LONDON, ENGLAND - Our aim was only to faithfully cover the proceedings of a momentous day and, if possible, have a good time too. We are not against the police. We are against some of their tactics to deal with legitimate protests. When you read the word ‘police’ please remember it’s the government and the London Stock Exchange we are referring to. But it was police enforcing government policies on that day.
London Stock Exchange occupation was organized by a number of activist groups as a peaceful protest. It started in the morning of Saturday, October 15, 2011. The initial aim was to occupy Paternoster Square, which is where the London Stock Exchange is located.
Earlier that day, Twitters had reported that owners of Paternoster Square had put up signs warning that the square was private and that nobody would be allowed in without a security pass. This photo is by Twitter @KeirSimmonsITV which he tweeted at around 10am Saturday. The photo received 4,105 views which gives an idea of the interest this occupation was getting among the public.
12:43. Police strengthens cordon preventing entrance to Paternoster Square, target of the Occupation of London Stock Exchange activists – #occupyLSX on Twitter.
Contact with local owners of private land is a tactic usually used by police against protesters. They count with the support of property owners to justify their presence in the area. Sometimes they even pressure owners to allow the police to evict protesters. This will backfire on this occasion as we shall see. In this blog we will endeavor to be as objective as possible (bar a few digs). We hope it will be forensically tested by readers to draw their own conclusions. Timeline is all true as each digital picture carries date and time information.
MID-DAY. LET THE PROTEST COMMENCE
12:45. A protester disguised as City Financier carrying a regular Stock Exchange security pass (stash of dollars in briefcase) tries to enter Paternoster Square. Police quickly concludes that he’s not in the same league as your regular City fraudster (not carrying big enough stash of dollars). Some police smile.
12:50. Police surveillance unit is already present at the scene occupying high ground. Later, the high ground will be occupied by protesters outside St Paul’s. The police video unit has the task of filming protesters for future prosecutions. They are a constant presence in every demonstration these days. Police are pre-empting that all marches are intent on trouble-making. This leads to attitudes and prejudices that affect relationship with the crowd from the start.
12:51. Keir Simmons from ITV was one of the first reporters at the scene. Behind him, some of the #occupyLSX future residents. Behind our photographer there were about 1,000 protesters stretching round the corner up to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. The protesters were forced to take over St Paul’s Courtyard as they would swell to a peak of 4,000 within a short period of time. The organizers said later that the crowd was between 4,000 and 5,000 at its peak.
12:54. Police reinforce entrance to Paternoster Square with horses. More behind, just in case.
12:58. All sorts of ‘celebrities’ appear at the entrance of Paternoster Square trying to get closer to the ‘London Stock Exchange of Lies’. Here is Methuselah trying his best to convince police to let him in. He failed. Earlier, our bloggers think they saw an Ashton Kutcher lookalike being interviewed by Fox News. These stunts were some of the many salvos OccupyLSX activists had prepared for the day. It emphasizes the good humor of the demonstration.
This was totally lost on police commanders. Things were going to get nasty.
13:00. Meanwhile, round the corner, at St Paul’s Courtyard and the steps of the Cathedral, Occupy London Stock Exchange crowd had thickened considerably from only an hour before. At this stage about 2,000 sympathizers, protesters and activists of different denominations were milling around.
In the background, a Sightseeing Tour of London bus is caught up in the police blockade. The protesters were now a tourist attraction that visitors to the city had not bargained for. To the right, a long line of buses are also caught up – at this stage, the occupiers were not stopping the traffic. It was the police operation doing that.
13:03. Police vans arrive at the scene. Three in this picture but in a few minutes they will increase to 50 police vans all carrying around 6 to 10 policemen and women each. A crazy overreaction. They will soon surround the area. Just wait and see. In total between 300 to 500 police in a space of minutes. There was no reason for this. It included experts in street clashes like the Territorial Support Group with riot-helmets and heavy-duty batons. Unnecessary.
Following the misstep of closing down Paternoster Square with no alternative plan, Met Police commanders started compounding their mistakes at every decision-making junction. In our view, there was an initial attempt to dislodge protesters from St Paul’s Cathedral steps and courtyard that lead to some outrageous maneuvers in total disregard of the Cathedral itself -an icon of cultural and religious heritage in the country- let alone the safety of a total peak of approximately 4,000 people.
The protesters didn’t want to be there. They were forced to occupy it by police closing Paternoster Square. But, as it happens, it turned out to be a better place to protest. They took over the steps which allowed them a sweeping view of the area. They were on the high ground. A strategic vantage point which they are still holding today.
