A member of the Free Speech Union, Dominic Martin, has written to Cressida Dick the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to complain about the heavy-handed policing of Saturday’s anti-lockdown protest in central London. Hard to disagree with anything he says.
I am writing to express my disgust at how your police force handled the anti-lockdown protest in central London, and indeed how it has handled several previous demonstrations. They have been suppressed in an overly zealous and excessively forceful manner which brings shame upon the force and is chillingly reminiscent of scenes we have scene in recent months in Belarus and Hong Kong. The right to challenge authority by peaceful protest is a centuries-old British liberty and, moreover, a liberty enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was signed by Britain in 1948 (Article 20(1): “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association“). It is a cornerstone of liberal democracy, and can only be rightfully suspended in the most extreme of circumstances, such as war, invasion, or social breakdown. A virus with a 99%+ survival rate – and of the 1% or less who sadly die the overwhelming majority are of a very advanced age with existing health conditions – is no justification for enacting such draconian measures and stripping citizens of their basic rights. It is a highly worrying development. As we saw with the anti-terror laws rushed through in the aftermath of the September 11th and July 7th attacks, powers once gained are rarely surrendered, and are often used in a manner which far exceeds their original remit and purpose.
As bad as the over-reaction is, it is made far worse by the complete inaction shown this summer in regards to other protests, such as when far larger crowds were allowed to gather under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM) at the height of the first lockdown. Not only were these demonstrations given sanction to go ahead, they were lightly policed and indeed several police officers were seen running away when provoked, with protestors given free rein to vandalise public statuary. Furthermore, several police officers were filmed “taking the knee”, which, given that BLM is at heart a political lobby group, was a clear violation of police neutrality. A later FOI response by your force (ref. 01.FOI.20.014886) states clearly that “Officers were briefed to use enforcement powers as a last resort”, and the protests were also enthusiastically endorsed by Mayor Sadiq Khan. The contrast with Saturday’s anti-lockdown protest could not be more stark; it was met with a huge police presence and ordered to disperse immediately, with protestors then being arrested seemingly at random and in large numbers. The organisers of such demonstrations in the past have also been issued with exorbitant fines (again, not issued against BLM organisers).
Having a police force that is seen to be fair and impartial is of fundamental importance if public trust and support for law enforcement is to be maintained. I suspect that the real reason for the selective policing this year is that your organisation is still reeling from the impact of the MacPherson Report, and prioritises being seen as “not racist” above enforcing the law in a fair and equitable manner. I for one have lost all faith in the Metropolitan Police as an unbiased and apolitical force, and I suspect that I am far from alone. The damage caused has been enormous and the repercussions will be felt for many years to come.
Stop Press: Sky New Australia has a great report on the protests. They call them “riots”.
Stop Press: It is also worth reading Matthew Scott’s piece in the Telegraph – “Lockdown is being policed in an entirely disproportionate way” and Dr Jade Norris’s article in the Spectator about why she has resigned as a Special Constable – “Why I can no longer police the coronavirus restrictions“.