I couldn’t help but thinking as I watched Channel Four’s Dispatches documentary last night, Ready For A Riot, that when the police spoke of there being only two ways of dealing with “public order offences” (protests) – containment or crowd dispersal – they were forgetting secret option number 3: do nothing and let the protest run its course.
I have not been to a single protest yet where the police presence has helped keep the peace; yet almost every protest that I have attended in which the police have been involved has ended in either a riot, or running violence.
The assumption made – at least in public, where the admission of plain and simple oppression of dissident opinion would be too damaging – is that protests need policing, or else they might get out of hand.
How about we start making a new assumption though, one actually based on evidence: police turn peaceful protests into riots time after time after time. Protests do not automatically need to be contained or dispersed, they need to be listened to and embraced – without any policing at all – because they are the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.
Now I would be perfectly happy for police to come in – riot vans and all – and restore law and order after an un-policed protest erupted into a genuinely threatening riot (were that ever to happen), but until the citizens of a country are trusted enough that they can voice their political opinions without fear of threat or violence from the State, then we will never truly live in a democracy.