Emerging from the 2003 UK anti-war protests came what some consider the most powerful direct action campaigns: Smash EDO.
Following the recent release of the Schnews movie On The Verge – which various UK police forces tried to ban using certification laws – on Wednesday 4 June, the 600-strong Carnival Against The Arms Trade marched on the EDO MBM factory in Brighton.
The peaceful protest descended into riot status as scores of riot police attempted to halt the arms-trade protestors from getting close to the factory, that makes bomb release mechanisms for the US and Israeli army.
Since then all press reports, of which – considering the extent of the violence and unrest that day – are few and far between, have skewed and twisted that day’s events by a simple copy and paste of official police statements.
But the trouble with that is I was there. I saw it. And filmed it too, as that is my job.
Four films follow below in consecutive order, documenting each section of the Carnival Against The Arms Trade.
Many protestors wore red masks. The police, as always when making public statements, claim this is because a hardcore element are intent on criminal activity. Although in some cases this can be true, the police never explain to the unknowing public about the extent of surveillance against all protestors and campaigners.
The mask and the hoody has actually now become a form of protest in itself, defying CCTV and police surveillance teams, known as the FIT Squad.
The Carnival Against The Arms Trade leaflet handed out on the day explained: “We wear red masks to commemorate the faceless, nameless dead victimised by EDO MBM and the ITT Corporation.
“We also wear the mask of carnival not to frighten but to avoid the intimidation of intrusive photography”
I have argued this before in a previous blog covering the London Freedom of Assembly protests. Highlighting police surveillance and intimidation of peaceful democratic protest and free speech has been the sole campaign of FIT Watch.
For years the Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) has been used to document protestors and football hooligans. But more recently the FIT have taken a keen interest in Street Journalists who cover protest. This has led to the National Union of Journalism (NUJ) holding protests and challenging the Metropolitan Police and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on why police intelligence feels the need to put UK journalists under surveillance.
So far no answer has come back from anyone. Not to say there has not been developments in this case. There has. But not in the way those involved were expecting. But more on that as the dirt continues to be sifted.
But now the FIT Teams are coming to a neighbourhood near you, as part of what is being sold as the campaign to use overt police surveillance to intimidate young offenders into behaving themselves. This all sounds good for the general public, but as has already been seen it is not just the young offenders that are being documented, it is all children in the trouble-prone areas.
As with what started to happen across the UK protest scenes, the kids of deprived areas are all being branded the same, guilty until proven innocent. And then it is too late. Got your photo and file already. This is a very dangerous path for the state to be heading along.
According to a report in Brighton newspaper The Argus the trouble started that hot Wednesday afternoon said when the protestors reached the wall of police and vans blocking Home Farm Road, the police coming under a, “hail of plastic bottles and bricks rained down on about 50 police officers trying to contain the marchers“.
The video above shows the beginning of the clashes on Home Farm Road and shows clearly this never happened. For one thing if a hails of missiles of “plastic bottles and bricks” were raining down, learning from my own personal experience, the press pack would not have been at the front of the protest without some kind of protection, like a helmet. Previous riot coverage has proven that missiles go astray and more often than not hit other protestors and journalists. And it should also be stated that there is a very big difference between being hit with a plastic bottle and a rock.
The Argus article also claimed that, “activists clashed with police while smashing windows and vandalising cars“. Yet, the Home Farm Road was deserted and the only violence was coming from the police side, who mostly looked young, inexperienced and scared to death. This, myself and several fellow photojournalists commented on, all of us having experience of such situations.
While on Home Farm Road the most the police could have accused the protestors of was breaking police lines, using linked arms and their body weight to push police lines back. There was no punching, no kicking, no missiles. Police units were using batons from the outset, hitting men and women, and on occasion not in the regulated way – body blows and leg strikes. The pepper spray came soon after. And then the riot police were brought in, in their scores.
The BBC reported protestors forced their way into the factory car park. This is one question that everyone I have spoken to since is still questioning. How exactly did an electronically operated security gate open by itself. It certainly could not have been forced open. Electronic gates do not bow under pressure.
All reports claimed that windows were smashed and cars damaged in the factory invasion. This was not the case from what I witnessed. One window did break and several protestors entered one of the factory buildings. One protestor later told me it didn’t so much as smash, more fall out of the frame into their hands.
Again, myself and other experienced journalists questioned the police tactics, as on the ground their actions seemed to be doing nothing more than fuel an already tense situation. One reporter said it seemed like pure revenge tactics.
In all that day, out of around 600 protestors a 10 people were arrested and held for 30 hours. A Smash EDO spokesperson stated that most of the arrests were non-imprisonable offences and all were released on bail without charge.
But in the meantime, eight of those held had their homes raided. Computers, mobile phones and even clothes were seized.
Still, the argument undoubtedly stands in the eyes of the public, the police claim various incidents of violence and criminal damage, therefore the policing was justified.
This may be true, if the allegations of incidents did indeed happen at the time when the police claimed. This video log would state the opposite, as has been seen in many other protests I have covered over the years. The police attack first, usually in a panic, leaving peaceful people with no other option to defend themselves. In all my footage of that day I did not see one protestor strike out in aggression. There is a big difference between hitting first or defending yourself from a baton strike.
Stills taken from video footage.
All stills and video footage (c) Jason N. Parkinson 2008.