The symphonic narrative of a violent demonstration

THE SIGHT of angry mobs, baton charges and burning police vehicles is not what you normally expect to see at Euston station on a Tuesday evening. "That's strange," I thought when I saw the pictures on the news. "That's not how people usually react to the cancellation of the 18.08 to Milton Keynes."

I had been unaware that there was such a strong groundswell of feeling against the WTO. But now I actually feel rather ashamed that I'm not doing anything about the destruction of the planet or increasing poverty in the Third World. I did do one bit of campaigning last year, knocking on doors with a petition. It was successful, too, and residents' parking was introduced soon afterwards. But somehow the overthrow of global capitalism just seems like a slightly bigger fish.

Some commentators have suggested that this week's violence erupted out of an increasing sense of powerlessness in citizens of the undemocratic global economy. There may be some truth in this, but seeing the bloke next to you get his head smashed open by a police truncheon must also be a factor.

I have been on enough marches and protests to know how violence erupts. There is a symphonic narrative to a demonstration. It begins quietly - a gentle stroll with a few light diversions along the way, such as the vision of the statue of a 19th century statesman holding a placard saying, "I'm gay and I'm proud. Abolish clause 28". The symphony enters its second movement as the chanting begins. It is led by someone with a megaphone so distorted that you can't tell what it is you are shouting about. He might well be screaming, "The opposite of `In' is..." and you reply "Out! Out! Out!"

Then the march reaches its destination and its climax. A tense stand- off begins in which a bunch of young blokes wait around to find out what will happen if they shout insults at a line of policeman in full riot gear. The police may well be on the receiving end of the odd improvised light missile, but bits of plywood sticks broken off banners are unlikely to pierce a line of riot shields.

But that is all the provocation that is needed before the order comes down, "Send in the overreaction squad!". These are officers who have spent months training how to overreact to perfectly containable situations. Those who do not act with extreme and unnecessary violence are told they don't make the grade. If they respond to this by tipping up the desk and punching their senior officer in the face, then they are in.

When the police charge demonstrators, anyone is generally fair game. This is the moment when a jolly day out turns into a scene of ugly and upsetting violence. On one demo I remember seeing an old hippie who would clearly never hurt anyone being felled by the truncheon of a policeman in full riot gear.

One moment he is telling everyone to cool it, the next he has blood pouring down the front of his face - he's crying from shock and frustration and you feel an enormous anger that makes you want to hit back at the idiots who could do such a thing to a harmless bloke who just went on a march because he wanted to make the world a better place. With one stupid piece of indiscriminate violence the police manage to turn us all into an angry, spitting mob.

As a rule the genuinely ugly violence on demonstrations is started by the police. According to that well-known anarchist Glenys Kinnock, the awful scenes witnessed in Seattle this week were no exception. A few years back there was an attempt by some German police officers to discover who really starts the trouble and they infiltrated a demo disguised as protesters. They got their answer when they were set upon by several uniformed policemen and beaten senseless. Of course there are always a handful of demonstrators who go looking for violence, but that doesn't mean that anyone has to give it to them.

In this era of reconciliation I am surprised that Tony Blair has not made any effort to bring the police and eco-warriors closer together. Truncheons should not be made from tropical hardwoods but from trees grown in sustainable forests. More effort should be made to recruit officers with big metal studs through their eyebrows. For their part, eco-warriors should spend a month working out in the gym and then be kitted out with black padded uniform and riot shield with extra-long baton. The temptation to whack someone in a clown costume doing circus acts must be quite strong.

But for now it seems depressingly inevitable that these protests will end in violence. On Tuesday night Railtrack was forced to close Euston as pitched battles were fought between police and rioters, vehicles were set alight and the mob wreaked havoc. And then at last the silent majority found that they too had something to be angry about. "Honestly!" they tutted, ``what excuse will Railtrack come up with next?"

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit