In recent weeks, counter-terrorism policing has been in the spotlight after revelations that it included a range of protest groups in counter-terror and extremism documents.
Home Office minister Brandon Lewis stated in parliament that protest groups, including Extinction Rebellion, were not considered extremists by the government or the police. But anyone who’s ever experienced protest policing knows this isn’t the case. Following his comments, coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) Kevin Blowe accused Lewis of ‘lying’ and ‘gaslighting’ campaigners.
Now, Sam Walton – another member of Netpol’s steering group – has an important message about the scandal that everyone needs to hear.
We’re all in this together
Walton’s central point is that we are all in this together: if we’re involved in any groups on the counter-terror list, then our opposition shouldn’t be about a particular group being on the list – but that none of the groups should be on the list.
In an interview with the Rainbow Collective, Walton states that:
So when we respond to this as people on the left that have been unfairly called terrorists and have had terrorist powers unfairly used against us, and they are trying to shut down… what we’re trying to say, it’s really important that we don’t go ‘I need to be removed, I shouldn’t be on it’.
We need to say ‘all of us shouldn’t be on it’.
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When we respond to the police labelling campaigners as "domestic extremists", Netpol's @SamWalton says it's important we don't say "I shouldn't be on this list" We need to say this list shouldn't exist. Watch the full interview by @TRCdocumentary at https://t.co/c7MI2IWEdf pic.twitter.com/87AjH6e9NC
— Netpol (@netpol) January 27, 2020
The video also includes footage of different protests and the way that the police react to demonstrations. It starts with the heavy-handed policing of the Kurdish freedom movement’s protest at the London arms fair. As The Canary noted at the time:
We walked together with flags and banners. But the cops reacted violently. They threw people on the floor and forcefully arrested one person… [and] the “institutional racism” of the Metropolitan Police was on full display.
Meanwhile, counter-terror police – who according to Lewis don’t view protesters as extremists – were visible as part of the policing operation, including following anti-arms-trade activists on the train.
Walton also highlights the case of the Stansted 15, who were successfully prosecuted under terrorism legislation for preventing a deportation flight taking off. Walton says that it’s important “not to view this list in isolation” and that the Stansted prosecution:
ties in with this list of the police seeking to kind of say, ‘you’re involved in protest, we’re going to use the strongest powers we have, which are terrorism powers, to shut you down’. And it’s all part of a broader strategy.
Solidarity with criminalised communities
But it’s not just groups on the left that we need to act in solidarity with. As Walton points out:
it’s not just the left. This is part of the Prevent counter-terror strategy that is racist, is Islamophobic, and they have deliberately targeted Muslim groups that are part of civil society… systematically because of that.
And it’s important that we don’t just go ‘we’re Extinction Rebellion, and we want to be removed from this list’. We need to say ‘everyone on this list… that meets the same criteria to us shouldn’t be on this list’.
Netpol, meanwhile, is running a national campaign to force the police to stop using the term ‘domestic extremist’, with three clear demands:
We are pushing nationally to stop using the "domestic extremist" label against political dissent. Already sustained pressure has forced government departments to abandon it. Its use by the police is clearly untenable. For more on Netpol's campaign see https://t.co/PJMHSHWfe7 pic.twitter.com/mYDS57zYHy
— Netpol (@netpol) January 27, 2020
Walton’s right. It’s essential that we don’t start trying to pigeonhole groups as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters. None of the groups deserve to be on the list and we should, for example, be just as outraged that animal-rights groups are included as we are about the CND and Greenpeace.
But this solidarity also needs to be inclusive and needs to recognise the fact that, while we object to being labelled terrorists, it’s people from the Muslim and Kurdish communities that really feel the brunt of this label. And it’s this coming together, as different groups and communities, that will give us the power to fight the Prevent strategy and the impact it has on all of us.
Featured image via Flickr/Pete Birkinshaw
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