It was immediately obvious that a few of those in the square had a different agenda to us. While the vast majority were dancing or singing around the small fires lit to keep warm, groups young men in scarf’s and balaclava’s could be seen. These people were the ones graffiting or charging against the police. None of the graffiti I saw all night had anything to do with fighting fees; all I saw were anarchistic symbols and slogans which helps to prove just how separate their agenda was. They were ignored by everyone else in the square, many of whom were already looking up at Big Ben and wondering when we would be released. The media claims that we were given water and use of a toilet but that is simply not true. The policeman I asked about these things only laughed and shook his head.
When the result of the vote was announced the crowd I was in booed and vented steam with a stream of angry chants. After a few stirring speeches the crowd began to dissipate and my friends and I decided it was time to leave. We’d finally heard we were allowed to leave through the Whitehall entrance and so we began to walk in that direction. Me and two of my friends hung back for what can only have been a minute to say goodbye to some friendly protester’s we’d met before continuing pushing our way out of the Whitehall entrance. The mood around us was turning a little sour but we pushed onwards. We saw people with blood dripping down their faces, some looking very unsteady from their injuries walking towards us, shaking their heads and telling us the police had sealed the exit and that we were on our way towards a very violent front line. We retreated back into parliament square and searched for another way out.
After fruitlessly talking to multiple disinterested police men we moved to another exit where a line had formed, entirely of the protester’s own sense of fairness despite no police information. The mood inside the square had now entirely split into two opposing corners. While in the Whitehall corner, furthest from us, rioting may have been occurring a group of at least 800 calm students had formed into an ever growing, very British, queue. This fact is one which has received no media attention. Nobody wanted to be there and everyone around us had tried as we had to escape but had been denied.
Eventually we learned that they were letting protester’s out; one at a time and only if they gave their name, address, date of birth and allowed themselves to be photographed, something fellow students were quick to tell us they had no to right to do. But as the night grew colder nobody complained too much for this lack of human rights, all anyone wanted to do was get warm and sit down. The fact that the police decided to free us not from the front of the line but in a corner lead lead to the neat British queue turning instead to a pile of people and showed once again their complete disrespect for us as individuals rather than a mass of guilty parties.
Time went by and ever so slowly we moved forwards, the group behind us growing ever larger as people grew tired and wanted to leave. Finally, when I was completely hemmed in by people from behind, the police gave only piece of official information I received telling us that Westminster Bridge was now open. Because we had been attempting to leave for so long we were now at the back of the new crowd of people whilst the rioters were now at the front. Those who had been waiting longest were now last in line and as such were punished further for behaving peacefully. There was no clear information but we joined the area where everyone else was. At around 9 o’clock we were finally allowed to move, the pain of stretching my legs after holding them ridged for so long forced my and many around me to stumble and stagger instead of being allowed to walk with any dignity.
My overwhelming relief was quickly short lived. We had stopped moving on the top of the bridge for no reason whatsoever. No information was given to us. The police had now forced thd whole crowd of people into a far smaller space than we had been in. The mood was desperate with no hope of freedom. When we were moved a few steps forward the crowd didn’t cheer, instead it was more or a groan. As we walked a section of police moved into the middle of the crowd and began to hit them with shields. There seemed no reason for this violence and they did not appear to mind who they hit. The crowd responded by raising their hands into the air and calling ‘This is not a riot’ but the police violence continued near us. We were then stopped again, once more with no information given to us.
My whole body was shaking with cold and exhaustion and I couldn’t stand upright. All that I’d eaten in the past 14 hours was half a pack of Pringles, a handful of ‘Heroes’ and a sherbet lemon. As I swayed those around me moved appeared as much as possible to allow me a little air but it only resulted in others being pushed harder. At times our sprits were lifted when a chant reached us like ‘Dumbledore wouldn’t stand for this’ but mostly all anyone could talk about was how much pain they were in, how cold they were, and that all they wanted to do was leave. Never in the whole kittling experience did I hear anyone even mention idea’s of further protesting tonight. Those desperate to continue fighting were not those waiting quietly and patiently.
Finally, at midnight, at least eleven hours after I arrived at parliament square the crowd began to move. The police officer’s had caused a fence with their bodies forcing us to go the longest way possible. No reason or explanation was given for this but we’d learnt better than to attempt to talk to them. As I walked I was pushed to the edge of the line of protesters, forcing me nearest the police. I didn’t touch the police line or say anything, I didn’t have any surplus energy to speak anyway, but suddenly I felt a blow in my side. Staggering away I saw a policeman glaring at me, proving this punch had been entirely intentional. After such a long day with my body already aching it felt too much for me and I felt tears coming. Only the encouragements of my friends forced me onwards till we finally left the rows of police and were shepherded into the rest of London and were left to attempt to travel back to Brighton.
Almost everyone I saw leavening were shell shocked teenagers. There were no people with their faces covered that looked like the angry young males who caused the violence. It seems as though rather than containing the violent protesters the police had only caught all those who weren’t able to push hard enough through the crowds to escape. We were not the protesters who ‘decided to stay’. Instead we were those who never got an opportunity to leave. While there may have been violent protesters in the crowd most of those around us were under 18 and none of them were in any way dangerous. No one could believe we were being punished in this way when our only crime was attempting to protest peacefully.
The general attitude of the media has shocked me. The claims that we are ‘hardcore protesters’ who chose to say is ridiculous. We made every effort to leave in a safe and organized way despite the lack or order or information given. I asked countless policemen when I would be able to leave, and was treated like scum or something subhuman on every occasion. To be forced to stand for 8 hours in the freezing cold with no food or water was not something I asked for or deserved.
Right up until that night I had respected the police. I really believed they were there for our protection and that they wanted the good of our citizens. What I witnessed completely destroyed this picture of them. We were treated like cattle, completely stripped of any human decency or rights. The vast number of completely innocent bystanders so harshly punished for the actions of few in unforgivable. I protested for want of an education, but what I received was a traumatic lesson in police brutality.