If you look carefully, there’s a pigeon in midflight to the right of the picture. For a moment we thought it was part of a stunt organized by activists to bombard the London Stock Exchange with biological warfare. But it flew away.
13:06. LET THE KETTLE COMMENCE.
At about this time police begin their pressure on protesters. A police kettle is in progress right now. Its ultimate aim is to dislodge protesters and arrest them. From our vantage point and from reports from our bloggers in and around St Paul’s we could see the kettle in progress.
Police start covering all exits and entrances to St Paul’s Cathedral, an area comprising the size of a football field approx. Worshippers, tourists, passers-by, protesters, demonstrators, activists, diners, workers, shoppers are all going to be caught up. Observers saw women carrying children and babies in prams.
13:09. Now about 3,500 people of the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration gather in the main church courtyard unaware there’s a kettle procedure in operation. Many restaurants and shops still open in the area. Marks & Spencer and Starbucks, for example.
The aims of the police unit is to dislodge. From our vantage point we could see that encroaching on so many demonstrators was a bad idea. With so many people of various political & social denominations it is obvious that some were going to take offence at the police (read Government and Stock Exchange, don’t forget) openly encroaching on their civil liberties and right to protest. For many, the occupation was a peaceful demonstration. They were intent on making a peaceful point: the theft of billions of pounds, euros and dollars by financiers and bankers in and around the London Stock Exchange and thus enslaving millions in the wider economy.
13:10. The crowd is about to reach its peak of 4,000. This is because many were round the corner trying to get into Paternoster Square, south side of St Paul’s Cathedral
13:12. Another view of the crowd gathering outside St Paul’s Cathedral just a couple of minutes later. It’s getting bigger by the minute. Meanwhile, away from the cameras police keeps advancing.
13:13. Inexplicably, police press-on. Did they know how many people they were dealing with?
13:16. Police cordon reaches crowd and starts pushing.
This is dangerous. What’s the intention? Who’s monitoring this? It’s not a joke anymore. A stampede could cause many injuries.
At this stage Met Police should have put their hands up and said: “That’s it. You got me. I tried my best to dislodge and discourage you but you’ve won!” Instead, they decided to press-on. There is more to come.
13:21. Police are right up the noses of the peaceful protesters.
A spark could blow the whole thing into a mass enchilada, a mayhem of batons, crushed noses, pushing and shoving. The usual.
Many started wondering here: is this what the police is intending? Cause such mayhem that it will scatter, dislodge, arrest and terminate the protest?
Lots of evidence is pointing in that direction. Let’s have a look.
At this stage, it’s obvious Met Police Territorial Support Group soldiers have taken over the procedures from Bobbies-on-the-Beat. This is now a full-on eviction operation hiding behind a fig leaf. But the large crowd staying put. There is no violence. Just astonishment towards the way events are unfolding. People keeps their nerve. Police press-on.
13:23. More Met Police Territorial Support Group soldiers take up positions around the stationery demonstration. What’s the plan officer? Do you really want to cause a catastrophe? Riot helmets, batons, boots, hand-cuffs and who knows what else is at the ready. The operation is in full swing. “But officer, there’s women and children inside the crowd”. Just press-on.
13:23. A detachment of Met Police Territorial Support Group dashes up the stairs of St Paul’s Cathedral intending to take control of the high ground. St Paul’s Cathedral! Is this really happening? They would stop at nothing? “Just press-on!” is the order from officers behind.
At this stage a man in his 50s climbs up on one of the side walls at the top of the stairs and shouts at police, which at this stage was climbing up the stairs: “I am practicing my religion!” and repeats louder moments later with more anger. The man is bundled by several police officers for no apparent reason. The situation is bizarre. There was no point in holding the man so after a few seconds they release him. The man walks away into the Cathedral through the front door which at this stage was still open with worshipers and tourists inside. Bizarre.
More bizarre events are to come.
Territorial Support Group soldiers mill around in the background trying to make sense of it all. They look perplexed about who exactly is issuing these mad orders. It’s an impossible operation. Meanwhile, behind them, tourists tuck into pizzas with the added entertainment of a police operation in progress.
Hey guys in blue! This is St Paul’s Cathedral. Show some respect!
13:24. London Met Police Territorial Support Group has achieved the high ground. But what for?
Top left of the picture, the door of the Cathedral is still open and some foreigners leave the iconic tourist destination not understanding what on earth is going on. A bit like the Territorials themselves. On the right, two children are starting to get worried. What does this all mean? Behind them there is a three meter drop. It’s all starting to look like a scene for a forthcoming sequel of “Apocalyptic”.”OK, chief. We got the high ground. Now what?” Await instructions.
