How to police a protest -

How to police a protest

Bradford police managed to contain and control demonstrations without needlessly detaining hundreds


Here is a link to my story about the far right English Defence League, which recently protested in the northern British city of Bradford. The EDL says they are opposed to Islamic extremism. Their opponents say they are racists and hate Muslims of all kinds. Their demonstrations typically result in violent clashes with police.

I’d like to say a few words about how the West Yorkshire Police handled the EDL’s demo. First, some context. Their rally took place in a city that experienced a race riot less than ten years ago. Again, last month, the EDL’s presence brought out large numbers of opponents, including from among the thousands of South Asian Muslims who live in Bradford. The two groups, kept apart by police, taunted threatened, and threw rocks at each other.

Policing the demonstration involved controlling hundreds of people who genuinely hated and were eager to physically harm each other — unlike protesters at the G-20 demonstrations in Toronto who, for the most part, opposed political ideologies and things, rather than people who could bruise and bleed. Yet police in Bradford managed to contain and control the demonstrations without needlessly detaining hundreds; without charging into crowds of people who threatened no one; without using rubber bullets and then claiming they had done no such thing; without, in other words, succumbing to the pathological bully complex that afflicted so many police in Toronto. Securing the Bradford demo cost British taxpayers less than a million bucks.

One more thing, and this is more relevant to journalists than general readers, but I think it matters. Those of us covering the clashes were pretty much free to go wherever we wanted, including a few feet behind police lines as they were being rained with rocks and bottles. I wished I was wearing a helmet, but no one said I couldn’t be there.


How to police a protest

  1. It should also be pointed out that at the G-20, many were there simply to antagonize the police, and nothing else.

    • And this was news to our national police force?

      • I think there was a secondary objective in the police operation to get the baddies where they could be identified, photographed, printed and put on the books for other demos, since the black part of the mob were "known"but not necessarily identified. . The final act was to ensure that everyone that hung around was identified or released. I think they were doing this in the interest of future needs.

        The prime objective, of course, was to keep the protesters outside the fence to preserve good order and discipline. .

        The demonstrators who were innocent of anything were caught in the net and poorly handled in the pursuit of the secondary objective. Not the same kinds of crowds, obviously. I don't think any of the G-20 protesters (baddies or goodies) were interested or hated other groups as they did in Bradford.

    • How about "some' were that to antagonize the police … maybe 'a few' ….. but then let us not pretend that none were agitators at Bradford either …

      I have no specific knowledge, admittedly, but it is usual to have that cohort at any possibly violent confrontation.

  2. Perhaps the police and the politicians are held accountable for their actions there?

    • It is a unmitary state with a unitary police force.

  3. Funny, I haven't heard of anybody at the G-20 who was just there to antagonize the police. Could it be that particular piece of spin is just another bit of misinformation being spread by the cops who clubbed people.

    • If you watched any of the videos you'd have seen it.

      They show up at every event.

      • I've watched a whack of the videos. What I saw was protesters protesting. Given how the cops reacted to that, I guess it antagonized them, but it did not seem to be the main purpose of the protesters.

        • Yup…about flouride, Bilderberg, the illuminati…and every other kook cause you can think of. They push the boundaries every way they can. Obstruct, get in the way, carry backpacks they won't allow to be searched. Happens at every event. And the police should have known that. Protesters are a pain in the arse, but just part of the general craziness of humanity.

          What the cops should have been on the look-out for was the Black Bloc…..however they were more concerned with terrorists carrying nukes. Those were the orders….not violent anarchists with rocks….terrorists with nukes.

          • Terrorists with Nukes would be an excellent name for a band.

          • Homeland security is notorious for it's lack of humour. LOL

          • Only if they play country music

          • Maybe some alt country with some serious death banjo going on.

          • Rev, you just don't compute. Your antennae must be broken. Being a reverend of course makes you naiive, I guess.

          • What's naive about death banjo?

          • They might find going on tour a bit difficult.

          • not sure why i am about to to do this but…

            what? they carried back packs that didn;t want subject to unreasonable search and/or seizure? good lord! the nerve!….hang 'em high

          • Nope, mostly harmless protesters doing silly things…..but they take up police time, and they obstruct the job the police are there to do…the job we pay them to do. So they're a nuisance.

            It's the ones like the Black Bloc the cops should have been watching for.

            But I think the policing was badly botched because they were on alert for stupid things….like terrorists with nukes… instead of just doing street patrol.

        • Seems to me a lot of people were "protesting" the massive police presence on the street. and their protest manifested itself as needless and purposeless engagement of the cops. That much appears clear to me

        • Did you happen to see any flameing cop cars? I'm no fan of the police response, but some were there to cause trouble for police. That is obvious.

