Criminal Justice March

This is from an email written while I was in college. It's one of the first "blog" like writing things I did. The United Kingdom has many laws, more than is strictly needed. There's one requiring cabbies to carry a bale of hay for their horse. It is legal to kill a Welshman in a certain city between the hours of midnight and 1 am, although I don't know the story of how that law got passed. There is no way to remove laws (really). Generally they're just ignored if they're too stupid.

Then there's the Criminal Justice Bill.

The Bill gives the Police the ability to arrest law-abiding citizens on the possibility that they might do something. It changes squatting from a civil to a criminal charge, meaning the 'reasonable force' rule comes in. The owner of the premises can appoint his own bailiffs to evict the squatter. There is no authority that will protect the squatter from injury. Figure it out.

Most of the Bill goes on like this, until I think "You've got to be joking. Nobody would pass this into law. It's too stupid."

I am told that the Government is mostly white, middle-aged Tory MPs, and they not only intended to pass the Bill; they wrote it. The Police oppose it on the principle that they think it's too open to abuse. I decide to exert myself.

The bus leaves at eight on the dot. I get up at 7:30am, shave, brush and dress (10 minutes), walk up the hill (20 minutes) and flag down the bus just as it leaves the gates. Five seconds to spare, not bad at all. I fall asleep instantly and wake up in London.

The bus driver warns us that he's going to be back at 5, and the police will only allow him to stay for 10 minutes. "You arrive at 10 after, and I will be gone." I make a note, and set my watch for 4:50. He says he's going to be somewhere down Park Lane, near the car park. I nod, and don't listen. The police have cordened off everything close to the demo, so the bus has to stop on the curb, and we walk on foot. There are policemen about, 5 or 6, but enough to be of interest.

It's mid-day when we jump the barrier and start walking. Every fifth or sixth person has a sign. Many are chanting "Kill! Kill! Kill the Bill!" and blowing whistles. There's hardly anyone to see us, but there are enough people in the march to justify ourselves without too much trouble. A scruffy old man in a beard hands us a leaflet on McDonalds. We hear cheering from behind us - we look to see a quadrecycle with speakers go by, blaring environment stuff. It's painted flourescent yellow and has little dongles hanging off it.

It's impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. The buildings up ahead are visible, but I can't get a clear perspective of the crowd-all I can see are people and the signs above. I climb on top of a railing. Now I can just see the signs as they go by. We're heading up to Trafalgar Square. There are policemen behind the barracades looking at us. A small crown of ten or twelve people looks from behind the police, occasionally snapping pictures. Tourists, probably. I give them a smile and wave. The road widens out to the left (we have to go left, the police have blocked up every other exit), and the crowd starts to thin out. We can't see anything in front of us, but we can see to the sides now. I move to the centre to take up the space; I think I'm beginning to feel claustrophobic. Two people carrying a banner move in from behind us. At the same time, the people carrying a banner in front of us slow down, so that we are sandwiched in between the two. I complain to the people behind us "You're not going to get many people who can see your sign behind theirs." She knows already. Her banner is from the Leicester Labour Students, in red. I wonder how much impact her banner will have, and whether the Tories will really care - Labour students haven't stopped the government.

A policeman on stilts walks by, carrying a rubber truncheon. He waves it and shouts "That's the way to DO IT!" He walks up to some real policemen and starts wapping them gently on the head with it. They smile and start a polite conversation, and wave when he moves off. We're walking down Piccadilly now. Many of the people around us have long hair, look scruffy, and smell of cannabis. The smell of cannabis is everywhere; I smell a whiff of it, then nothing, then strongly for a minute or two. The women in front of me are smoking normal cigarettes. They're pushing baby carriages. The babies kick and gurgle happily at the crowd. I hear a girl next to me complain about the lack of beer in the crowd - I think most people knew that beer wouldn't last long with so many people willing to scrounge. I stay close to Matt, just so I know where I am and have someone to talk to. Matt is with two girls, both of them more than a little on the plump side. One of them is Wendy; I've seen her around before, in the SU. The other is Candy; she's wearing an anti-CJB t-shirt she made specially. We don't talk much. We can't hear each other unless we get close to the other's ear, and there isn't that much to say. A Brazilian drum band passes by. The crowd (including the two women with babies) starts dancing and clapping around them. It's about 2 pm, and the sunlight is streaming down. Now somebody is screaming about the Tory fascists. I want to grab him by the collar and explain this isn't an anti-government march. There are so many fringe interests using this march as a lift for their own. I'd be very happy if they took a hike. I know they're not helping the cause very much. The government did fine without them.