13:35. All around the St Paul’s Cathedral area, police reinforcements block all exits. Exit to the East? “Covered, chief”.
Exit to the South? “Covered, chief”.
Exit to the West, “Covered, chief”
Exit to the North: “All covered, chief!
What: there are more than 3,500 people inside the kettle at this stage, not counting tourists, pedestrians, workers and worshippers. If protesters were really intent on mischief, they would’ve stormed the Cathedral itself. But something else is occupying protesters minds: the occupation of the London Stock Exchange and the message to the world: “Things are changing in Britain”.
13:35. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of St Paul’s Kettle, things are not going to plan… “Errr… chief. A group of protesters have broken through and are now dancing on the streets”.
Chief’s response: “~@!! 8>#!! &+€!!!” (unprintable). Translation: “You’re fired!”
13:40. Obviously the protesters were not causing too much trouble. This police officer displaying a big yawn probably would prefer to be at home watching the Liverpool-ManU match. We found many officers who disagreed with the orders “from above”. But they had to press-on. A major review is required and the government will have to listen to protesters to avoid escalations.
13:53. The operation has unraveled. It’s a total, unmitigated failure. The crowd breaks free. It is impossible to kettle and evict a crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 intent on dancing on the streets and celebrating a fantastic day.
The first attempt by police to kettle and arrest thousands of people has failed. But they will come back for more later.
Met Police chooses the option of a dignified retreat. This doubles the size of the area where the demonstrators had assembled. It’s not a siege mentality anymore, which was frazzling nerves.
14:17. View from the Starbucks cafe, where many journos had to take refuge during the worst of the kittling. A girl presses here placard “We are the 99%” against the window. In the evening the same window would be the backdrop of a serious hand to hand combat of 5 or 6 police against lone protester.
14:23. A commotion outside. People rush to the right of Starbucks. Our photographer rushes too. There’s melee and lots of cameras. What’s going on? Somebody says: “There’s rumor that it’s Julian Assange”. What? Julian Assange in the kettle? A new chapter in this crazy day just opened.
Our photographer saw Julian Assange with his very eyes but forgot to take a picture!
For the next three or four hours the demonstration continues with music, speeches and spontaneous assemblies. By now demonstration totals around 4,000.
14:28. The arrival of Julian Assange was electric. The entire demonstration got shoulder to shoulder against the steps of St Paul’s. People hushed up and sat. In one instant, the whole atmosphere changed
Some people will say the movement is not about one man and we agree. But humanity being humanity, at that very moment the sudden appearance of a ‘leader’ seemed to galvanize the hope of the people. We do not think Assange himself wants that ‘accolade’. Julian Assange is under the ‘T’ of the banner. He was happy to be there and spoke a few words.
14:36. As people rushed to see Julian Assange at the top of the stairs, police stayed behind with nobody to kettle. Here they are, in a deserted courtyard.
What next? There is more in store from the police and the protesters. Don’t go away. More pictures and videos coming. This is only the end of the beginning.
EARLY AFTERNOON: IMPASSE.
14:30-17:30. It’s odd to see some sections of the protest having fun while at the other end some people are put under pressure by police.
Officers arrest a suspect in a ‘Snatch & Grab’ style operation. From now on the police will be execute guerrilla-style actions against the crowd with sporadic pressure and arrests. They can turn in a six pence against you. They have been ridiculed a few hours earlier so they were going to take no chances second time around. A column of protesters from the West joins the St Paul’s Kettle to swell the numbers.
16:11. Some people start to leave the kettle. Police loves this kind of control. Everything has to be on their terms. This exasperates people. Police say “we know some activists are inside the crowd”. But there are 3,000 there and they should not attack the crowd just because they want to snatch a couple they have identified as ‘trouble-makers’. Notice most vans are still on the side of the road further from the crowd.
LATE AFTERNOON: POLICE SECOND OFFENSIVE.
16:30. Change of mood for the worse. Police units start taking up forward positions. There would be ugly scenes at the pressurized edges of the kettle.
16:37. Police takes a long time to move all the vans from one side of the street to the other side, tightening up the kettle.
16:58. The second offensive is under way. Advance police units have positioned themselves around the monument. Many in the crowd are surprised by this. Crowd gets jittery.
Behind the monument, a cordon of police pushes the crowd into a tight kettle.
17:35. Crowd react against the new provocation. Police arrest a suspect in ‘Snatch & Grab’ style operation. Other nervy situations develop.