          • Black block tactics are well known. There is no valid reason why, with the number of cops there, they couldn't have stopped them. They chose not to, for whatever reason.

          • I agree. They should have been stopped.

            I was responding to this statement you made,

            "Funny, I haven't heard of anybody at the G-20 who was just there to antagonize the police . Could it be that particular piece of spin is just another bit of misinformation being spread by the cops who clubbed people."

            I guess the Black Bloc don't qualify as, "anybody at the G-20 who was just there to antagonize the police", in your book?

            I'd say it's obvious that is exactly why they were there. (and did so in my original comment to you)

          • You and I may not agree with their tactics, but those people were there to protest too. Their issues…globalization, environmental concerns, workers rights, etc., are legitimate issues. I have no idea why they think breaking windows and burning cop cars is going to win them support, but their goal is draw attention to those issues, not just to antagonize the police.

          • In which case, I'm all for banning street protests. They aren't exactly peaceful assembly, and non-violent protests in the face can be violent in intent but not in action.If I go up to you and taunt you and call you a dirty pig that is not a peaceful protest because the words are violent in intent. .
            If the TV cameras did not turn up to take whatever "newsy" shots they can get the whole bunch would go home.
            And REv, I think the Black Bloc actions are beyond tactics. It was a strategic move that they turned up readfy fior action. .

          • You would ban street protests because of the misguided actions of less than 100 people? How incredibly undemocratic of you. Apparently you would limit freedom of the press as well.

            I have to ask though. Since you would ban protests like this, would you also ban the next farmers' protest? The next anti-choice gathering on Parliament Hill? The next pro-gun rally? The next anti-tax protest? Do you agree with the Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese governments that protest should be illegal in those countries too?

    • Actually, it doesn't need to be spread by the cops because the predictable rightwing bigots will spread such kneejerk lies anyway,.

      • How about left-wing kneejerk bigots. I might have a suggestion what to do with your Holly Stick, prickles and all.

  4. Good article. I guess there's a green and pleasant land there somewhere … maybe on PBS.

  5. Please note that the EDL is a rainbow coalition of whites, blacks, Asians, Jews and gays all against Radical Islam. You can view images of the Bradford demo at… I agree, the police done a fine job in a difficult situation.

    • Yeah just like the Tea Parties in the USA are multi ethnic entities all working for a land where all are welcome.
      The first crowd picture at the link illustrates the diverse nature of that organisation. And anybody who can follow that link can also google and see clips of this nasty bunch of right wing racists, complete with right arm salutes and celtic crosses.
      As for Jewish support, the board of deputies have condemned the EDL as have various other Jewish groups. But as long as you can point to a star of David, I guess you can delude yourself.

  6. Petrou thanks for writing this and the other piece. both are very well done. and a welcome departure from the embarrassing editorial published by your masthead in the wake of the G20. thumbs way up.

  7. I think they may have taken a page from Ottawa's ex-Deputy Chief of Police Sue O'Sullivan's playbook, and the way she handled last spring's Tamil protests. Traffic was severely disrupted, but it was re-routed and not stopped. The protesters had their freedom of speech and assembly respected. And as above, reporters were free to come and go as they pleased. What could have escalated into a tragedy ended up being an inconvenience.

  8. In an attempt to get some serious thumbs down, it should be noted that the Toronto the good doesn't get a lot of big, angry protests and I would assume there is a learning curve for these things. As Micheal pointed out, the police of West Yorkshire have a fair bit of experience at this point, so while the two situations are very different a fairer comparison of the respective response might be seen from comparing the G20 protests to the earlier Bradford troubles.

    The comparisons are notably flawed, but not all on one side. The number of people, the high international profile of the G20, the nature of the anger, degree of organization are all quite different.

    My only point is that the discussion of the G20 strikes me as remarkably simplistic on both sides. For those supporting the police actions, all protestors are reduced to thugs and anarchists, all innocent bystanders are morons who should have known better. Those supporting the protests seem to believe the police presence was not even required and that the protests would have culminated in the copious planting of flowers on some vacant lot if only the police had not been so provocative. Both points of view are great for rants. Both points of view are useless if Canada is to do better the next time we are faced with this type of situation.

    • Why would anyone give you a thumbs down for that? It seemed a very sensible comment, I particularly agree with the point you make about experience. I don't think the G20 police issues were due to a fiendish plot to take away people's right to free assembly and free speech just the result of a whole lot of people who didn't have much experience with this sort of thing.

      • So Canadians need to get out and demonstrate more.

        • Why not, the walking is good exercise and you get to meet new people.

      • That's why a FULL Inquiry is needed.
        We need to know what went wrong– Who gave the orders? Why??

        • I don't think we need an inquiry at all, but we do need to train the police and have procedures in place so that they do a better job next time.

