For every uprising, protest and political action there is an unequal and oppressive reaction. 2011 may have been ‘the year of the protester’, as even mainstream magazines such as Time acknowledged, but it also saw severe policing tactics, serious criminal charges and heavy sentences for those taking part in demos and other direct actions.
The past few months have seen dozens of students and other protesters charged with major offences – particularly ‘violent disorder’, which carries with it a maximum five-year sentence. Many people, often in their teens and early twenties, have faced crown court trials and been sent to jail for the flimsiest of reasons – throwing a lightweight placard stick, for example – and their lives have been seriously compromised by the stress and humiliation of a trial (many of which take place over a year after the protest) and the shock of prison. At the same time, policing at protests has been heavy-handed, including the use of kettling, horse charges and batons, and police are pushing for ever more resources (water cannon, rubber bullets) to ‘control’ protesters.