How to police a protest

Bradford police managed to contain and control demonstrations without needlessly detaining hundreds

Here is a link to my story about the far right English Defence League, which recently protested in the northern British city of Bradford. The EDL says they are opposed to Islamic extremism. Their opponents say they are racists and hate Muslims of all kinds. Their demonstrations typically result in violent clashes with police.

I’d like to say a few words about how the West Yorkshire Police handled the EDL’s demo. First, some context. Their rally took place in a city that experienced a race riot less than ten years ago. Again, last month, the EDL’s presence brought out large numbers of opponents, including from among the thousands of South Asian Muslims who live in Bradford. The two groups, kept apart by police, taunted threatened, and threw rocks at each other.

Policing the demonstration involved controlling hundreds of people who genuinely hated and were eager to physically harm each other — unlike protesters at the G-20 demonstrations in Toronto who, for the most part, opposed political ideologies and things, rather than people who could bruise and bleed. Yet police in Bradford managed to contain and control the demonstrations without needlessly detaining hundreds; without charging into crowds of people who threatened no one; without using rubber bullets and then claiming they had done no such thing; without, in other words, succumbing to the pathological bully complex that afflicted so many police in Toronto. Securing the Bradford demo cost British taxpayers less than a million bucks.

One more thing, and this is more relevant to journalists than general readers, but I think it matters. Those of us covering the clashes were pretty much free to go wherever we wanted, including a few feet behind police lines as they were being rained with rocks and bottles. I wished I was wearing a helmet, but no one said I couldn’t be there.

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