The Met Police Commissioner says he wants water cannons for London, and Boris agrees. We could see them on our streets the by the summer if the Met get their way. Before Theresa May makes the final decision, Boris says he wants to hear people’s views. Yet, the public meeting due to be held at City Hall in London on Monday 17th February has seen little exposure, and the advice offered up by the President of the senior police committee has been ignored.
Water cannons have been used in other countries with some devastating effects. They can seriously injure, bruise and even kill, as the police themselves have admitted. In one famous case, pensioner Dietrich Wagner (pictured above) was permanently blinded during an environmental protest in Germany in 2010. The harrowing image of this man following the incident is an indictment to the sort of chaos and violence these weapons could bring to our streets.
Boris says he will only use water cannon in the most extreme situations, but a leaked report from the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) reveals they want water cannons for use against the effects of “ongoing and potential future austerity measures,” which could include just, legitimate and necessary protests and demonstrations, ultimately heightening people’s fear in protesting altogether:
“There’s a very big civil liberties concern. My fear is that innocent people will be affected. If not by being hosed down by water a few degrees above freezing, then perhaps from being deterred from protesting at all. Water cannon could stifle attendance at legitimate, democratic protests which the Met actually has a duty to protect.“
Further, the Met say they want to roll out the use of the cannon to other parts of the UK, but other Commissioners from places such as Thames Valley, the West Midlands, Merseyside and Manchester say they do not want them. Bob Jones, Police Commissioner in the West Midlands said the cannon would be as much use a “chocolate teapot” in stopping disorder. Boris says he wants the water cannons in case of further rioting, like the ones seen in 2011, but following the riots the then-Commissioner said “they are not the answer.”
“ACPO President Sir Hugh Orde – who has experience in ordering the deployment of water cannon in Northern Ireland – made clear that water cannon would not have countered criminal behaviour during the riots and would be inappropriate for circumstances involving disparate groups of uncoordinated individuals spread out over wide areas. Water cannon is an indiscriminate weapon that, in addition to being unhelpful in these situations, risks injuring and distressing innocent bystanders and ratcheting up tense situations rather than containing them.”
The very premise in the need for water cannons to prevent the effects of “ongoing and potential future austerity measures” is an attack on people’s right to protest, and hugely corrupt in thinking. It reveals the government is already planning to protect itself from the people against the laws they will undoubtedly make.
Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are being forced to use food banks, fall into debt, face stigma and abuse, be made homeless, hungry and desperate for a crisis they had no part in creating. And now, those doing the punishing are planning to defend themselves from the fallout with huge violent weapons that our streets have never seen before.
Lifelines are being cut for those facing austerity – to welfare, the NHS, legal aid and more. With so many reasons to fight, there are already many protests happening across the country. But the media largely fail to report this, unsurprisingly. With further cuts almost certain under this government, the anger and social unease will spread. Perhaps the ignorance of media will not be enough to silence the numbers of people making noise, protesting, fighting. And maybe this is what the water cannons really represent for the Met and Mayor. Government armoury against the people they have made suffer, and those they will make suffer. A violent weapon to defend against the effects of unjust laws.
We do not need water cannons on our streets.
Tell the public consultation what you think about water cannons before 28th February via firstname.lastname@example.org
by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass