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Thursday, 29 January 2009

FIT teams shut down on Gaza demo

Forward Intelligence Teams on the Gaza march on Saturday faced their toughest opposition to date, as people from the march enthusiastically joined Fitwatch activists in blocking police cameras.

As the FIT tried to film the march, they were soon challenged by Fitwatch activists. As the marchers saw what was happening more and more of them came over to support, and before long two FIT coppers and their photographer ended up stranded helplessly on a wall, surrounded by a sea of placards all being held at camera height. They were completely unable to operate, and when they missed getting footage of a group of Asian lads they were after, the anger showed. When, at the head of the march, another FIT team were frustrated by Fitwatchers, the police lost patience. They stopped what had been a very quiet, orderly demo, brought in the TSG, and sent snatch squads in for known Fitwatch activists, sparking a whole load of fuss and even more arrests. See http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=TBn3H1_BcXM

Considering that we (along with lots of others) had utterly shut down their data gathering operation, it is no wonder that they were not too happy. I suspect what scared them most was the amount of people who readily joined in, and who made the action so effective. I have to admit, this is the first time I have seen two FIT camera teams completely shut down, and it shows what this tactic is really capable of doing. There has been an astounding culture shift against these bastards, and Saturdays events show that getting them off our streets is now a realistic prospect.

In the circumstances we should have expected a hard time, and we got it. Two of the more prominent Fitwatch bloggers were accused of 'instigating' Fitwatch, and encouraging others to 'harass' police officers, of being troublemakers who cared little about the causes we protested at, of protecting violent offenders and perverting the course of justice. We were charged with obstruct police and assault / s4 charges arising from our arrest, and were refused bail. We were held in a police cells from 5pm Saturday night until 8am Monday morning, when we were taken to court.

Everyone else arrested on Saturday was released, even those arrested for violent disorder. They kept West End Central custody unit open all weekend just for the two of us, at massive public expense, and with a great deal of aggression and hostility. One of us had her hand seriously injured as police and Serco guards repeatedly slammed it in the door of the prisoner van taking us to court.

CO11 detectives spent the whole of Monday with the prosecution, arguing fiercely in court for us to be remanded. It was touch and go, and we were lucky to have good barristers to fight our corner. Narrowly – very narrowly – we escaped being sent to Holloway, for the time being, at least.

It is a continuing conundrum in political activity – being effective at challenging the state inevitably brings repression. And further repression is something we now definitely expect.

But Fitwatch is a tactic that has been taken up by hundreds of people up and down the country. It was fantastic to see so many people prepared to block cameras on the Gaza march, fed up with the intrusion of the police into their privacy, and the harassment by FIT of anyone who dared to look militant, Muslim and young. Fitwatch is much bigger than the handful of people who run the blog. It has been taken up by people of varying political views, on diverse campaigns, and in all kinds of political action. It is an idea let loose, a genie that has been let out of the bottle, and there is no form of repression that can put it back again.

This article ends with a plea to everyone who has ever thought of actively engaging in Fitwatch tactics to put their thoughts into action. There is a very real opportunity over the months ahead to get the FIT off our demonstrations, away from our meetings and off our streets.

19 comments:

Metcountymounty said...

If/when you succeed in disrupting the FIT teams all you're going to do is give CO11 justifiable reasons to have huge numbers of covert teams with standoff distance along planned routes and in the vicinity of likely routes/targets. Where at the moment you'll get one fit team (3-4 people) for every 4-6 level 2 or TSG PSU's you'll get huge teams in dozens of covert elevated OP's. The fact that hundreds have been linked to violence and have attended multiple demonstrations over the last month legally justifies the intelligence gathering whether you think it is justifiable for political demonstrations or not. If/when you succeed you're just going to create hundreds if not thousands more FIT jobs on top of those already doing it, you just won't see them.

fotdmike said...

I fear that what "Metcountymounty" said may have some merit in it, to the extent that if its no longer viable for FIT to act openly then they'll introduce more covert methods.

However, we'd all be a bit naive if we thought they aren't already using covert intelligence-gathering methods, as they've almost certainly been doing all along.

