Alfie Meadows was on trial yesterday, charged with violent disorder at a protest in which he had been hospitalised with brain damage after being beaten by the police. This move seems heavy handed at best, sinister and cynical at worst. However it also seems strikingly ill-conceived. The move has won the Met widespread condemnation at a time when their reputation and good will among the public are already diminished.
The Police have undermined claims of fairness and proportionality through dark hints of increased violence if the Government did not protect them from the cuts facing the rest of the public sector. The excessive and provocative violence witnessed at the demos at the end of 2010 will inevitably be viewed in this context.
On a more practical level, given the reduced resources available for policing both within the community and at major events, the police must rely more and more on the consent and cooperation of the public. The reservoir of good will on which these factors depend is greatly depleted by the prosecution of a man the Police themselves hospitalised.
Finally the move is a strategic misstep which has succeeded in producing a galvanised and united coalition intent on monitoring police behaviour and holding officers to account. Meadows and fellow protestor Bryan Simpson have set up the umbrella organisation ‘Defend the Right to Protest’ which protested outside the court on Thursday. Jody Macintyre the activist who was prominently dragged from his wheelchair in front of the cameras has also become involved as have UKUncut, members of which were arrested after being deliberately misled on the 26th March TUC demonstration.
The overall impression is of a vindictive and petty force intent on penalising those who inflict upon it unwelcome scrutiny. Even if the logic of the Met’s action is to dissuade others from protest or dissent, it seems to have scored a stunning own goal succeeding only in creating a new cause celebre and brand new movement to do just that.