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Policing of Pro-Palestine Protests is ‘Racist and Islamophobic’ and Driven By Media and Government Pressure, Report Warns

Policing was driven by politicians and media furore, with pressure on police to ‘do more’ resulting in confused and inconsistent decision-making, Netpol argues

Mounted Met Police police officers monitoring a Gaza protest in London. Contributor: Avpics / Alamy Stock Photo

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Policing of the weekly pro-ceasefire marches across England and Wales has been “confused, racist, and threatening” – and driven by intense media and government pressure, a new report claims. 

The report by police monitoring group Netpol highlights how political furore and demands for tougher action on Palestine protesters led to chaotic and inconsistent policing, marked by “racial profiling and Islamophobia”. Children as young as 10 were allegedly subjected to police violence. 

Netpol’s ‘In Our Millions’ report argues that the pro-Palestine protests since October 7 have faced “unprecedented” levels of police surveillance and harassment, following pressure from media and anti-ceasefire groups. 

Politicians from both Conservative and Labour parties have portrayed these forms of protest as ‘hate speech’, supported and amplified by large sections of the mainstream media, the report argues, adding: “There has been a concerted effort from the two largest
electoral parties to discredit protests in solidarity with Palestine as antisemitic.”

In October, Conservative former Home Secretary Suella Braverman branded the demonstrations “hate marches”, based on a handful of examples of extreme marchers. Amid growing media and political pressure, Met Police boss Sir Mark Rowley warned the force would be “absolutely ruthless” with the ceasefire marches.

Eyewitness accounts, arrest figures, and testimony from legal observers paint a grim picture of a police response riddled with racial bias. Young Black and brown protesters were “frequently targeted” with police using their powers to disperse crowds and demand the removal of face coverings, the report states. (The Met Police has denied the claims).

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The report also argues that policing has become increasingly threatening and more overt in the targeting of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds. 

One London legal observer told the organisation: “Police officers seemed to be deliberately targeting young South Asian and Black young people…What bothered me was that they would always go for the kids,” particularly at the end of larger demonstrations. 

They described an incident where a 13-year-old boy was “grabbed out of the crowd while part of a procession going down towards Trafalgar Square.”

“This child was then slammed into the window of a shop by police. The young man challenged them, asking, “why have you pulled me out? Why have you stopped me?” Officers said they had stopped this kid because he looked nervous. The kid replied, “I’m 13 years old, built like a stick insect, do you expect me not to be nervous when I see blokes of your size standing over me.”’

A community organiser also identified police targeting of children during the first large protests in central London on Saturday 15th October. 

They told the monitoring group: “15-20 police officers arrested 3/4 young brown boys, around 15 years old, for placing a Palestine sticker on a van. They were physically picked up and placed into the van, and the officers started to lie that they were not kids, so parents/carers didn’t need to be informed. 

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In another widely-reported incident, a nine-year-old child who was attending a central London protest with their family was “pushed violently” by a police officer. The child reportedly required hospital treatment after the incident. Netpol writes: “When the parents remonstrated with the police officer about his actions, he responded, “You brought your child to a violent protest… think about what you’re doing.”

Another incident revealed in the report involved a woman being arrested for carrying a sign written in Arabic. “Despite providing a translation, police detained her for a racially aggravated public order offence because they lacked a translator to verify her message,” the Netpol report found. 

Other incidents included a 71-year-old legal observer being “knocked unconscious” and a 79-year-old woman suffering a fractured hip, apparently due to police actions.

Despite calls for tougher police powers, the report argues that new public order laws have not been widely used. 

Analysis of Metropolitan Police arrest data shows 305 arrests under the Palestine protest policing push, dubbed ‘Operation Brocks’ between October 14, 2023, and March 31, 2024. 

Nearly half of these arrests (44%) resulted in no further action, and only a small fraction were for racially or religiously aggravated offences.

It comes ahead of a far-right protest launched by Stephen Yaxley Lennon (Tommy Robinson) this Saturday in London. The UKIP-backing, self-described ‘anti-feminist’ podcaster Carl Benjamin (AKA ‘Sargon of Akkad’) is rumoured to be speaking at the march, and Lennon has reportedly approached Benjamin to discuss the founding of a new far-right movement. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss appeared on the platform Benjamin founded this Wednesday.

The Met Police have been frequently criticised for allegedly “over policing” left-wing activists compared to sometimes violent far-right marches. 

Kevin Blowe, Campaigns Coordinator at Netpol, said: “The Metropolitan Police repeatedly claims a benign neutrality between pro-Palestine and far-right demonstrations but this is not borne out by the evidence in our report. 

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“Instead, it is always the diverse anti-war protests, with minimal or no disorder, that face the most intense scrutiny, are characterised as the greater risk of hate crimes, that face the most significant restrictions and harassment. It is the calls for an end to genocide that are condemned as ‘mob rule’, even though almost a third of all arrests in the six months to March 2024 were from one single far right demonstration.”

Blowe added: “We all remember the way Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor downplayed the threat from the far right on Armistice Day last year, saying: “I don’t anticipate there’ll be any disorder from that group – the disorder will come from a pro-Palestinian group”. He said this because the pressure for a crackdown came from a government that had actively encouraged counter-protesters to turn out that day.”

Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, author of the ‘In Our Millions’ report, said: “The picture painted by this report, and the many testimonines included within it, is stark: an escalation in aggressive policing in the face of mass participation in protests, with young Black and brown people at the sharpest end of police violence and harassment.

“We have also seen an alarming weaponisation of anti-racism legislation around hate crime, new police interventions on freedom of expression, and incredibly intrusive forms of surveillance of people involved in protests.”

She added however that the public are becoming more alert to “police aggression and how to resist it”, with cases of people intervening to “protect children and young people from police” seemingly on the rise. 

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In the report, Netpol chief Kevin Blowe writes: “The evidence supports our belief…that just like with earlier Black Lives Matter, climate emergency and ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations, which Netpol has reported on, neither the police nor the government seems to recognise any inherent value in rights to freedom of assembly within a supposedly democratic society. 

“Instead they treat protest as little more than a nuisance to crack down on. Far from remaining ‘neutral’, the police have also been just as willing to react to political and media pressure to respond more aggressively to these marches as they were during previous mass protests in 20191 , 20202 and 20213 . We have witnessed increasingly bewildering justifications for many arrests since October last year.” 

A Met Police spokesperson told Byline Times: “Since October the Met is using powers under the Public Order Act more extensively than during any other period of protest in recent memory.

“We are using these powers to prevent serious disorder or serious disruption happening within our communities. The powers are used proportionately including implementing start and end times of the demonstrations to minimise disruption to people and businesses in London.  

“This report is inaccurate. Officers are not targeting children during these protests or making arrests based on race.”

You can read the report here.

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