And I suspect "Metcountymounty" is missing (deliberately or otherwise) what is probably one of the most pernicious aspects of FIT... the deliberate provocation and intimidation of legitimate protesters. This goes way beyond a straightforward "law & order" issue and suggests the implication that (knowingly or otherwise) FIT are serving a political agenda.

And surely it is for this reason, at least as much as any other, that the FIT tactic should be challenged.

All that aside, well done fitwatchers! And by that I don't mean just the handful of folk that contribute to this blog, but everyone that embraced the fitwatch idea.
(That's another thing the cops can't seem to get their heads around... that fitwatch isn't a static and organised group of specific individuals, but a tactic or approach that may periodically be used by virtually anyone at a protest or demonstration.)

However, the fact that there seems to have been so much fitwatching activity during the march doesn't really surprise me... its something I first saw beginning to happen at a couple of demos in Brighton, where quite a few folk started to "jump on the bandwagon".
And its likely to happen more and more as legitimate protesters become increasingly pissed off at being subjected to FIT intimidation simply because they have a conscience about important issues.

Lurch said...

metcountymounty

do you really think that the met have enough covert cops to make such a move feasible? and even if they do - which i doubt - do you honestly think that such a move would be publicly acceptable? and even assuming that you agree that it is feasible and acceptable to the public to have every demonstration so monitored, what you propose as the alternative would seem to involve far greater expense. i wonder if this would be acceptable to the beancounters...

at a time when this country's rushing headlong into some abyssal recession, i wouldn't be surprised if there was a return to protesting in the streets by a much larger section of the population than seen for many years. in the absence of your elevated covert ops with scores of filth in them, it will be interesting to see how co11 would cope in such an unfamiliar environment.

it may be that the entire lot's scrapped without replacement, and that the cctv which we hear so much about is used instead, with dci mick neville in charge and not rick algar or ken norman.

Anonymous said...

The video doesn't seem to be available any more, I would suggest uploading it to some non corporate site, like indymedia...

Lurch said...

anonymous 1811

it works. check your computer and try clicking on the link.

Bored with self serving posturing said...

The most pleasing outcome of this ongoing saga is that a large proportion of the rentamob demonstrators - those that turn up at any demo regardless of cause, turn their attention to the visible CO11 cops. This successfully distracts them from softer targets and onto those willing and able to deal with their petulance.

Fighting Fit said...

Oh yeah, that one...having a go at CO11 is just a 'distraction' from the real issues.

For years that argument was used to justify ignoring the FIT, in effect allowing them carte blanche to do what they wanted, to whom they wanted.

So, they got away with co-ordinating routine and often violent searches, systematic data gathering, detention in cordons for hours on end, shoving flash cameras in people's faces, harassing anyone they didnt like the look of, following them at close distance for hours, sometimes days, and dishing out arrests and/or brutality when people didn't comply with every and any implementation of their 'authority'.

And then they winge about how unreasonable it is that police become the target!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to give an example of why Fitwatch is an idea, rather than a specific group. I had nothing to do with Fitwatch, nor indeed in any political activism, until I was harassed by Fit officers for taking a photo at a public event. By their heavy-handed, authoritarian behaviour, the police themselves put another person in the Fitwatch camp.

Also, I just wanted to add that although I may not agree with all your tactics, I thank you for being the ones to make a stand.

rentamob is a myth said...

"those that turn up at any demo regardless of cause"

These people are a figment of your imagination, anti-capitalists demonstrate in solidarity with a variety of causes, but all of them are relevant to their political position.

If what you claim had any truth to it then you'd expect to see them turning up in support of the BNP, NF, Countryside Alliance, Beitar and the Police Federation.

Anonymous said...

I think people should remember that fit is the short arm of intelligence gathering for mi5 and mi6, which is why it seems certain arms of the police are now it seems outside of public ownership.

