clear. Here's an example:
"in the absence of the availability of water cannon tactics it is likely that police commanders would have to authorise alternative tactics (involving significant force) which may include [baton rounds], batons, mounted officers, vehicle tactics, police dogs or even firearms"
The gist of this being that if they don't get the water cannons they're demanding, they might end up using live ammunition on British protesters!

The ACPO report also admits that they intend to use water cannons even when there is no ongoing violent disorder and criminality at all. All they have to do is suspect that criminality is "likely" in order to use their water cannons on "planned events" such as political demonstrations.

"Water cannon will therefore only be used to respond to incidents of serious disorder or planned events where the intelligence picture suggests that serious disorder is likely."
One of the most alarming things about the report is that it openly admits that the presence of water cannon can be "inflammatory in a volatile situation". It is not even remotely difficult to imagine the scenario when these water cannons are deployed at political demonstrations. At the very least the crowd is going to chant "shame on you" at the police operators. Another easily foreseeable scenario is that some hotheads it the crowd might begin to throw projectiles (bottles, rocks etc) at the water cannons.

Essentially ACPO have admitted that there is a significant probability that the water cannons themselves will end up provoking the kind of disorder they are supposedly needed to combat.

Even from a Tory perspective this "inflammatory" effect looks dangerous. Do they really want news coverage of political protesters being water cannoned to hit the headlines in the lead-up to the general election? - How do they imagine that water cannon deployment would play on Twitter for example? The question boils down to this: Are the foreseeable political demonstrations against Tory austerity that much of an existential threat to the establishment that it is worth the extreme damage to the reputation of the government associated with water cannon deployment against political protesters? The answer will tell us a lot about the Tory mentality.


Another factor that should be addressed is the cost, which is especially stark given the fact that the principal reason behind the ACPO request for water cannons is to combat protests against the massive cuts that are going on elsewhere. New water cannons cost between £600,000 and £1,000,000 each and also have very high maintenance costs in order to keep them serviceable. Water Cannons are not manufactured in the UK so the majority of this money would flow straight out of the UK economy.

The Home Office response to the ACPO report is remarkable barefaced. This is what they had to say:

"We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon."
The important thing to note about this quote is that Home relies upon the the fantasy that ACPO (a private company) is "the police" and that they are somehow independently building the case which the Home Office will assess. The fact that the ACPO quango is indirectly bankrolled by the Home Office isn't even alluded to. The reality is that if the Home Office didn't want to see water cannon deployment, this report would unquestionably never have seen the light of day. 

The reason for this deceit seems quite obvious. The Home Office (ie Theresa May and the Tory party) want to make it seem that it is "the police" that are demanding water cannons, rather than the Tories themselves wanting water cannons and using a privately operated Home Office funded quango to build the case that is then decided upon by the Home Office. 

Let me make it absolutely clear, if the decision is made that water cannons are to be deployed against political protests, the decision will be a Tory one. Not only do the Home Office have the final say, they also indirectly fund the supposedly "independent" body that produced the report building the case for deployment.

The mainstream corporate media response to this story has been lamentable (a lot of lazy churnalism and hardly any original analysis). The political reaction has been extremely poor too. The Labour party have been virtually silent on the issue leaving the political space to be filled by Jenny Jones of the Green Party who said this:

"The further militarisation of our police will ultimately damage the public’s trust in them. This is a weapon that should never be used on anyone exercising their legal right to protest and has no place on our streets." - Jenny Jones (Green Party)
The right wing-response to this has been typically idiotic. Some even went as far as re-cherry-pick an already cherry-picked statistic from the report - a poll showing that 90% of the public wanted water cannons deployed against the August 2011 riots - to to crow that "the left is so wrong". This "argument" would have been hopelessly weak anyway, but the fact that the statistic is cherry-picked from a report which admits that water cannons would have been ineffective against the riots, makes it look award-winningly stupid. This bizarre use of public opinion statistics demonstrates little more than:
A. The general public knows bollocks all about effective crowd control.
B. The typical right-wing water cannon enthusiast doesn't have the faintest clue how to construct a rational argument to justify their assertions.
The ACPO report also states that "no significant public opposition to water cannon has been identified in response to media releases". I'm not sure what evidence they used to justify this claim since they didn't bother to cite any, however I think it's fair to assume that the vast majority of readers here are opposed, or at least have some serious misgivings about the deployment of water cannons against political protests (feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section).


One more thing to note is that the Home Office have no authority to deploy water cannons on the streets of Scotland, yet the ACPO report admits that they are perfectly willing to "should the need arise". I'm sure everyone in Scotland must be chuffed to bits to think that a police quango funded by the English Home Office would be willing to deploy water cannons against them "should the need arise".

Conclusion

I'll conclude by reiterating some of the main points. Water cannons are ineffective at preventing serious disorder like the August 2011 riots, but extremely effective at breaking up peaceful protests and deterring people from even daring to exercise their right to free protest in the first place.

We have open admission that ACPO intends to use these weapons on political protests, even when there is no ongoing criminality; and they intend to deploy them at political protests even though the water cannons themselves will be "inflammatory", meaning the cannons themselves are likely to be the factor that provokes the "disorder" to be used as a justification for their use.

If the Tories do decide to deploy water cannons against the public, they're either "shit-scared" that their policies are so unpopular that the public will rise up and tear down the establishment in protest, or they're taking a seemingly insane risk with their political reputation.

What you can do

Given that ACPO have made unfounded claims that there is "
no significant public opposition to water cannon" I believe that it is of utmost importance that people who oppose the deployment of water cannons against political protesters write to their MP and let them know in no uncertain term.

You can find the contact details for your MP using this page. Remember - If you include your full name and postal address in your message, your MP has a statutory obligation to reply to your concerns.

If you live in the London area, you could contribute your views to the (barely publicised) public consultation on water cannon deployment using this email address:
watercannonengagement@mopac.london.gov.uk
watercannonengagement@mopac.london.gov.uk
watercannonengagement@mopac.london.gov.uk
watercannonengagement@mopac.london.gov.uk
(Remember to include your postcode)

You could also sign this petition against the deployment of water cannons in England and Wales.
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Note: I included a link to the ACPO report near the beginning of the article (in green text) but I'll link it again here in case anyone feels inclined to check that my various quotations from the document are accurate, etc.
 

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