London Reclaim the Streets
urban75 report from the Reclaim the Streets/Liverpool Dockers march and protest, Trafalgar Square, London 12th April 1997
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Never Mind The Ballots - Reclaim The Streets! 12th April 1997
The RTS crew take to the streets and march on Trafalgar Square as part of their two-day 'Festival of Resistance'.
The Social Justice March united anti-roads environmentalists with supporters of the sacked Liverpool Dockers and assembled at Kennington Park, south London before heading off over Lambeth Road and past the Houses of Parliament.
Leaflets handed out in the park gave instructions to follow the brightly coloured RTS flags, and the march was accompanied by the thunderous sounds of a host of tribal drummers.
The carnival atmosphere was swiftly ruined after confrontations between police and protesters as the march proceeded up Whitehall. An orange smoke bomb was thrown into Downing Street, distress flares were let off and a few minor disturbances resulted in the arrival of riot police and charges by mounted police.
The crowd continued into Trafalgar Square where speeches were made in support of the sacked Liverpool Dockers while Reclaim The Streets banners decorated the Square and thousands of ravers danced along to the heavy techno of the excellent Immersion Sound System.
A huge 'Reclaim The Environment' banner was hung from the rooftops of Canada House, while others carried placards displaying photos of the three main political leaders with the word 'WANKERS!' underneath.
Public Nuisance's slogan "They want to fight - we want to dance" was to prove sadly prophetic later on.
While ravers danced peacefully on the steps of the National Gallery and all around the square, huge police resources (over 1,000 officers) were being employed around the area to stop people entering or returning, and a helicopter hovered expensively overhead.
Ominously clad in black boiler suits, steel toe-capped boots and - most disturbingly - face masks (why would the police want to hide their faces?), rows of riot police adopted a confrontational pose which seemed wholly inappropriate to the occasion.
We always thought that riot police were supposed to arrive when a riot starts but it seemed clear to us that this lot were going to make sure one happened whether we wanted one or not.
By late afternoon, the cordon had successfully reduced the numbers in the square and riot police - some on horseback - stormed in to clear the area.
Not surprisingly some people responded to these needlessly aggressive tactics and there were several scuffles and arrests.
Predictably, Michael Howard was quick to add his priceless thoughts to the events of the day, congratulating police on "the swift action they took to deal with the situation" adding, "I am delighted that the Government has provided the police with the necessary powers to deal with lawlessness of this kind."
Perhaps he should consider that it is precisely because of these new powers that such pointless and violent confrontations occur.
News broke later on that six members from the sound system had been (incredibly!) arrested for conspiracy to murder after they allegedly drove their van intentionally at police lines surrounding the square.
We have spoken to several eyewitnesses who saw this incident and they have all described it quite differently.
As one witness put it, "A horn was sounded when the sound system was going to come in. The police were caught wrong footed and tried to reach the van, and as it slowed down to enter the square we quickly swamped around it to stop the police getting to it."
He dismissed as "pure rubbish" any notion that the police were intentionally targeted, an account that has been confirmed by everyone we have spoken to.
It has now been confirmed that the police have now released all those arrested without charge - quite probably because they knew that even they would never get away with attempting such a ludicrous fit-up.
One woman in the van was however bailed on drugs charges (an old girlfriend of the editor's as it happens!).
Report by urban75 1997.
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