***Update on last photo. Ian Tomlinson, the man who died at the G20 protest initially of an unrelated cause, was caught on tape being hit and pushed by the police for no apparent reason, minutes before he died. A video footage released by the Guardian poses serious questions on police intervention techniques and motivations on Mr. Tomlinson. ***
The first of April hasn’t fooled the London Transport and Metropolitan Police nor the broader law enforcement teams in London.
Readied for mayhem on the streets of London, the enforcement agencies of the Capital City were prepared to intervene and contain the thousands of protesters that flocked to the streets, a day before the world leaders met at for the London Summit / G20 in the UK. Some violence has been reported, as expected: RBS was stormed in the afternoon, windows broken, rubbish fires lit up in the streets, graffiti on walls, but also music, tam tam jam and the sustained smell of hops and herbs in the air.
Pick your protest: With several protests going on at the same time, raging against climate change, the economic crisis, poverty, war and many other societal sins, the pick was hard for citizens to demonstrate. However numerous the protests were, the police enforcement forces had been deployed all over the city.
I had the intention to navigate through a few protests, but never had the chance to do so. I started, and ended, in front of the Bank of England. The sun was out and it was a good day for a social gathering of this scale. After the march had reached the square adjacent to the financial institution, the rest of the day was mostly spent walking in circles, hitting, one at a time, a barrage of police officers and riot personnel that would block any issues to the marching groups. At this point, people could still make their way out of the area at will.
Cowboy Cops: 5pm marked a turning point in the group control techniques. While the protesters were still agitated, not much damage or violence was being perpetrated. Again, this is relative, but compared to the hundreds of shop windows, cars, telephone booth and other public and private goods that the French had mutilated in 2006 during the CPE protest, I was rather surprised to see the main group of protesters yelling at the police and pushing them, while being right next to the unprotected, still immaculate HSBC Bank. This was indicative of the loose ideology, as it often is, that characterised the group cohesion on April 1st. The police kept the protesters, journalists, elders (yes, met a 72 year old couple) and everyone else entrapped for 2 hours not letting anyone out. The ‘kettle’ technique, consisting of blocking all possible issues hermetically, has been obviously criticized and made the end of the day a nightmare for many. By 8.00PM, the police started letting people out: 1 per minute for an hour. I was able to leave with a more regular flow of people by 9.20PM.
Photos: While the so called ‘anarchist’ make the front pages, I decided to focus some of my attention to various portraits in the crowd and talk to people. Among the many encounters, I met two ‘punks’ (Photo #4) bored out of their minds on the margins of the protests, who were actually from Oxford and on their way to the British Museum to see the Shah ‘Abbas exhibit. How deceiving can the appearances be. Some of the later photos are slightly graphic. I had a few of those which would probably be well suited for spot news, but decided to cover a wider range of photojournalism on this day.
Personal Nota Bene: Thanks to the scale of the event, the availability of digital equipment of increasing performance and quality, and maybe to the drive for ‘extreme’ experience, it seemed that me that their were as many photo/video – graphers as protesters. Biased this opinion surely is but the level had dramatically increased in comparison to 2006, when I covered the riots in France against the CPE, and in Singapore for the IMF/World Bank meetings. Needless to say that the emancipation of social media tools bolsters this growth, which, in my view, can only benefit the profession: Need for new angles, new ideas and new ways of approaching the fast paced world of news.