I was arrested today whilst meditating outside Downing St in London. I make a habit of pausing each time I pass Downing St for a short meditation. Today, rather than simply standing at the barrier I placed my blanket on the ground next to the barrier and sat down to meditate. Some police had followed me (and the group of friends who were accompanying me) from Trafalgar Square, where we had been attending the speeches at the end of the Mayday TUC march from Camberwell. As I sat down PC Steel asked "what are you doing?" and I replied "I am just going to meditate for a little.", "How long for?" he asked, "Just for a little." I replied.
So meditate I did. When I stood up from my meditation PC Steel said "Are you going to move along now, please? If you do not move you will be arrested for obstruction of the highway." and I asked in return "Why is it that the police are so quick to take action against anyone who is carrying out a peaceful activity and yet you take no action against those who break international law? I do not believe that there is any more peaceful activity than meditation and yet you threaten me with arrest. It seems to be perfectly legal to stand here next to 10 Downing St since hundreds of people do it every day." "But it is not legal to remain here." he said. "I would still like to know," I added "why it is that you take no action against our Government which has committed what Chief Justice Jackson in Nuremburg called 'the supreme crime'." "What is that?" he asked "The unprovoked invasion of a sovereign territory" I replied and added "Whilst your government is ignoring International Law they undermine any authority you have to enforce law in this country."
In response PC Steel and others took me by the arms, said he was arresting me for obstructing the highway and 'read me my rights' as they marched me off to the 'dog kennel' in the back of a waiting police van which then conveyed me to Charing Cross police station.
At Charing Cross we went through the normal procedures (except that they appeared to be considerably more thorough than previously). PC Steel and I had a Polaroid photo taken, both of us sporting huge grins and both agreeing that it was a fabulous picture. Such a shame the only copy of it I am likely to see again is a contrasty black and white photocopy when I get a copy of the custody record. Then followed a taking down of details, search of my belongings and a rather intimate (though I must admit, polite and respectful) search of my person. PC Steel and I went outside into the 'cage' so I could have a smoke (the last opportunity I had until after my release some four hours later) and we chatted about my previous arrest for 'aggravated meditation' at the DSEi protests last year, the idea that everyone has a right to food, shelter and medicine and how by merely enforcing those rights the whole system of social justice throughout the world could be dramatically changed.
When we returned to the hospitality suite (sorry, I mean custody suite) I had proper mug-shots taken and was asked if I wanted to see the nurse before being taken to my cell. "I'm fine" I said "though, she did say some really nice things about me last time". I was allowed to keep my mala, shawl and one blanket but everything else was itemised and sealed into plastic bags; I wish I had asked to keep my book so that I would have something to read in the cell but things kinda slip your mind in the chaos of arrest and processing. Then it was off to cell seven and the clanging door and clanking bolt. I reminded the officer who took me down there that someone said I had arrived just in time for a cup of tea and asked if he could see that I got one.
The cell was reasonably clean and tidy (as cells go) and I put my folded blanket on the floor and settled down to meditate some more. At some stage the nurse appeared to examine me but saw that I was meditating and respectfully withdrew until I had finished. Later she called for me and I was let out of the cell to sit and have my vitals assessed, to be quizzed on the general state of my health and my psychiatric record. I filled in the gaps and observed that everything seemed to be considerably more thorough than on my previous visit - from the search to the medical examination. She suggested that it may have been because things were busier during the DSEi protests than they were today. I asked again for some tea (to no avail) and was marshaled off back to my cell.
I lay down to sleep for a little - somewhat restlessly since I was keeping half an ear out for the arrival of the much vaunted cup of tea. Later the nurse returned to enquire whether or not I was vegetarian. "I told them you would be" she said and I once again pointed out that I was dehydrated and in dire need of a cup of tea. "It is not so easy," she said "we can't just go along to the canteen and get a cup of tea. A written order has to go to the kitchen and it has to be signed for (so they don't think we are just drinking it ourselves)".
She returned later with some dinner (a gray, institutional stir-fry, the inevitable peas and some quite nice fried potatoes) and enquired, for the second time, when I had last seen a psychiatrist. "I already told you!" I exclaimed "Why are you asking me again?" "I just want to make sure my records are accurate." she responded. "I answered your questions openly and honestly the first time you asked." I replied "What makes you think I will tell a different story now?". This institutional paranoia can be so frustrating to someone who is sane and honest and who has just endured the indignity of being arrested on a trumped up charge.
After my meal I sat and time passed - painfully slowly, as always seems the case when your freedom has been revoked and you have no idea for how long it will remain thus. I had no watch (I generally wear a pocket watch but this was withheld along with the rest of my possessions, probably to ensure that an intense wave of guilt over having obstructed the highway didn't propel me to using its chain to end my suffering) so I had no sense of time. I asked a passing officer for the time and was informed that it was eight o'clock. "How long does it take to charge and release someone, for god's sake?" I demanded. "I'll contact the arresting officer." he replied and a short while later PC Steel arrived to take me back to the custody suite for charging.
So I was duly charged that 'ON 01.05.2004 AT WHITEHALL, SW1 WITHOUT LAWFUL AUTHORITY OR EXCUSE DID WILFULLY OBSTRUCT FREE PASSAGE ALONG THE HIGHWAY. CONTRARY TO SECTION 137(1) HIGHWAYS ACT. 1980.' and informed that I "do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence". "Jolly good," says I "roll up your sleeves and lick your pencil.", "A short, reasonable statement!" grunts PS Hunter, the Custody Sargent. I carefully dictated the following:
"I was meditating outside Downing street in the hope that I could bring a little peace as close as I could to the heart of government, only to discover that the government is heartless."
"That is almost poetic." says the pretty WPC who was with PC Steel when he arrested me. "What do you expect?" says I "I'm a poet. Didn't you see my books when you searched my bag?" "Sure." says she with a winning smile. "You've had enough time to give a statement now, I have other people to process!" exclaims PS Hunter. "But you have just cautioned me that it may harm my defence if I fail to tell you now anything I later rely on in court and if you are refusing to take my statement then you must write on my custody sheet..." "I don't have to write anything on your custody sheet!" shouted PS Hunter. "Don't worry," says PC Steel, in conciliatory tones "there will be an opportunity in court to cover this."
My worldly goods sat forlornly in a plastic bag on the counter. "Sign here!" barked PS Hunter. "Just put 'declined to sign'" says I mildly "RIGHT!" shouts PS Hunter, snatching away the bag and throwing it onto the bench behind him. "Listen," says I "you were happy enough to take them off me with no signature." PC Steel gently says "he won't return them to you without a signature and in a moment you will be asked to sign the bail form and it would be rather less complicated if you do." And so I did.
As they escorted me out to the main reception at Charing Cross PC Steel and his WPC friend (sadly, I neglected to get her name) urged me to take care as I traveled home. I assured them that I would be fine and that I would be meeting up with some friends but they insisted that, it being Saturday night, there would be drunken, leary and intolerant thugs roaming the streets and I really should be careful. Sometimes when the police call up the hoary old "for your own safety" they really do have concern for your safety, as was the case in this instance. We parted with "Well, I guess we'll be seeing you soon then." "Sure," says I "at the court case. Look forward to it, the last one was a blast."
So I guess my diary for Friday 7th of May is 10:00am Bow St Magistrates Court for a plea hearing.