This account of the way the day developed is important because much of the media will make you believe the police and the protesters got on famously well. This is not true. Most of the time the protesters ignored the police but it was the police which constantly poked on the crowd to create animosity.
17:35. Protesters respond to police actions with the best way they can: humor. A Jesus Christ impersonator arrives with a large placard. “I threw money lenders out for a reason”. Later, divine intervention would save the camp for the protesters.
Meanwhile the police keeps planning and digging.
Police are overwhelmed. However, they wait for instructions for the final assault. Crowd continues to ignore the police.
The purpose of the kettle is to pressurize protesters so they don’t enjoy what they are doing. The constant harassment and bad reputation of the kettle makes people that don’t want to get into trouble, leave the kettle. But on this occasion it did not happen and protesters stayed put all day.
NIGHT TIME: SOMEBODY WILL HAVE TO GIVE.
18:32. Pressure keeps growing on kittled protesters at the foot of St Paul’s Cathedral. All policemen in the photo have riot helmets at the ready hanging from their belts.
19:02. Protesters bravely stay put. Many had never protested before. People had come from all over London and UK.
Police have taken up positions at the top the stairs once again. According to them “to protect the Cathedral”. We found that they use excuses all the time. This situation stays the same for a couple of hours.
20:56. The orange jackets among the crowd are ‘support observers’. They are official protesters themselves monitoring any ‘misunderstandings’ with the police. First tents begin to appear to make the point of occupation.
21:56. We saw protesters scattered in nearby streets surrounded by police. Some of them were arrested violently.
22:01 The man is taken away. Destination unknown
Police used dogs on a leash near the crowd to threaten protesters. Unused dogs were kept in vans barking for hours.
22:07. Meanwhile, back at the steps of St Paul’s, the kettle continues…
22:51. …and continues.
22:56. Police vans parked bumper to bumper surround the protesters. Total: 26 in line, with another 20 in the vicinity and side roads.
When we asked a policeman to speak to one of their sergeants they kept on pointing across the street to fob off requests. This was outrageous behavior. The cordon of 26 vans obscure the kettle eyesore from unsuspecting city traffic.
23:35. The moon is showing just above the Cathedral.
Despite the violence and the intimidation “The 300″ heroes stay put at the foot of St Paul’s.
It was a big effort after so much intimidation and for so long. Many have never been in a protest before. But this time they thought they had to.
INTERVENTION OF THE CLERGY.
Divine intervention. The word in the camp was that at some stage the bosses of St Paul’s Cathedral had enough with the police and asked them to leave. This was corroborated by the Guardian newspaper on Monday 17th. The Rev Dr. Giles Fraser thanked police for their “protection” and told them the church will allow the protesters to stay. So the police left in big numbers, something that they should have done much earlier. Tempers among the crowd calmed down after this.
We visited the camp on Sunday 16th. It was still there. They had survived the night. This is an independent summary of the same events as above published on Monday October 17, 2011 by The Guardian. Move along please, canon tells police.
We thought it was important to publish our findings early so people can judge the behavior of police in these kind of situations especially since it’s likely that more protests will take place in the coming months. It has taken a lot of work and some corrections had to be made after posting.
The aims of the police during the St Paul’s Kettle was to bring as much discomfort as possible to the peaceful protesters so as to scatter them and evict them, by use of force, if necessary. Misconceptions about protests and protesters among the police are huge. Our reporters spoke to some of them and we believe they are in urgent need of some understanding or clarification about modern protesting. Police is obsessively against activists. They should not preempt arrests only because they think there are trouble-makers among the crowd. If all activists and dissenters were put in prison democracy would die quickly.
It is customary for police to invoke the all-encompassing “breach of the peace”. But many times, as in this case, the “breach” came from the police. Their mission was clear. Control, disrupt, scatter, evict and if required, arrest protesters. The so called ‘kettle’ (corralling under pressure) is their weapon of choice when it should be used only in extreme circumstances for a short period of time – if at all used. All too often kittling maneuvers are being prepared for execution during a protest.
The kettle is designed to pressure on legitimate demonstrators. This is not democratic or legal. But illegality is difficult to prove when you are in the street being a victim of abuse of power. The situation never developed into a full violent repression operation as we have seen in some parts of Europe and the United States. We acknowledge that this was a credit for the UK police on this occasion.
- Arbolioto Twitter and Arbolioto Blog in association with Newsreel Democracy joined forces to produce a team of photographers, videographers and observers positioned at strategic locations in and around the London Stock Exchange occupation attempt and events surrounding the St Paul’s Kettle of Saturday October 15. All photos by Arbolioto Blog.-