More police. Loads more police. We're at Park Lane now, and there's a solid line of police down the central island, keeping the demonstrators to Hype Park. I hear music, see smoke up ahead. A Sinclair C5 comes past us, amidst cheers and laughter. The Brazilian band on our left starts up again. The crowd dances. The policemen, dressed in black, just watch. We stop at Speaker's Corner, where the crowd is packed solid, close enough not to need your legs to stand. We stop for soft drinks, and I start debating with Matt which way we should go. I say Hyde Park. I win. We squeeze through the gates and pick an empty spot. Most of the people are sitting down or standing and holding signs up. It's a beautiful day.

I catch the smell of cannabis again; it comes and goes in bursts, leaving me very confused. We're all sort of exhausted, so we sit down, I start reading out bits of "Heart of Darkness", fence with a placard, stuff like that. Virtually the entire park is covered with hippies, Hunt Sabs, Sisters of Mercy fans -- pick a subculture. There's not one republican haircut in the place. I get bored. There's nothing much to do, so I walk up to the demonstrators platform. Racial Attack has been left out of the CJB. Hunt Sabs can't stop the Hunts any more. A woman had her son in jail for 16 years... he's now 32 and still saying he's innocent. CND comes up to tell people about another demo, on the 29th. There's another demonstration at Bournemouth. I find myself wishing I still had my diary, just so I could put them down. I come back, and now the others are bored as well. The only thing really to do is to look at the crowd: we are spectators and spectacle. We walk over to the other side of the island. There's a solid wall of police. Matt stands on a fence, as I look around.

"Hello, here come the cavalry."

I hear hoofs. The policemen standing by are replaced by what look like Imperial Stormtroopers, with round plastic shields and batons. The crowd boos. Someone throws a bottle at the police, but they don't respond. The crowd goes back to dancing - there are loudspeakers set up somewhere, and a fire lit out of all the placards. It looks chaotic and somehow dangerous. Matt and Wendy are going off somewhere. I say OK, but I look away at the Stormtroopers, and then Matt and Wendy vanish. I wander around, trying to find them.

Go into the underground. There are two policemen at the tube station, looking bored. Mostly they're just helping tourists. I walk through the underground, past two dejected girls, and climb the stairs to find a dozen policemen standing with their backs to me, blocking the exit to the street. "Bloody Hell!" I say. "You all right, mate?" says one policemen. I decide I don't really want to go out that way. "Fine, just surprised..." and I walk back past the two girls. Try to phone home, but the phone doesn't work - I wonder if the police have cut the lines, then realise how paranoid I'm becoming. I sneak past the two policemen there to stop tourists inadvernently entering Hyde Park and the demo. Come out again, nearer Marble Arch. I see some people in a tree, and see that they came from a building. I climb the rotten latter (guy snaps off the top as I'm climbing up, I say "If I die, I kill you") and look out from a better vantage point. The police have split the demo into two parts. One part is down Oxford Street, and the other is down on Park Lane. They're clearing the bit outside Speaker's Corner. There seems to be music in the distance; the crowd is calmer now. I get into an argument on the bill's supporters, claiming that everyone should have come in business suits and defending the police (who look VERY scary and are intimidating the crowd.) The man says the police shouldn't be here, they aren't doing anything. I say they're here in case we do anything. The man is silent. I can't see Matt or Wendy in the crowd. I don't know that they can see me either, as there are lots of trees blocking off the view to my right. I hear screams behind me; a woman is being lowered down off the side of the building. She drops a couple of feet and starts shouting at the men who dropped her. I get bored and climb down. I walk right to the line to look at a nearby police horse - it's a tough animal. It isn't phased at all. The police form a wall behind me, flowing from the omnipresent vans.