    • "Those supporting the protests seem to believe the police presence was not even required and that the protests would have culminated in the copious planting of flowers on some vacant lot if only…"

      Yeah, I've seen a little of that, I suppose. But the prevailing opinion seems rather to be that the police botched their duties Saturday and let the Black Bloc run riot, then grossly overreacted Sunday and swept up hundreds of innocent people.

      I haven't heard a lot of hippie nonsense, just a sense that people were failed twice by the Toronto/York/Peel police, in two different ways.

      • The head of the integrated unit – an RCMP officer – said that their mandate was to protect the dignataries inside the fence and while in transit to and fro, Obviously, they decided to tolerate some vandalism on Sat. They were ready to move in on the rioters shortly after the vandalism began, but were stood down. They need to explain that their behavior Sat night and Sunday – it doesn't seem rational on any level.

        • The vandalism may havee been undesireable but did allow the police undercover to take identifiable pictures of the baddies in action and make the ID project that much easier.

    • But surely the people in charge of the G20's security knew that they were in over their heads. Shouldn't someone have asked for help? Maybe approached another agency who had more experience?

      Ignorance isn't an excuse when there are opportunities to learn from others.

      • Personally I strongly support an inquiry… although mostly at a strategic level. I don't believe that we really understand who was in charge. These events require a coordination of federal, provincial and local officials & agencies and keeping priorities & areas of responsibilities separate is likely difficult and ill advised. For example, although most of the complaints are against provincial police, those police were operating within a temporary construct led by the RCMP. Do we really have a clear idea of the civilian oversight in such cases?

        • As I understand it, the police, once called out (along with the Armed Forces when requested by the civil authority (the provincial govt in this case). are responsible for peace and order. The civil authority is responsible for good govt. an not for oversight once an operation has been put in play.

          It might be useful to have a draft standard operation order for this sort of thing. The "what went wrong" sort of thing may be a good review in drafting that standard order, but one must remember that in addition to the expected, also the unexpected happens. As for a public enquiry they are a useless delay and a waste of money if lawyers get involved.

          In other words, I think the police are smart enough to review that operation. As Ontario has its own Provincial Police, my wonder is why the leadership was put in the hands of the RCMP, whose reputation the last time I looked has destroyed my boyhood admiration . of that Force.

          The problem is that different bodies have different culture's and that is just as true of police forces (and the Armed Forces (Navy, Air,Army) as any other organizations – perhaps more true when action is not enviosaged but happens.

  9. How does this Bradford protest become equivalent to the G20 protest? (it is a rhetorical question, I know how the two get equated).
    They were both protests, yes, but not of the same nature, scale or duration.
    In the Bradford protest, from a policing standpoint, objective was clear: allow the right of protest to proceed, keep the two groups apart, therefore, build a police wall, give no excuse for escalation. Exactly what was done.
    In the G20 protest, from a policing standpoint, the objectives were multiple, of a diffuse nature, and involving far more risk vectors. There was not an identifyable potential for a counter march, it being highly unlikely that heads of state and other deligates would take to the streets and protest their being protested against.
    In fact, the police presence became the sublimated object of the protester's ire, standing in for the elites. How could the police build a wall using themselves to separate themselves from the protesters?

  10. You speak in terms too general. You need to separate out demonstrators, protestors and aggitators. Going from second had reports (I wasn't there, and from what I have experienced of riots, wouldn't go near) there was a significant presence of aggitators that goaded the police into a more robust response. The aggitators use the demonstrators as human shields and the protestors as enablers to cover their desire to provoke anarchy.

    Anarchy isn't some pejorative term. OK, it is, but it is also a political philosophy that seeks results outside the generally accepted values of exchange. Anarchy exists, as a nessissary entailment of socialist revolutionary maxims. In the theater of joussaince, the aggressive response of the Real in the guise of police strong-arm tactics breaks an endowment of trust placed in the leadership, openning the door for usurpation by the socialist to anarchist nexus.

    • The "human shield" defence is always a dishonest one.

      What evidence do you have that there were any agitators present on the Sunday, when the cops were arresting and mistreating peaceful protestors and many people who were not even protestors, but people out minding their own business?

      • Dishonest for whom? The anarchist/aggitators? The police? Protestors? Media? Demonstrators? Who?

        As for my evidence, I said I wasn't there, but I would be refering to those people that showed up wearing black clothes & face masks and carrying electric roofing nailers, bottles, and bricks.

        And could you explain to me how you show up to the most heavily publicized event in Toronto for the last 6 months and just happen to be standing around minding your own business? I am not saying that it isn't possible, or that most people were not in fact doing that very thing. I am just asking how it is that, in seeing the formation of riotous conditions, wouldn't it suggest that choosing to remain indicates some degree of interest in participating in the continuation of said conditions?

        I am open to the possibility that I am wrong.