How many razor blades, Officer?

 Climate Camp 08


I’ve been living in a cage in rural England. The cage was a field was a camp site for concerned environmentalists, and had barricaded gates and sentinels inside and out.

The sentinels inside the cage had no desire to act as sentinels: they had arrived to demonstrate sustainable living, to learn about or teach about climate change and to protest against the government’s plans to build a brand new carbon belching coal fired power station in the neighbourhood.

But the sentinels outside needed to be kept at bay, because they were there to spoil the party, and to back a carbon belching future, come what may. So the inmates of the cage took turns at manning the barricades around the clock and monitoring the outside sentinels’ attempts to keep the locals out, or anyone else who might have been tempted to visit the camp.

The outside sentinels seemed to delight in catching the inmates off guard: they sent their helicopter low over the field in the early hours of every morning, when all except those on guard were either asleep or trying to sleep. The helicopter hovered, blasting out its carbon and its decibels, invading every corner of the eardrum and the early morning mind. DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR DRRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR. The early morning mind was in a constant state of agitation, waiting for the storm of the sentinels, and most mornings over-agitated early-morning minds imagined cops on site, or heard the ‘COPS ON SITE’ call, and jumped out of their sleeping bags to go and see – again – just in case.

The call on Wednesday morning came from the cops themselves: not actually on site, but determined to send out the call at 5.20 am, and dressed up specially in their special riot gear with dogs barking at the ready. Early morning minds arose in numbers, and the cops who weren’t on site (but said they were), and who had now fanned out along the outside edge of the cage in their protective clothing and crash helmets, exchanged these for their I’m-a-friendly-cop soft headwear, and slowly disappeared into the dawn.

The helicopter was back for the daytime workshops, just in case any of the campers wanted to hear – and they did – about how we might be able to move to a low-carbon economy, or that CCS will not save Kingsnorth, because CCS doesn’t yet exist; or how many degrees of warming the planet can tolerate, and how long it will take for the whole of the Hoo peninsula to sink under the sea when the melt of the icebergs kicks in.

How long will it take to sink? How many degrees? Is the technology ready and can renewables supply enough to meet existing needs? DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR DRRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRRRRR.DRRRR DRRRR DRRRRRR DRRRRDRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR DRRRR DRRRRRR.

The deafening ear-blocking of the UK police service, and the government that sent them down to Kent in droves, 1400 officers from 26 different regions, armed with ‘several’ million pounds worth of taxpayer’s money. We’re not listening. We can’t hear you. DRRRR DRRR DRRRR DRRRRRR DRRRR.

Good Morning Madam

As if nothing had happened in the night. Good morning officer.

If you wanted to enter the cage, you had to be searched for offensive weapons. If you wanted to leave, you had to be searched. It didn’t matter whether you were middle England, middle class, middle-aged, a pensioner, an infant, a wheelchair, a bicycle, or a wheelbarrow with food for the camp (because the sentinels would not allow camp vehicles down the half mile public road which led to the entrance). You still had to stand in line for anything up to an hour and a half, and you still had to be searched. If the friendly officer who searched you deliberately left time and date off the pink slip which stated you were clear, or if you took too long (more than 15 minutes) moving from one of the 3 police checkpoints down the road to the cage – then you had to be searched again. You might have picked up some offensive weapons between the checkpoints.

You could manage to be searched twice over in the space of 4 minutes – as I was. A punishment for warning the searching sentinel that I had an offensive weapon hidden between my middle toes (she checked assiduously between the toes, separating each one individually).

If you tried to take your bike and padlock into the cage (over the barricades), you had your lock removed and confiscated. If you left your lock, or your bike and lock locked up at the first checkpoint, as the police advised at the start of the week, then by Wednesday they had confiscated bikes and locks and Uncle Tom Cobley, stashing them all away with other offensive weapons like spoons and marker pens in Medway Police Station.

If you declined to give your name and address – as you are entitled to do – they waded through your wallet and personal items, reading each card or document, and often writing down your name from there – which they are not entitled to do. If you point that out, then they suggest that you might well have sellotaped a razor blade to the back of one of the cards. Or they suggest you might have stolen the cards, and could you please confirm that they are yours.

You could have stolen your clean underwear. Could you please confirm that it is yours. A camper was detained for 40 minutes because he borrowed a mobile phone and failed to return it before being pulled into the search area. He might have stolen it. He might be suspicious. He might need to be arrested.

Who guards the sentinels?

1,000 individuals concerned about the future of the planet, enough to give up several days of their time to live in a cage in a field. 1,000 individuals trying to exercise their right to assemble together, to express their opinion, to educate and be educated, to engage in peaceful protest. And each one subjected to an elaborate stop and search every time they try to enter or leave the cage, in case they have a razor blade attached to their credit card.

Well, Officers: how many razor blades attached to credit cards were found among those many thousands of searches that were carried out? How many ‘offensive weapons’ were found that could not reasonably have been intended for quite inoffensive purposes? And if you had applied the same draconian measures to any random sample of the population in this country, could you have hoped to find so little evidence of criminal intent?

Perhaps most importantly – because anyone who was at Climate Camp could see that no-one there would hurt a flea intentionally – who gave the order to install a cage around 1,000 concerned environmentalists? Who thought that the danger of legitimate protest against the carbon belching dragon of Kingsnorth was so great it warranted removal of 1,400 sentinels from other parts of the UK for 10 days? Who authorised disruption of the running of the camp, discouragement of locals interested in visiting the camp, unwarranted suspicion of everyone attempting to gain access to the camp? Who felt it was so important that legitimate protest was contained on this issue – and why?

I would gladly build a cage to house those sentinels of sentinels.


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