Just after two in the afternoon today I walked up the street to go to the shops. As I turned onto Stokes Croft from the St. Paul’s side, I saw a small gaggle of people on Turbo Island. Walking over the small green towards them I saw a policeman and a couple of plastic pigs. I watched with mild interest as I carried on towards the shop. It appeared to be the Avin’ It Somewhere Constantly‘s recent clampdown on street drinking in the area (which will soon be bolstered by the council’s adoption of a No Street Drinking order over much of St. Paul’s).
After concluding my business in the shop, I returned the same way. I had left the house intending to also take some pictures of the artwork on the corner of Stokes Croft and CIty Road, so I had a camera with me. As I headed back in that direction, whilst the pedestrian crossing over Jamaica Street turned to the little green man, I could see the copper briskly walking behind one of the Turboheads as he (or possibly she) waddled away from the area. He had his back to the policeman. The policeman raised his arm, and with his hand maybe a foot away from the man’s head, he zapped him with pepperspray. As I was walking across the road I managed to capture the immediate aftermath, with the man screaming in agony, clutching at his face. I could not really hear anything that was being said at this point – things just moved very quickly.
By the time I got to the other side of the road, the gas-happy cop and the two PCSOs had manhandled the coughing, spluttering, choking man to the ground. The officer with the itchy trigger finger cited section four of the Public Order Act, claiming that “you threatened to break my jaw”.
I continued taking photographs as we were all stood (or lying, in severe discomfort) no more than three or four feet apart. It seemed like the only thing to do, seeing as they had applied pressure points to the man’s wrists before cuffing him, and did not appear in a particularly rational state of mind.
The proper copper (who by now I could see was a sergeant, serial number 2978) kneeled over him as he radioed for back up. The plastic pigs hovered around, not really giving off the vibe of people who knew what they should be doing. One, a small, youngish blonde woman, did seem to take some pleasure in assisting her mentor in roughly rolling their suspect around on the pavement. Her colleague – older, larger – orbited the scene in what to me looked like adrenaline-fuelled confusion. All three seemed to be keen to look away from the camera as I continued to snap away – turning away from me, bowing their heads, rubbing their faces with their hands. I mostly ignored them and kept my focus on the man on the ground, his faced screwed up in pain, having difficulty breathing, and dribbling a lot.
Sergeant 2978, perhaps a little less tunnel-visioned by now, announced to his colleagues that they should step back a little, to ‘let the gas disperse’ or similar (I can’t remember what his exact words were at this point). This gave the jumpy brunette the chance to address herself to me:
Can you stop taking photographs?
She may even have appended ‘please’ to the end, but the tone was not of a polite request.
Why? There’s nothing wrong with taking photos, there’s no law against it.
Provoking the response from her:
But it’s not needed, is it? Stop taking pictures and move on.
Sensing that now their quarry was prone and barely breathing on the floor, there was no particular need to provide work for idle hands by standing around and arguing the legal toss with three stooges who found the need to gas someone for daring to drink a can of brew in public, I decided against dialogue, and instead took a long, lingering look at her serial number (8317) and then into her eyes, before carefully repairing to a safe distance, from where I continued to watch the scene, make notes on my phone, and review the pictures I had already taken. The PCSOs under the direction of sergeant 2978 did their best to clear the scene of any witnesses – mostly the brew crew they had initially been ‘talking to’ – citing no powers or authority in doing so.
Go, move on, or I will nick you!
With the sound of sirens in the background, and the two PCSOs conflabbing with their alpha male beat teacher whilst all looking in my direction, I decided to head home before the inevitable name-taking, card confiscating and bogus arrest could happen.
I uploaded the images to my computer, and after making some basic notes of what was said and done, I returned to Turbo Island within about twenty minutes, only to find no sign of activity – no police, no brew crew, no writhing prisoner.
Whoever that person is, whatever he did or did not do, I hope that he is alright.
I am blogging this because it happened right in front of me (I got a faceful of pepperspray too).
I have no idea is the man did or did not threaten sergeant 2978.
What I did see, though, was the man walking away from the police, making no discernible threatening gestures, only for sergeant 2978 to raise up his pepperspray to head height and then gas him at point blank range.
I am concerned on two counts:
The issue of street drinking bans and dispersal orders in my neighbourhood, both in terms of their effectiveness (or otherwise) in actually tackling the issues that supposedly predicate them, and in terms of the police enforcement of them.
The issue of bearing witness to police activity, in light of the concerns raised by photojournalist Marc Vallée and others that clause 75 of the Counter Terrorism Bill will be misused as much as section 44 of the Terrorism Act has been (and, indeed, as they anticipate section 43 will be misused in the future).
[I will return to these themes in the near future, but I have other things I should be doing and I really need to get this blog post up.]