Plastic bullets and armored vehicles will be made available tomorrow as London police gear up for another round of student protests. However, the use of increasingly violent police tactics have caste doubts on Britain’s democratic credentials.
As students prepare to march on Wednesday, police in London are preparing for war. With some 10,000 students expected to attend the march organized by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the police will be out in force to deter riots.
“Over 4,000 officers will be on duty during the day – that does include mutual aid,” Scotland Yard Commander Simon Pountain said. He continued: “We know the overwhelming majority of students are law-abiding and we hope this will be a peaceful event,” the UK Press Association quoted him as saying.
Despite hopes for a peaceful outcome, fears prevail that a repeat of August’s riots which left five dead and scores injured could be in the works if the situation spirals out of control. Police were heavily criticized for their response, which the public widely regard as ineffective.
Similarly, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Sir Paul Stephenson, was also dressed down for only deploying 225 officers during similar student protests last year which saw the Conservative Party headquarters ransacked on November 10.
But while Scotland Yard is clearly determined not to be overwhelmed this time around, the use of plastic bullets has appalled many. The police decision to resort to an unprecedented use of force has been called “un-British” and is eerily reminiscent of tactics employed by dictatorships the UK is ostensibly opposed to.
Moreover, the controversial policing tactic strikes a chord much closer to home. Plastic bullets, which were used extensively during the troubles in Northern Ireland, killed some 14 people, including 9 children, between 1973 and 1981.
The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, who deployed plastic bullets while serving in Northern Ireland, was highly critical of the latest MPS decisions: “I do not think it would be sensible in any way, shape or form to deploy water cannon or baton rounds in London. Baton rounds are very serious bits of equipment. I would only deploy them in life-threatening situations. What is happening in London is not an insurgency that is going to topple the country,” he said, as cited by the Guardian.
As the march is expected to snake through central London, police are hoping to keep Occupy London protestors who are camped out at St Paul’s cathedral from joining in. However, many camping outside the cathedral are supportive of the latest round of student-led protests, and are expected to link up despite the anticipated police cordon and potentially heavy-handed tactics.