Was it just about authority and trying to repress any form of organised dissent?
Was it the fact that no matter how hard they intend to criminalise protest, people are still prepared to take to the streets in a joyous and rebellious form?
Or was it all about fear? A sort of obsessive worry that one day it may actually get "out of hand". It may have been that actually.
So, again, what was exactly the police so afraid of in the streets of Hackney on Sunday MayDay 05?
It could be something to do with the determination shown by a few hundred people that refused to be bullied and harassed by violent men and women in uniforms. Or probably, the realisation that even with the help of their intelligence teams, they could not suss out the exact location of the action until it actually had already started.
Ha! I can hear their orders being nervously shouted over the radio: "Quick! ... get to Highbury Fields, now!" ... to an answer of: "Ehem .. excuse me sir, I've just got a text message, it says to get down to Bethnal Green! ... "What?!, Bethnal Green?! ... Are you sure?" ... "Yes Sir, I'm just reading it" ... "Then get the fuck down there! .. Quick!".
Meanwhile, shoppers, staff and security in Tesco's Hackney megastore were oblivious about the fact that a crowd of rebel precarious, a symbolic critical mass of men and women determined to demand an end to insecurity in their lives, were about to change the seemingly ubiquitous chain of consumerism, of market liberalism and pre-packaged reality, into an explosion of joy and dissent.
The police and their "intelligence" teams still didn't know it neither, but the Rhythms of Resistance samba band was starting to play just in front of the endless line of check out tills. A group of about 50 people followed them into the magastore blocking one of the main alleys. A man with a loud speaker started explaining the action to the shoppers, whilst a beautifully crafted banner that read "All We Have To Lose Is Our Chainstores" was unfurled.
Leaflets were also given out to the bemused crowd that gathered around the action. This was not only made of shoppers, but also by an increasing number of incredulous security and staff, that by that point, were already starting to smile to the fact that their monotonous shift was being spiced out by rebellious beats.
By this time though, the police had finally found out the exact location of the action, and several police vans rushed through Hackney Central towards Tesco's. It was only 15 minutes since the action had started, but they day had already been won. People's determination and wit had overrun the state's repressive machinery. These were fifteen minutes of peaceful party and protest, in which an sterile cathedral of consumerism was being transformed into a living and, more importantly, liveable space.
At the same time, another crowd was approaching Hackney Central from Highbury. These had another story to tell. They had had to travel all the way cramped onto a train's carriage, whilst constantly been harassed by (mainly) men in uniform. But the same as with the crowd in Tesco's, those in the train were determined not to be bullied, and by the time they arrived in Hackney, they had already resisted a couple of attempts of arrests.
This crowd was inevitably followed by a large number of police all the way from Hackney Central station to Tesco, where, by now, police had already managed to push and beat people out of the megastore and into the street. Some violent arrests took place at that time. People were getting arrested for no apparent reason. It quickly became clear that police's tactic for the day would be that of snatching 'known activists' from the crowd. By this time, the number of protesters was around 250 people, maybe more, it's difficult to tell.
The bigger group was quickly surrounded by a large number of threatening police. Outside the cordon, there were several groups of people scattered around the area. Police started to get very aggressive with those that refused to let the police isolate the larger crowd penned into what it seemed a Section 60. Some more arrests took place amongst the pushing and the endless shouts of "Move! Now!" By this time at least 8 arrests had already taken place. All of them by snatch squads that seemed to be operating with a very clear idea of who to get.
Eventually (and surprisingly) the police cordon started to move at about 3pm, forcing the surrounded crowd down to Mare St. In what resembled a shoot from a spoof War movie, a weird procession of about 150 police followed by at least 15 police vans, accompanied some 80-100 protesters all the way to London Fields. Along the way, most people that had managed not to get penned in, continuously faced police officers pushing them whilst shouting into their faces "Get in! Now!'. Meanwhile the samba band started playing again, and the long banner was unfurled sideways creating a symbolic barrier between people and the police.
Local Hackney residents were amazed at the situation being created out of a peaceful and festive action. Several people expressed their outrage about these police tactics, whilst suggesting that maybe this sort of police behaviour, if needed at all, it would be much better spent trying to get the anti social behaviour and gun culture out of the area.
Finally, as the 'demonstration' was taken into the park, the cordon of police opened and people were let out. Taking advantage of a hot and sunny MayDay sunday, people set out to finally celebrate the day in the park. The banner was hung between two trees, the samba band kept playing, groups of people sat in circles talking, laughing, discussing the day's events ... and maybe who knows, even dreaming some more! Because at the end of the day, it is not that it all was supposed to end in Hackney's May Day action, is it??
For 20 minutes or so, it seemed that things would be chill from then on. Police had retired behind the park's fences, most of their vans were stationed at one end of the park .. and yes, true, the relentless and pointless FIT teams were still videoing and taking photos of people. But, well, what's new with this eh? I'm really starting to wonder if this is really a police attempt to gather "intelligence", a well rehearsed repressive tactic of harassment, or basically some sort of compulsive disorder.
In any case, all of a sudden, and again for no apparent reason but some obscure strategy, police started to arrest people once more. As it had happened earlier in the Tesco's action, police snatch squads moved into groups enjoying the day out in the park, and picked up people at will. Four more arrests took place in the park, all of which were resisted with the crowd angry at this sort of provocation. Due to the quick reaction and determination of some groups of people throughout the day, several protesters managed to escape being snatched.
By 5pm police seemed to be contempt enough with the day's catching, and finally moved out of sight. When I left the park, there was still about 100 people finally managing to have a dignified MayDay celebration. It is true that too many people got arrested, and that the police overreaction was an escalation of what it seems is the norm in London for a few years now.
But the fact still remains the same, the action showed that people is determined to regain control of their own lives, and to confront the 'logic' of capitalism with wit, joy, determination and conviction. It doesn't really matter if in Hackney there was, at times, more police than protesters. Because the reality shows another picture: that we are millions worldwide, and that we really are everywhere.
Here in Europe, this sunday's EuroMayDay 05, saw thousands in many countries and cities: form Hackney to Barcelona, from Milano to Stockholm, and from Helsinky to Athens. All rebelling against the current precarious working and living conditions capitalism is trying to corner us into.
So yes, officer, this is precisely what you are so afraid of, isn't it? As I said before, in Hackney's Tesco megastore there were millions, and all determined to reclaim back what is theirs. Are you going to arrest them all? You still don't get it, do you? We all only live once, and we refuse to live our lives second hand. You better understand it soon, because, after all, we all live under the same sky.
Photos will follow below