Oliver Kamm writes:
I have immense sympathy with police faced with violent protest. But I do have concerns at the practice of coralling demonstrators and preventing them from leaving an area for hours. I have no policy expertise on the matter, but intuitively it seems to me more sensible to have large numbers of police, in full riot gear, who can swiftly go into a demonstration and remove those who are being violent against people or property, as with the thugs who broke windows at the RBS branch on Threadneedle Street on Wednesday.
I am not a police officer. I have little experience of policing demonstrations, but a fair amount of being on them. My experience is that being charged by police in riot gear is a frightening – although rather exhilarating – experience. It certainly makes some people, who might not otherwise want to fight, feel quite feisty.
By contrast, being ‘kettled’ was – obviously – a much more passive experience. It is inconvenient. It deprives you of that wonderful sense that you’re part of a crowd of like minded people that can achieve anything. It certainly makes some people feel angry: and perhaps rightly so, if they only fancied standing in front of the target of their protest for half an hour: as opposed to the three hours that the police chose to keep you there.
But, on the plus side, it is a bit like being right at the front at a rock gig, and gives you the opportunity to press yourself into the person standing in front of you. Which some people may find nice.
Which is better? Coralling demonstrators? Or snatch squads? How do we balance the right to demonstrate against public order?
There’s only one way to find out.