You should all remember in the 90s when there was an open statement that due to the end of coldwar 50% of the intelligence services that were pointing eastwards are now pointing inwards, and with ever greater numbers and services on tap, the fit squads being one of them. The amount of people being targeted just because they carry a different view point to that of the government of the time, is growing massively. The amount of badly written legislation which has been introduced on purpose, which is can be badly interpreted is huge, the lowering of legal aid, the attorney general is no longer elected by other judges and lords but selected by the ruling party. All sparks to one thing in my view, jobs for the boys as they are now bored. When the ira were active we never had the draconian legislation we now have and massive population surveillance, and many more regular worse atrocities were perpetrated on the uk mainland than has in "the war on terror- bar 7/7", also open statements that the new terrorists are green and rights campaigners, is just to say now everything else is sorted, let's find a new target to play with, normal people who want t complain, shock horror that should want to happen in a free society.

Even mps are not immune, however listening to people like george Galloway on matters like this is often worth while.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=sfTbACjm4wo&feature=related

listen at about 4min 20 in. then at 5min 30s, is how it should be done.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=dO8oW5VwzqI

this copper need praise, I have never seen this only standoff and bad attitudes. fine let fit get their cameras out when it kicks off, but not for mass scanning of people whom in the main are protesting peacefully and journalists reporting as is their right, if fit do that then expect to get challenged.

fighting fit said...

To the anonymous above, who was on the receiving end of authoritarian policing...

It's great to hear stories of people supporting Fitwatch as an idea, who are (how can I put this?) not necessarily in agreement with everything that is written on this blog. We have in common a dislike of FIT harassment, and it is that unity of people from different backgrounds, with different political ideas, with differing tactics, that will really challenge FIT style policing.

Metcountymounty said...

Lurch - we haven't got nearly enough people to fulfil all the roles as it is, that's why Level 2 officers are sourced from borough as are FIT teams and other specialists like search teams etc, we are short of hundreds of people in some specialist roles at the moment.

We're nearly all on response or proactive teams as our primary role (I can identify a few officers named and identified on this blog who are response officers first because I know them) and do the specialist stuff as aid or abstractions from team.

That is why when a big public order job is on or multiple ones like football the response teams are decimated and the rest of London suffers for it because there are not enough people to deal with the all the calls at the best of times, even if you pull people in on cancelled unpaid rest days (increasingly frequent) you can't use everyone as you have zero resilience for regular Policing and have to manage breaks between shifts. You would never have all your people in at once because after 12-16 hours you'd be screwed and would have no Police officers left for anything, let alone demos.

If there is a need for more specialists then there will be people trained up, exactly as we do now, and that would include covert FIT teams to replace the current overt role.

Lurch said...

anonymous 0800

i think you'll find the attorney general has always been selected by the government.

Lurch said...

metcountymounty

if the met is already short of specialists, and there's a load of other areas where the met are short, i would have thought that producing sergeants for snts and getting the other basics would come before training up a load of people for a role which would be both expensive, unpopular and not required in the sort of policing which most people would like to see - you know, the sort where people who have committed crimes like mugging, burglary or rape get caught, prosecuted and convicted. that should be the priority for the police, not dreaming up pie in the sky covert ops schemes which are of doubtful practicality.

Anonymous said...

Just watched the video. All I could see was people charging at the cops and the cops pushing them back and saying "get back". I'm still yet to see ONE video that showes the cops in a bad light.

Anonymous said...

That's a testament to the lighting skills of the camera operator. Though they could work on keeping the camera steady.

Anonymous said...

PS Comment

MCM, Fit watch don’t appreciate your point of view, as ever they don’t see the bigger picture and just shout over you. Ahh the likes of Lurch, fotdmike etc etc...CRO me thinks....

As Stewie says, "Damn your impertinence”

You watch, someone will cut and paste this and make a predictable comment. Lets take over Fitwatch, who is with me? Hazzarrrr!!

Ewan said...

I'll be happy to engage in any FIT-blocking if I see them at a march or whatever. I'm also a photographer so I'll be sure to take lots of pictures of them if I have my camera with me.

It's unacceptable what the police are allowed to do without most people in the country not knowing or caring.

My absolute best wishes for everyone standing up against this evermore police state, you're doing a brave thing and I heartily commend you!

upthera said...

it'll be interesting to see how the striking workers take to the fit's malign attentions when they come to london!