I recall years ago, during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, an article in a Socialist Republican magazine that stated if rubber bullets were to be used in the 6 counties, then one day, they would be openly used by the police on mainland Britain.
That day has arrived, as Scotland Yard announced yesterday that baton rounds, or rubber bullets, have been authorized for a student demonstration in London tomorrow.
What the fuck? A student demonstration merits rubber bullets?
According to the Daily Mail:
Baton gun rounds have never been used on the British mainland, but they have been linked to deaths in Northern Ireland.
Commander Simon Pountain, who is in charge of the police operation, said armoured vehicles, known as Jankels, would also be on standby if the protests saw a repeat of this summer riots or the chaos last year during the student fees demonstrations.
Baton rounds were pre-authorised during August’s riots but were not used. This is the first time they have been pre-authorised for a planned protest march on the mainland.
The march, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, is due to go from Bloomsbury in Central London to the City. It is being kept away from the St Paul’s anti-capitalism protest but activists from the cathedral camp are expected to join in.
Last year, the then Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was criticised for only sending out 225 officers who were overwhelmed by hordes of rampaging student protesters smashing into the Conservative Party headquarters on November 10.
And on December 9, during another student protest, Prince Charles’s limousine was besieged in the worst royal security breach in a decade.
The Duchess of Cornwall’s face was a mask of terror as rioters swarmed around their Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, kicking, hitting and rocking the car. One managed to poke her with a stick through a window.
I wonder if the Duchess’s face will be a “mask of terror” should any students be shot with rubber bullets tomorrow?
Baton Rounds are made of aluminium and plastic, and are fired from a Heckler & Koch L104A1 Launcher.
6 inches in length, and weighing 5 ounce, they can travel up to 135mph and accurate to 70 yards.
Unlike rubber bullets which are fired into the ground, baton rounds are fired directly at a human target.
The blog on the Adam Smith Institute has described the police plans as:
...a worrying step towards a dangerous “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to riot control, and should be reversed.
Despite widespread public perception of them as relatively harmless method of crowd control, rubber bullets are extremely dangerous. In a study of 90 patients suffering from injuries from their use in Northern Ireland, one person died and 17 were permanently disabled or disfigured. Over 35 years of their use in Northern Ireland, they have killed 17 people. Rubber bullets can be lethal to those they are fired upon.
Perhaps such force was needed at times in Northern Ireland. But it’s obvious that student protesters won’t present the same level of danger to civilians and police officers as riots at the height of the Troubles. Previous student protests have turned ugly, but not on a wide scale. The types of clashes that took place would not have been avoided by rubber bullets.
While the Daily Telegraph notes:
The talk of baton rounds ahead of what is intended to be a peaceful protest caused some consternation.
One member of the Metropolitan Police Authority compared the tactic to one used by a “murderous dictatorship”.
Jenny Jones, the MPA Green Party members, said: “Any officer that shoots a student with a baton round will have to answer to the whole of London.
“The police have a duty to facilitate peaceful demonstrations, which is why all this talk of baton rounds is very unhelpful as it will stop ordinary people from exercising their right to protest.
“The prospect of the police shooting at unarmed demonstrators with any kind of bullet is frankly appalling, un-British and reminiscent of scenes currently being used by murderous dictatorships in the Middle East.”
10,000 students are expected to march tomorrow against Fees and Cuts, and its not just the threat of rubber bullets the police have been using to bully the students.
The Guardian reports that some demonstrators have been sent a warning letter by the police.
The single page letter, which arrived through letter boxes on Tuesday, reads: “It is in the public and your own interest that you do not involve yourself in any type of criminal or antisocial behaviour. We have a responsibility to deliver a safe protest which protects residents, tourists, commuters, protesters and the wider community. Should you do so we will at the earliest opportunity arrest and place you before the court.”
Signed by Simon Pountain, the Met commander leading Wednesday’s operations, the letter goes on to warn of detrimental effects of conviction on their chances of employment and says that if people find themselves near disorder they should move away at the earliest opportunity.
Let’s be clear - these actions by the police are ill-conceived and dumb. By sending out what can only be described as threatening letters and by announcing they intend to use baton rounds, if required, the police are showing they are more interested in bullying the public with the threat of violence, rather than protecting them.
For details of the tomorrow’s student demonstration by National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts check here.