Curses and half-sleep mumbling about “this better be good” spilled from split lips, under blocked nose and clotted flu-ridden lungs.
“The police are here,” said the voice. “They’re doing it now. They’re coming to take us.”
Pink Barbara said some 40 police had appeared with Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and a truck with a huge container was being driven into Parliament Square.
I jumped in a taxi and got the driver to break every speed limit to get me there before anything happened.
The rear of Parliament Square was a wall of police vans. Luminous yellow was everywhere. The taxi driver swooped into the side of the protest, skidded to a halt. The driver told me to pay him later: “Save this man,” he said. “Stop them taking the truth away.”
He told me earlier he was from Afghanistan and all his family was dead.
Brian Haw was arguing with a senior officer, the same Chief Inspector in charge of policing the Harmondsworth demonstration on April 8.
By 4am they were starting to dismantle the demonstration. At first it was done with some, if clumsy, care. But when the extent of the sturdiness of the placards became apparent more force was used. Wood was ripped apart, banners torn down and one by one loaded into the large blue metal shipping container. Privately contracted council workers stood by and watched. When asked what they thought about the police action one replied, “no comment”.
Teddy bears, peace flags, even umbrellas were loaded into the container, much to the protest of the peace camp.
“How is an umbrella part of a demonstration?” yelled Barbara. She demanded they be returned, as the Chief Inspector had assured the protestors personal belongings would not be taken.
Barbara became more resistant as the dawn slowly approached, despite regular warnings from one senior officer that she would be arrested if she continued.
“I don’t care,” she yelled. “Arrest me. See if I care.”
She threatened to go into the container and get the umbrellas and other personal belongings back herself. And she tried, at least 20 times in the next hour. Each time a wall of blank-faced police blocked her way. Then they started using more force, restraining her, pushing her away. But this did not deter Barbara, only enhanced her rage. And her rage hit every single officer, the grunts, the seniors, even the FIT squad were sent off with a swift “piss off”. She was great. A true fighter.
In all this commotion of dealing with Barbara the police left the sides and rear of the container unguarded. And before anyone knew it Maria, Brian’s closest support, and another young protestor in a dreaded black hoody jumped on to the truck by the side of the container and climbed on top.
Officers tried to talk them down and Maria, in her usual and wonderful non-aggressive manner, refused.
The banners were dismantled, torn, ripped apart and forced into the cramped container. Even the Banksy paintings, donated by the artist, were rammed in there and subsequently damaged and ripped.
“You’re going to need another container,” yelled Brian Haw. “It’s not big enough.”
Going to need a bigger boat. Memories of Jaws.
And Brian Haw was the shark. Five metres long and hungry for peace. But there was no violence in him. No threat to any local fishing community. No. The only vicious rows of serrated teeth in this movie wore yellow-coats and had no idea of the implications this “operation” had on this country, on its people, on them.
Barbara was finally arrested, arm-locked by two hulking yellow-coat grunts and dragged away to a waiting police van.
Anger rose. In the demonstrators. And in the two Indymedia journalists, who were getting a little sick of the ITN cameraman who seemed to think he was the only one entitled to “getting the shot” and would stop at nothing to get it, including knocking every other living thing out of his way.
I remembered him from before. On the August demonstrations in Parliament Square, when he knocked photojournalist, and my good friend, Blackbee out the way, then did the same to me. That time he got a knock round the head.
“Sorry mate, didn’t see you there.”
By daylight the five-year permanent demonstration was gone, only two banners left, that had been carefully measured by two serious-looking police officers. This action got the response by many: “Get a fucking life.”
Then came the job of removing the two demonstrators from the top of the container. The first tactic, which I overheard two senior officers discussing. Starve them out.
Officers surrounded the container and refused anyone to get in close. Still, protestors threw cigarettes for hoody.
As the traffic piled up around Parliament Square, due to the entire front of the square being barricaded with railings, and the entire place was swamped with every kind of mainstream media, one seriously organised criminal appeared with a bag of coffee, tea and muffins.
