The Metropolitan Police were out in force during the coronation of Charles Windsor on Saturday 6 May. During the run-up, they boasted of plans to deploy 11,500 officers into London. However, the event was overshadowed by the Met’s zealous use of new anti-protest laws.
Republic is a UK-based group that wants “to see the monarchy abolished” and replaced by an elected head of state. The organisation was set up in 1983 and formalised in 2006. Charles’ coronation over the weekend gave the group a prime opportunity to get its message across. It started a campaign under the banner of #NotMyKing, and planned to protest during the coronation itself. The Met Police, however, had other ideas.
At 7.28am on 6 May, before the coronation had even begun, the Alliance of European Republican Movements posted a video to Twitter showing police arresting Republic members:
— Alliance of European Republican Movements (@AERMorg) May 6, 2023
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A few minutes later, Labour for a Republic shared a photo of Met Police officers searching a van full of Not My King placards:
REPUBLICANS PLANNING TO PEACEFULLY PROTEST ARE BEING ARRESTED IN CENTRAL LONDON AND MATERIALS CONFISCATED.
MORE INFO AS SOON AS WE HAVE IT.
— Labour for a Republic 🌹🗳️ (@Labour4Republic) May 6, 2023
The Guardian later reported that:
Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, had been collecting drinks and placards for demonstrators at the main site of the protest on Trafalgar Square… when he was stopped along with five others by police on nearby St Martin’s Lane.
The group had been walking behind a rental van containing hundreds of placards when they were approached by the police and searched.
This took place despite “meetings and agreements” between Republic and the Met Police, according to the anti-monarchist group.
The Met Police claimed they had arrested the six due to suspicions over “lock on devices”:
They searched the vehicle and, as well as a large number of placards, found items which at the time they had reasonable grounds to believe could be used as lock on devices.
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) May 8, 2023
Lock-ons are typically performed with items that require some work to undo. This could mean anything from bike locks to barrels filled with concrete. However, Republic’s head – Graham Smith – tweeted that the group made it clear to police at the time that the “devices” were in fact luggage straps:
This is not true. There were no reasonable grounds for this and they were told very clearly what those luggage straps were for and that it was not physically possible to ‘lock on’ with them. https://t.co/SsoTKkhldY
— Graham Smith 🇺🇦 🏳️🌈 (@GrahamSmith_) May 8, 2023
The police released the first Republic protester nearly 16 hours after their arrest. The group posted that all were released at 3pm on 7 May, and the Met Police said it had released all six with no further action.
Met Police arrest council volunteers
That wasn’t the whole of the Met Police’s rampage though. It turned out that officers had arrested three people at around 2am on Saturday morning for carrying rape alarms. All three were volunteers for the Westminster City Council’s Night Stars public safety team. They hand them out to women on London’s streets at night.
Journalist Mic Wright, who first reported the arrests, showed the results of officers’ rough treatment of volunteer Riz Choudry:
A third member of the Night Safety Team is here. He has marks on his arms from being roughly arrested by the TSG. He wasn’t processed until 5am and was kept in cuffs for all that time. Riz Choudhry says: “Pure police brutality and racial discrimination.” pic.twitter.com/TizvuCbOXd
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) May 6, 2023
The Met Police told ITV News that they had “received intelligence” people were going to use rape alarms to disrupt the coronation. This came after the Mail on Sunday published similar claims in the lead-up to the event. Wright said the source of the Mail‘s story was the Met Police itself, whose head of press is a former Daily Mail journalist. As a result, Wright told BBC Radio 5 Live:
the police put in place the means to arrest people ahead of time by placing this in a friendly media outlet
However, it’s questionable whether the police needed to manufacture an excuse.
Laws rushed in for the coronation
The Independent‘s Lizzie Dearden shared a full breakdown of Met Police arrests on Saturday:
We now have a full breakdown of coronation protest arrests from the Met Police
— Lizzie Dearden (@lizziedearden) May 6, 2023
It revealed that a majority of those the police took in were from high-profile protest and direct action groups. In addition to the six from Republic, the police also arrested 13 people connected to Just Stop Oil, and 14 from Animal Rising (formerly Animal Rebellion). Dearden highlighted that many of these arrests were made using powers granted by two significant anti-protest laws drafted in by the Tories.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 created laws against so-called ‘public nuisance’. The law was then bolstered by the Public Order Act 2023, which parliament rushed through in order to deal with protesters during the coronation. Amongst the new powers, it makes locking-on illegal and extends stop and search powers in relation to items used for locking-on.
No justice, just us
Despite widespread opposition to both bills, they are now entrenched in UK law. And although they were championed by the Tories, Labour has steadfastly refused to condemn their implementation. On 8 May, two days after the coronation debacle, Huff Post reported that Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said the party would “look very carefully” at the Public Order Act if it got into power. When challenged that looking at doesn’t mean taking action, Gwynne backed away from the subject.
While the amount of public backlash the Met Police has faced for its actions over the weekend is probably a good thing, it masks another ugly truth about British society. Images of officers arresting white, relatively affluent people have stirred up strong sentiments in people. Yet when police officers engage in similar actions against ethnic minorities, it usually passes by with little public outrage. Had the six arrested been Black and Brown youth not affiliated with ‘respectable’ organisations, the public discourse about the coronation would likely be very different.
The last few years have seen the Tories rapidly passing laws to quash public dissent. The actions of the Met Police during the coronation have exposed just the tip of the dizzying depths to which these laws will drag us. And with no effective parliamentary opposition to the Tories’ hostile environment, our responsibility is to support one another in the face of spreading authoritarianism.
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