The mounted policeman asks me something. "What?" "Will you please get behind the line, sir." "Oh. Right." A man next to me turns and says he was sprayed with pepper gas. He says it's getting nasty down there. I tell him to tell the legal observer about it, when I look at my watch and it says 4:50pm.

I swear and start looking for the bus. It isn't there. There's a queue about a mile long of buses, and I can't remember what it was called. It's 5pm. I now have ten minutes. I ask a legal observer what time it is - my watch is five minutes late. I really have five minutes. I start running.

"Yo, William!"

It's Matt. They're looking for the bus too. We look down that road, then look back up, join up with some other students, sit down, wander, and then finally decide that it's late. We don't know each other, and we keep on splitting into little groups. Denise gathers us all up, and we wait. Candy tells me the police are being snotty and are turning away buses-they'll only let as many through as the road can hold. They haven't seen Bennetts (our bus). None of us have eaten and we're starving. I scout around and see several neon lights that look like an Angus Steak House and a Pizza Place respectively. I tell Matt and Wesley, and we head off. One is a Pizza on the Park. It's too expensive. The other is a pharmacy. We keep walking. We're in Sloane Street. We're that close to a KFC, when Wesley looks the time; we've been walking for at least 10 minutes and the bus could have come and gone by now. We walk back, still hungry. I sit down and try to read Hearts of Darkness in the twilight.

"Nothing is as insidious as prolonged hunger. Morals, Love, principles, are as chaff before a breeze."


Candy walks back and says there's a riot up ahead. She says to look inconspicous. She says that some Staffordshire students were charged just because they were in the general area. She looks rattled. It's getting dark. I start talking with Wesley about demos in the past. I try to put a bright face on things, saying that the Poll Tax riots helped push the government back. Wesley dryly points out that these people are rioting against the Criminal Justice Bill. I shut up. I try to make a phone call. I ask the Hilton if I can use their phone, and they point one out on the other side of the road. I'm a bit too late, and have to wait in line. "Rioting for the Criminal Justice Bill. Great, isn't it?" Pause. "It's a fucking disgrace, that's what it is." I wonder how many times I can put my foot in my mouth.

I phone Sis. She sounds tired. "Hi! Can I speak to Mum?
" They're not here."
"I'm in London, Hyde Park. I'm in the middle of a riot, Cis."
"That's nice."
"Not really. Look, I'm here with a couple of friends. Can you get Mum when she comes back and tell her to bring the car over?"
"They're in Barcelona, Will. I'm tired, I've been working all day..."
"!? Barcelona???? So you can't bring any food over."

I go back to the grassy knoll and explain that my parents aren't home, they're in Barcelona, so we're still stuck here. No, I don't know how they got to Barcelona.

Matt and Wendy come back. He says he's been charged by police horses, three times. It's dark. I can't hear any noise, as the buses already here are drowning out anything further away. He says there's people throwing bottles, lighting fires. I decide I can miss a riot. I have a headache. I go out, find a newsagent behind the Hilton. I buy about 2 pounds worth of sweets. Come back, everyone is gone. I search around - some students are further down, at Hyde Park Corner. Candy's there. Candy accuses someone of being in the riots. He admits to having chucked a couple of bricks, but says that there were people hurt, carried away on stretchers, and that sort of thing makes people angry. I say his bloody riot is going to make sure the Bill goes through. He says I can't ignore people's feelings. It's the bloody police's fault, he says. Yeah, right, I think, like the police say "We can't ignore our feelings, so we're going to beat the shit out of the general public."

I get angry and start to wander around. Then I come back and start arguing with him again.

