FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

“Total Policing” in London

London.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the London riots. In the wake of last summer’s destruction and the flurry of finger-pointing about who was to blame, London’s Metropolitan Police launched what they called “Total Policing.” A peculiar brew of creepy branding and wishful thinking, “Total Policing” has always been freighted with fuzziness—no one’s quite sure what it really means.

But with the recent outburst of political activism during London’s Olympic moment, Scotland Yard’s hazy notion has come into sharper focus. In the Olympics-induced state of exception, “Total Policing” means total paternalism plus political preemption. Two outbursts of activism spotlight this trend: the overzealous arrests of both Greenwash Gold’s “Custard 7” and Critical Mass cyclists.

A week before the Olympic opening ceremony, activists from the Greenwash Gold campaign took to Trafalgar Square to award the gold, silver, and bronze for corporate greenwashing. As mock representatives from Olympics sponsors Rio Tinto, BP, and Dow stood on the stand to receive their well-earned medals, they were doused with lime-green custard. As if they were part of the spoof, police swooped in and arrested seven participants on suspicion of criminal damage. After all, they had committed the heinous act of slopping just desserts onto the Square’s hallowed bricks.

Mind you, no one from “the Custard 7” has been charged with any crime. Yet their bail conditions restrict their movement and thus curtail their political freedom. One activist’s bail prohibits entering Trafalgar Square, Wimbledon, Wembley Football Stadium, Horseguards Parade, Hyde Park, and Lords Cricket Ground because “It is feared that” the individual “will attend these sites to commit further offences due to the fact that they are being used for Olympic venues.”

“The Custard 7” are due back to the police station in late September after the Paralympics have concluded. How convenient. The police tactic of arresting activists on dodgy grounds without leveling formal charges temporarily demobilizes the most committed campaigners at a vital moment. This forces them to carefully monitor their movements for fear of stepping on the wrong parcel of politicized turf. 

Not only does this limit free expression, but it also surreptitiously squelches the possibility of solidarity work. Greenwash Gold activists couldn’t attend a recent protest by No Sochi 2014—a group of indigenous Circassians in diaspora who are challenging Russia’s use of their native land to host the 2014 Winter Olympics—because the event took place on the edge of Hyde Park.

On the night of Danny Boyle’s £27m opening ceremony, Critical Mass cyclists took to the streets for their comparably low-budget monthly ride, something they’ve been doing for some eighteen years. However, police trotted out Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 to try to undercut the odious act of riding one’s bike with friends north of the River Thames. The law states police can intervene to stop a public procession if they reasonably believe it “may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.”

Never mind that the House of Lords ruled in 2008 that the relevant sections of the Public Order Act requiring prior notice did not apply to Critical Mass. Never mind that the ride was peaceful and not a threat to public order or the “life of the community.” And never mind the irony that the cyclists were enacting the very health legacy the Games supposedly create. Police kettled and arrested 182 people, even using CS gas in the process. Again, activists were arrested but not charged (only three of the 182 received formal charges). And again, draconian bail conditions were imposed, which forbid the arrested from going within 100 yards of any Olympic venues and from entering the borough of Newham with a bicycle.

This is a classic example of what the late Alexander Cockburn described as “emergency laws” and measures that “lie around for decades like rattlesnakes in summer grass.” When activists take to the streets, the rattlesnakes pop their heads up to sink their fangs into the nearest ankle. And should campaigners make their way into an Olympic venue or training facility, another serpent lurks: the remarkably vague “Olympic Offence,” which is defined as “Any crime that has or may have an impact upon the effective delivery or image of the Games.”

This is the state of exception writ large. The concern for activists—and for anyone who values their fundamental freedoms—is that the Olympics will serve as a historical hinge, swinging toward a grim future where these temporary measures become the new normal, where the exception becomes the rule.

Perhaps we should have known this was coming. Back in November 2011 Chris Allison—The Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner in charge of Olympic security—told the London Assembly he believed the “four key risks to the Games” were terrorism, protest, organized crime, and natural disasters. Identifying protest as a “threat” and nestling it between terrorism and organized crime foreshadowed what activists are experiencing today.

In the wake of Allison’s blunt admission, he became a bit more PR savvy—if strikingly paternalistic—suggesting activists contact police in advance “so we can manage your right to peacefully and lawfully protest.” In hopes of channeling dissent, police officials have even done outreach, sending notes to groups like Space Hijackers—the self-appointed “Official Protesters” of the Olympics—asking them to reveal their protest plans. More recently police contacted Critical Mass participants who might be plotting another ride.

In the Olympics context, “Total Policing” translates to hitting democracy’s pause button. As activist and Critical Mass arrestee Kerry-anne Mendoza told me, “You have the right to protest—unless you do.”

Jules Boykoff is an associate professor of political science at Pacific University and a visiting scholar at the University of Brighton’s Chelsea School of Sport in the UK. He is the author of Activism and the Olympics: Dissent at the Games in Vancouver and London (Rutgers University Press, forthcoming) and Celebration Capitalism and the Olympic Games (Routledge, forthcoming) as well as is the author of Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States (AK Press 2007) and The Suppression of Dissent: How the State and Mass Media Squelch USAmerican Social Movements (Routledge 2006).  He played for the US Olympic soccer team in international competition.
More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 18, 2019
John McMurtry
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Evidence About Iran is “Dodgy” at Best
Yoav Litvin
Catch 2020 – Trump’s Authoritarian Endgame
Thomas Knapp
Opposition Research: It’s Not Trump’s Fault That Politics is a “Dirty” Game
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage that is Deadly, Illegal and Ineffective
Gary Leupp
Marx and Walking Zen
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Color Revolution In Hong Kong: USA Vs. China
Howard Lisnoff
The False Prophets Cometh
Michael T. Klare
Bolton Wants to Fight Iran, But the Pentagon Has Its Sights on China
Steve Early
The Global Movement Against Gentrification
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Journal Doesn’t Like Rent Control
Tom Engelhardt
If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?
June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
Louisa Willcox
Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery
Stephen Cooper
“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)
Daniel Warner
Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle
Brian Cloughley
Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail