ON A POLICE RAID THAT SHOULD NOT GO UNNOTICED
There has been a lot of news for the aspiring depressive to keep abreast of in the past few weeks, from Cameron’s plans to privatise everything but the most crude tools of state repression, to the News International phone hacking scandal and the recrimination, denials and mock-disgust/regret of journalists, the police force and politicians as the revelations full extent of their systemic abuses of power snowballs out of their control.
It might seem a little demanding of us, then, to draw your attention to a police raid on a squat in Hackney several weeks ago, but it may prove to be a sign of things to come for many and should not be completely overshadowed by other things.
The squat in the Stamford Hill area of Hackney had been open for 9 months, occupied by a stable group of residents, when their notice of eviction came. The occupants, for a number of reasons, decided to resist the eviction. They met with easy success at the first eviction attempt. At the second eviction attempt on the morning of Friday 24th June, bailiffs and police were met by a large group of people blocking their way at the front of the property, with more people waiting inside the building and occupying the roof. A flier explaining why the eviction was being resisted was distributed to onlookers, and a banner reading “SCREW THE BIG SOCIETY – JOIN THE RENT STRIKE” hung from the first floor windows. Neighbours had seen the property squatted, evicted and left empty again once already and were generally supportive of the resistance. After an hour or so of procrastinating bailiffs and police left with no real attempt made to evict the occupants.
At 5am on Tuesday 28th June the squat was raided by a reported seventy-five TSG officers, who took on the extensive barricades at the front of the house with a hydraulic battering ram to secure an exit before entering the house by smashing through a loft window. Thirty cells had been booked at Stoke Newington and Leyton police stations – quite a few too many for the 3 occupants whom the police found waiting for them quietly in their home. They were arrested for abstraction of electricity and criminal damage, the one-size-fits-all charge for summarily arresting and evicting squatters when no other charges can be brought against them. Operation Moosehide, as it was code-named by the police, did not look like it could be considered a success.
If you were so inclined, you might forgive the police for mistaking the large number of friends and comrades of the occupants present at the eviction as resident there themselves, which might account for such a heavy mobilisation of highly trained police officers on overtime. We are not inclined to offer easy excuses to the Metropolitan Police and it soon became clear that this raid was far more than an eviction of a squat whose inhabitants refused to go quietly.
After the arrestees had been processed and interviewed the custody sergeant attempted to set bail conditions excluding those arrested from the City of Westminster and the City of London for the 29th-30th June, in order to “prevent further offences being committed”. When asked what grounds they had for suspecting that further offences would be committed the sergeant replied that “anarchist materials” had been found in the squat – books, leaflets and posters presumably? The sergeant then suggested that the arrestees sign on weekly at Leyton Police station, with June 30th a mere two days later, as the first date they’d be required to attend.
The warrant the police entered the squat with was for “any offence”. There was no proof of criminal intent connected with June 30th and there was a concerted (and successful) attempt to prevent the arrestees attending a lawful protest. That all three arrestees have been released from bail three weeks later without charge shows how flippantly the charges they were actually arrested under were regarded by the police.
As an exercise in state intimidation these arrests have much in common with the raids and arrests that occurred in April before the royal wedding and May Day, International Workers Day. It was, as far as we know, the only raid carried out before the strikes and trade union marches on June 30th, but it acted upon the same lack of intelligence that the police had in the raids they carried out on social centres and community gardens in late April. Perhaps, since the ousting of several
undercover officers embedded in activist communities and the subsequent withdrawal of several active undercovers, intelligence and information on those communities has not been as available.
As suggested elsewhere though, these raids are far more than an expensive, ham-fisted drag net approach to policing public order situations. They constitute one small but very violent part of a strategy to criminalise and de-legitimise protest and dissent in all its forms.
We don’t think we risk melodrama when we ask – what if those arrested here and in April were seen as political prisoners? This is, without a doubt, overtly political policing. Later in the day on the 28th, as the arrestees sat in their cells, Community Police Officers smiled at locals and distributed hastily printed fliers outside the now empty house announcing the successful closure of an “active” squat in the area. “Active” in what sense, exactly? As a place where people made a home out of an empty building? As a space in which alternatives to political and cultural hegemonies can more easily exist? As an open refusal to leave the building empty again when asked to leave? As a way to publicly criticise a social project that is increasing its pace?
It is our intention in discussing this raid that the details of it would go beyond the immediate communities they affected, that the news of it did not stop before it reached others who may face similar intimidation in the near future.
The government’s consultation on the criminalisation of squatting was launched on Wednesday 13TH July, with the hope of bringing in new legislation by next April. It is important to note that under the guise of dealing with the “problem” of squatting the legal options the government are considering will effectively criminalise other forms of protest such as workplace and university occupations. Read the consultation and consider it in those terms, as they are threats that need to be acknowledged and met, but not in this piece. For now, we suggest that if squatting comes under a sustained attack, either through legislation or by the other means of intimidation and violence the state has at its disposal, thousands will be made homeless and a valuable resource to social and political dissent in all its disperse, multitudinous forms will be lost and we will be all the more destitute for it.