"This is not going to help, not at all. If you riot, you're doing exactly what they want. You need to act like they act, pretend you're one of them. Voting sounds boring, but it's more effective that THIS is."
"That's all very soft and fluffy, but you can't ignore how people feel. They're taking away people's lifestyles; writing to show you don't like it isn't going to do anything. You can't ignore the anger against the bloody police."
"I'm not ignoring anything. I'm saying if you're attacking the police, you're attacking the symptoms, not the cause. You riot now, and the police are going to stomp all over you, and they are going to keep on stomping all over you for DECADES. Where's your sense? Think about what you're doing. Is this going to make a difference?"
"Why did you come down here? Did you think if you came down here it would make a difference? You think the government cares about what you think?"
"I came down here to show that I didn't like it. I came down to express my views. I didn't think I personally was going to be much of a difference, but I thought it was at least worth a try!"
"You said you were expressing your views. That's exactly what I'm doing, and those people out there, they're expressing their views. Now I might not agree with the violence, but you have to acknowledge what this bill is going to do them!"
"Don't agree with the violence?" You yourself said you chucked a couple of bricks at them!"
"I never did"
"He did" "I heard you" "And I did too."
"That's three against one BAD memory. Got anything to say?"


Matt and Wesley turns up - I give everybody sweets. They're all pathetically grateful. Candy tells me I could have got a blowjob out of Wendy for the fudge. I tell Matt I'm going to see the riot. I go up through Hyde Park. There's more loud music, and people dancing. The line of policemen is still there. I hear music in front and to the right of me - it's the C5. People are following it as if it were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I follow the crowd, and end up walking all the way to Marble Arch. There's no riot. There are placards, beer cans and pamphlets all over the empty streets. I ask two girls what happened.

"There was a demonstration against the Criminal Justice Bill here."
Nothing happened."
"I heard there was a riot."

"No, there was no riot. Nothing happened."
"I have a friend who was charged by the police. I spoke to another man who had pepper gas sprayed in his eyes. I even argued with a man who said he chucked bricks at the police. Are you sure nothing happened?"
"Nothing happened." They look uncomfortable.

Park Lane. I realise I only saw the back end of the yobs. There's a bus stop, just melted. Glass all over the place. I catch glances at the crowd behind the railings. They're just waiting for the police to come within range. The people have their face covered. I begin to feel frightened. Someone behind me says "Hey mate! Wait up!" but I keep on walking. I daren't run. I only need one half-brick in my head to put me in hospital. A camera flashes. I wonder if my impending death will be on the front page. I'm through. I see Matt and Wendy just before me.

"Hey, Will! Where'd you go?"
"I told you, I went off to see the riots."

The bus never turned up. I'm leaning towards taking Matt, Wendy and and having them stay the night at home - Matt doesn't have the money for a train ticket. We are told by a nice traffic policeman that all the buses have been redirected to Euston. He asks us if we're going to the punch up. Andy (the Labour student) says the rioters are going to take out the police one at a time. The nice policeman says you can start with me if you like, there's no one around. We go to Euston. As the only Londoner, I tell everyone which tube to take and where to get off. That is if my head will please, pretty please stop hurting...

It's about 11pm. Denise and everyone else is at Euston. She's haggling things with Railtrack, who want to know who's paying for 140 students at 20 pound a pop. It should be Barretts, as they've defaulted on the contract. Denise feels it's all her fault. Candy tells us to get something nice for her when all this is over.

We have five minutes before the train leaves. A student suggests simply getting on the train, and we run out to spread the word. Dozens of students run past the BR employees and into the train, a giggling flood. We know we'll never get away with it, but it's only one more protest. We get into the first class seats and someone says there's not enough space ("What? Take a second class seat?") so we have to move down a class.


We get off. Line up. Get counted. Get back on again. We've just held up a train.

My throat is dry, and I'm coughing. We're all bone tired, but the girls can't sleep; they've been awake since Saturday. I get a glass of water from the buffet (after listening to a 5 minute lecture on how BR is not supposed to give you this water, because you might catch Lgionairres disease from it) and we tell dead baby jokes ("What's red and taps on glass?" "A baby in a microwave.") and I crack up, laughing, tears in my eyes. It takes me at least a full five minutes to stop giggling. And then we get off, (I'm alive, I'm alive, I kiss the sweet ground) and wait for an SU minibus, tell Denise it wasn't her fault, and I get into this really wierd conversation with Alex about the Beano (after someone tells me I raise my eyebrows like Dan Dare, leaving the young American clueless) I realise that I've never talked to anyone else about the Beano in my entire life, and we talk for ages. And then I get home, get into bed, and fall asleep on the spot.