Police conduct at Friday’s climate strikes in London sparks legal concerns
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Words by Darcy Miller
Photograph by Darcy Miller.
The Bigger Picture (London) — Police conduct at London’s climate strikes last Friday was concerning by most accounts, and according to some was “unlawful”. Around a thousand teenage demonstrators gathered at Parliament Square at 11am to march for governmental action on climate change, in line with global climate strikes, which took place across the UK and as far afield as India, Sydney and the Philippines.
As with other climate strikes, each local demonstration focused on specific issues whilst being tied into the overarching advocacy of climate change mitigation. In India, students opposed the government’s plans to deforest areas of the Aravallis mountain range, a conservation area in the subcontinent which is a vital source of water and oxygen for Delhi and other major Indian cities. In Sydney, demonstrators criticized Scott Morrison’s inaction during the “climate chaos” of bushfires which recently tore through the nation; and the organisers of the London strikes, UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN), decided to use the strikes to show solidarity for the #Jamaica50, approximately 50 British-raised Jamaicans who the Home Office recently attempted to deported (around half were actually deported), in the face of opposition from cross-party MPs and legal challenges. UKSCN said that “as part of our work around climate justice, we believe it’s vital to comment on racial injustices like this to truly embody our anti-racist values”, adding that “solidarity with other groups is how we build movements and movements are how we change the world”.
Demonstrators outside the Home Office. Image by Darcy Miller.
Students in London marched to the Home Office, waving placards with messages like “burn Bezos, not the Amazon”, “I should be learning history, not becoming it”, and “2050 is too late”, referencing the government’s target for net-zero emissions. Once they reached the road outside the Home Office, activists unfurled a large banner reading “climate strikers say fuck the Home Office”, and chanted, “no borders, no nations, fuck deportations”, and “one struggle, one fight, migrant justice, climate strike”. Following the anti-establishment tone of the strikes, demonstrators then marched outside 10 Downing Street, chanting, “where the fuck is the government?”, and “Boris Johnson is a twat”.
All the while, there was a heavy police presence, and later on police conduct was concerning, far more aggressive than in previous strikes.
Outside Parliament Square, black-clad teenage demonstrators attempted to jaywalk, with scuffles breaking out between protestors and police officers, protesters being shoved to the ground, and police lashing out - arguably a disproportionate response.
Images by Darcy Miller. Video courtesy of Breitbart News/Kurt Zindulka and Lucy Sutton.
Protesters then proceeded to occupy the mainly-deserted Westminster Bridge; after police warned that they would be arrested for “obstructing the highway” if they did not leave the area, they moved in and began aggressively shoving demonstrators off the road and onto the pavement. Police were also seen handcuffing several student climate strikers.
Video courtesy of Darcy Miller and Breitbart News/Kurt Zindulk
The protesters then admitted defeat, moving back to the end of the bridge, on the side nearest to the Houses of Parliament. They lingered on the traffic island at the intersection between Great George Street and Victoria Embankment where the police turned violent once again, roughly manhandling one demonstrator and dragging her to a police van.
Video courtesy of Breitbart News/Kurt Zindulka, Instagram user @notadrill410 and Lucy Sutton.
That demonstrator, Lucy Sutton, was recorded by onlookers as wailing in desperation, crying out against the police before they bundled her into the van and drove off.
Another demonstrator who has been frequently arrested, 14-year-old Lissy Green, told The Bigger Picture that “I didn’t think that their conduct today could be justified. They know that this is a school strike and they know that we are all young people… I think that the police themselves have gotten progressively more aggressive with youth activists”. She related that on Friday she “was stood on a high up wall (around roughly head height) - I was dragged off of it by a police officer, I was pushed to the floor, shoved around constantly along with so many other activists today”. Green also reported that “there were 3 arrests today that I am aware of, me and one other were handcuffed which I think was also totally unnecessary”.
Lissy Green. Images by Ben Valette and Darcy Miller
Jack Mclear, who was also at the demonstrators, said that they “literally stepped out of line for a second and [the police officer] pushed me so hard I tripped back and fell onto my back and hit my head, [the officer] then blamed me for falling over and then made fun of me about it later”. Mclear said they had sustained a “mild concussion and a bleeding hand” as a result.
Jack Mclear. Images by Ben Valette and Darcy Miller.
Police liaison officers, in conversation with student demonstrators, justified police action by citing “Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act”, which states that “a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.” The crime in this case was the obstruction of the highway. However, authorities must take into account the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and it remains to be seen whether the police conduct was “reasonable” considering that the people committing the “crimes” were mere teenagers at a peaceful anti-climate change demonstration.
Support the activists and artists featured in this article:
⭑ Allegra Miller: Instagram
⭑ Lissy Green: Instagram
⭑ Lucy Sutton: Instagram
⭑ Instagram user @notadrill410: Instagram
DISCLAIMER: By featuring media from the above creators, THEBIGGERPICTURE does not endorse their views in any way, shape or form; they are merely used as visual evidence to inform our audience. We do, however, thank the creators for the footage.