He circled the container. Police shuffled nervously. He tried to pass the bag of supplies, they halted him, shoved him, pushed him back, grabbed his arms. This went on for quite some time. Protestors and journalists chuckled at the absurdity of the situation. Twenty officers intent on protecting the blue metal container from the onslaught of muffins and milky tea.
Food was thrown up, and an orange too. But the warm drinks never made it.
Brian Haw loudly stated even murderers and rapists were allowed tea and coffee when imprisoned, yet two peaceful protestors freezing on the top of a metal container were be denied such simple human rights.
The media had indeed swamped the place. The ITN man had got bored and left, much to the delight of most. Gone but certainly not forgotten. The BBC camera team had arrived with a look of “serious journalists” on their faces. They certainly did not want to talk to this journalist with scruffy mohican and ingrained tobacco stains on his fingers. I just coughed over them, hoping my weapons-grade influenza got into their systems.
Japanese media, Chinese, BBC radio, LBC, Press Association, Daily Mirror, Evening Standard photographers, all were there. All calling to Brian Haw, getting him to pose, yelling orders at him like he was some kind of pin-up model for FHM. Gimme more Brian, more. Turn left. Pout. Give us some more breast.
It was kind of sick to see. I have seen sharks at feeding time with more dignity. And these boys were indeed sharks. No teeth, just cameras.
Just after 9am two police officers were given a bunk-up on to the container. They appeared out of nowhere, jumped Maria and hoody and grappled them to the floor. The metal ladders tangled in the crane chains came crashing down. Both protestors hit the container roof hard and the yellow-coats sat on top of them while restraining handcuffs were administered.
In the commotion an elderly grey-bearded protestor smashed open the railings and pushed them into the road of an oncoming bus. He too was grabbed by a police officer, picked up, dragged out the way and arrested.
The seriously organised criminal also received the heavy hand of the law. Obviously intently annoyed by his mosquito-style of interference, buzzing around the yellow-coats for hours on end, the two officers took the chance to put on some strong-arm locks and got him out the way.
It was over. Brian Haw stood by the side of the road quietly looking into the sky. The police slowly moved out. More supporters appeared from Westminster tube station and from Whitehall. Blair was not one of them. Support came from everywhere. UK, Italy, Greece, Spain, Eastern Europe. All nations present and pissed off.
Around midday David Icke appeared, yelled at police officers, called them Nazis, as many had done all through the last nine hours, and then chased the FIT squad away. FIT Neil had finally met his match. Grandstand 1 – FIT 0.
Icke declared the fascist state is not coming, it’s already here, he said. And I had to agree with him. Fascism does not only mean gassing and killing. It comes in many colours. Blackshirts, brownshirts, yellow-coats. And Hitler and Mussolini, both started out as leftwing socialists, remember.
The day was bright, the sun warm. It should have been a good day. But the evening’s events had changed something in the air, in the country. Nazi indeed. Just like them, the raids on free speech and public dissent now took place in the dark and early hours of the morning. When most of the mainstream media was sleeping. A majority of the population too. Although some will argue they are asleep most of the day too. David Icke certainly believed this.
The question on most minds was if this can happen here and now, in England, what will be next? Who will be next?
As I tried to explain to a female police officer, after she took offence at being compared to the Nazis, it was not comparing this police action to gassing an entire race. No. The comparison was from where it all started way back in 1933. The crackdown on dissent. The removal of free speech.
That was how it started there, in Germany 73 years ago, and in Russia under Stalin, for that matter. And now it was happening here, in Parliament Square, across the road from the palace of democracy. But not just there. Dawn raids are going on everywhere now, against drug suspects, against illegal immigrants. Whole families snatched in the middle of the night, handcuffed, abused, beaten, and imprisoned in one of the many detention centres across this country. 25,000 people a year.
No matter whether you agree with Brian Haw and his demonstration or not, it now has to be understood that this is the tactic to silence, to dispose of, to get rid of. And if can happen to him, or to a family from Africa or the Middle East, or to a dope smoking student who has been narked-on by the local neighbourhood watch Hitler – if it can happen to them, it can happen to you. It could happen to me.
And that is a very serious and intensely sad and fearful not too distant future for us all.
First they came for the peace protestors and I did nothing because I was not a peace protestor….
This is only the beginning.