I had a very interesting meeting with the police last week, and I am still digesting the content. A group of us met a senior officer from the Bradford force to discuss the last UK uncut demo in Bradford and try to prevent our protests 'getting out of hand.' Having seen the pictures of young activists getting CS gas sprayed in their faces last Sunday, I was keen to make sure that it didn't happen in Bradford.
The police officer described me as 'an instigator' of the protests. They have a constant need to identify 'ring leaders' or 'instigators', I guess it makes it easier to deal with what can seem like chaotic situations. I actually think the 'instigators' are companies that avoid paying taxes while public services are being hacked to death by this government.
They were anxious about the 'fear' our demonstration caused to passersby when we tried to sing carols at the Vodaphone store before Christmas. We had done a similar thing in Topshop, and I'm pretty sure our carol singing had not caused 'fear' to passersby, or indeed to those in the shop - as we had been extremely courteous. Any alarm or fear can only have occurred when the police and security guards at the shopping centre began throwing people to the ground and shouting at the hundred or so people trying to head towards Vodaphone.
It turns out that their justification for this was that Topshop had complained we had been putting leaflets in the pockets of clothes when we were in their store. This is apparently 'criminal damage'. They alleged several pockets were torn. Those who did the leafleting told me that they had been very careful not to do so, so I am not sure that I can simply believe the stores version of events. Should the police believe everything that Topshop told them?
Certainly the police themselves tried to trump up charges against the two young people they arrested at the Kirkgate centre. Despite the attempts to charge them with 'assualting a police officer' all charges were dropped later that evening.
During our meeting, it was the police officers comment to me about 'overstepping my public role' in taking part in these demonstrations that angered and saddened me. I replied that there was a long list of characters from the bible who had stood up against injustice, some were arrested, some tortured, some even crucified.
It is the tradition of the church to take part in prophetic ministry against injustice, regardless of the consequences. We are not here as an institution to simply defend present day capitalism, big business and the Condem government - that is a job the police hierarchy seem happy to do all by themselves.