Banning British protests will only fan flames

Britain’s top police chief considers prohibiting student protests if violence continues

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is considering banning student protests after a series of violent demonstrations have erupted across Britain.

British Parliament approved tuition fee increases about a week ago, meaning that tuition fees across the country could triple in the coming years. Predictably, many students weren’t happy with the move and some took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure.

Among the gestures of disapproval were students throwing objects at police, lighting benches on fire, and urinating on a statue of Winston Churchill. According to the Independent, Stephenson says police have the power to ban students from marching adding that, “If we think it is the right thing to do then we will do it.”

He did acknowledge that the move could cause more trouble, however. “When you have got people willing to break the law in this way, what is the likelihood of them obeying an order not to march or complying with conditions on a demonstration?” he said.

That point, of course, is at the crux of why such a prohibition will ultimately fail. Undoubtedly, the statue-soiler, for example, will not suddenly decide to zip when police move to outlaw peaceful protest. Those determined to break the law will do so anyway.

It seems these students feel disenfranchised by a government deaf to their concerns, so banning protest of any kind will surely just inflame their feelings. I suspect punishing the peaceful will result in the same type of vehement backlash faced by Toronto police following the G20 summit this summer. And indeed, the situation seems quite similar; a group of violent protesters get away with wreaking havoc, and the police, in turn, overcompensate. It is the peaceful protesters who get stuck in the middle.

While I suspect a few fluorescent signs won’t move British Parliament to retract their decision, taking away that right for students will just exacerbate the feeling that they are voiceless.

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