The chants at today’s London #copsoffcampus protest appear to have worked. The marchers followed a circular route around the university from Malet Street and wherever they went there were no policemen on show at all. It was a good decision by the police, as if any violence did take place they could then legitimately claim the protesters were trouble-makers. However the afternoon passed peacefully. A closed university gate being shaken open was the only victim I witnessed and it was not until the march headed out of Bloomsbury and towards the Old Bailey that any sign of a police presence started.
No doubt feeling that the #copsoffcampus protest had been a success, some of the protestors rolled up their banners and stayed on campus, but a large number headed south. They aimed to protest outside the Old Bailey, making their concerns about the Mark Duggan case known. The police only started to appear when the crowd reached the Old Bailey, and for a while it looked as though the usual stand-off between police and protestors was about to take place on the Strand. An egg hit one of the police vans – although more importantly it only just missed my head – and the officers piled out ready for action.
If Monty Burns had been in charge we would have reached a ‘Release the hounds‘ moment, however the police commander who had just climbed out of one of the other grey vans filled with riot police made an unusual decision.
‘Allow them to have the road,’ he radioed, ‘Do not engage.’
Instead of blocking the road the police disappeared (not literally, but they drove off) and any violence was averted. The protestors started a long walk around London, taking in Whitehall, Parliament, Victoria, Hyde Park Corner and Piccadilly Circus before heading back to the university. Chanting and waving flags they surrounded a police car near Charing Cross, no doubt causing a hairy moment for the two officers inside, but soon moved on.
The police appeared in numbers around Downing Street, as you would expect, but otherwise the policing was light, with officers following the protest on foot, backed up with several vans of colleagues just behind. There may have been another strand of the protest that went off in another direction and was involved in fisticuffs, but I can report that the protest I witnessed was peaceful and well-policed. Whether it will have achieved anything longterm is uncertain, but it does appear to indicate that the police have changed the way they respond to student protests.