I arrived at Euston Station soon after 5, there was already a large crowd standing round talking and handing out leaflets to each other and to passers by and also a very large police presence. Over the next hour and a half or so drums played and a number of speakers addressed the crowd. After this we were apparently meant to be making contacts, talking to each other and planning the May 1st protest. Not a bad idea, but either the message didn’t get across or a lot of people had other ideas, because soon what seemed from my perspective to be most of the assembled crowd moved out towards Euston Road with a vague plan of reclaiming some shit.
The police quickly blocked the exits to the road with lines of police backed up by vans. Clashes started when the crowd drove the police line back almost out of the station area while a few people threw sticks, bottles, anything that came to hand, at the police, and the coppers retaliating by charging at the crowd.
(An aside about violence: I don’t throw things at the police at demonstrations myself, not least because I’m not very good at it, but neither do I condemn violence completely. I agree that it is often counterproductive to throw stuff at the cops, it is sometimes just what they want and it gives them an excuse to start bashing everyone with batons, and getting hit by ‘friendly fire’ is annoying, but the balaclava wearing brick throwers are part of the demonstration and should be protected by it just as those who chose to paint flowers on their face and sing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ are. No one has to get involved in the fighting if they don’t want to, but it is not a good idea to abandon the hard core and have them face riot police by themselves, at least give them a crowd to run back into. And having seen police attack “peaceful” demonstrators plenty of times I tend to blame the police for police violence rather than someone who threw a placard at them. Having the media condemn the demonstration because of violence (which the Evening Standard & co. would do anyway) is less sickening than the sight of groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, Militant, in fact every group involved apart from Class War, condemning the violence of the Poll Tax riot when only a few short hours before they had been exhorting workers, soldiers and peasants to rise up and attack their oppressors (“Oh sorry, we meant to say workers, soldiers, peasants rise up and LOBBY your oppressors”))
At some stage the lines of police were replaced by riot police with shields. In spite of being well prepared and having sufficient control of the situation to limit the demonstration to a small area in front of the station, by a quite remarkable oversight the police had left an empty van right in the middle of the crowd. In hindsight it is glaringly obvious that they had left it deliberately, and quite predictably a group of protestors smashed it up with the metal bars conveniently left with it, rolled it over and eventually managed to set it on fire (for those demonstrators who have watched too many action films, vans do not, in real life, explode the minute someone holds a lighted match near them).
This gave the police a chance to attack, demonstrators were trying to get away from the burning van and the smoke, and in the confusion we were split into several groups. Apparently a lot of people succeeded in moving down towards Kings Cross, and others just quietly dispersed, the group I ended up in was the one trapped between three lines of riot police. By the time we realised just how trapped we were the police had moved in to contain us and had us completely surrounded and reinforcements had arrived. There were about two hundred of us and our first plan was to just break our way through the police line. We made many attempts to do this but there were enough coppers that they could put a line of riot police three deep in front of us, and it proved to be impossible to get through. We were held there for at least two hours, possibly more like three, people passed the time singing songs, trying to reason with the police, chanting defiant slogans such as ‘Let us go home, let us go home’, making impromptu speeches, smoking, phoning friends on their mobiles (“Hello, I’m going to be a bit late, got held up at the riot, don’t wait up for me”) and actually managing to have a laugh most of the time. Being held there was bad enough but it got more frightening and depressing when the police began identifying those they wanted to arrest and launching sudden attacks into the middle of the crowd to drag them away, smashing anyone in their path with batons. It was hard to stop this from happening as the people picked out had nowhere to escape to and the police attacked so fast that it was hard to spot who they were going to grab until it was too late.
It was difficult to stay upright during these attacks, there was nowhere to run to except into another line of riot police who took offence if you bumped into them in your effort to move out of the way of their colleagues.
City police were there identifying people they wanted for June 18th activities. Many of the riot police had their identifying numbers covered.
The crowd that the police detained for more than two hours were not, as some news reports suggested, ‘a hard core of troublemakers’ they were just the people who happened to be standing in the area the police managed to surround. It’s not clear whether the new Prevention of Terrorism laws were being used, but no one should be in any doubt that the police will detain you without charge for as long as they see fit. Eventually, at about half past ten the cops began letting people out. We had to queue for the privilege of being escorted away by police and being subjected to questioning, photographing and in some cases being searched. Yes, this was a humiliating surrender, but by this time we were tired, hungry and in my case desperately needing to have a piss. I told the police who took my name, address, height, description etc. that I had not even done anything to warrant this treatment but that next time I definitely would.
See you on May 1st.