Last Friday, Critical Mass rode to the Olympic Park in Stratford to mark the 2nd anniversary of the mass arrest that took place on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
On Friday 27th July 2012, 182 cyclists attending the customary Critical Mass bicycle ride were arrested in East London for breaching conditions imposed under the Public Order Act prohibiting them from riding anywhere north of the River Thames.
The conditions were imposed by the Met in order to prevent any attempt to protest near the Olympic stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2012 games. Despite a massive police operation that saw huge disruption to ordinary Londoners as riot police closed several London road bridges, a couple of hundred cyclists did eventually make it ‘en masse’ to Stratford, where two groups were kettled and the mass arrests ocurred.
Bicycles were loaded on to buses, and the arrestees were transferred to distant processing centres in Croydon and further afield in Sussex. Some were thrown out (after many hours without food or water) in the middle of the night, with little or no public transport available, and they were given chits to collect their bikes from other centres at a later time. There were many reports about the police detention that conveyed a sense that the operation was simply extra-judicial punishment for daring to challenge the corporate Olympic machine.
As I reported at the time, on the now defunct london indymedia, the legal framework for such wide-ranging conditions and subsequent police actions seemed shaky, and this was borne out by the fact that only nine cyclists were ever taken to court, with just five convicted of breaching public order conditions, and two of those overturned on appeal. At least a hundred of those detained are in the process of suing the Police over the operation.
One interesting revelation emerging from the trials was the first admission by the Met that ‘Police Liaison Officers’ (PLOs – the “friendly, smiley” ones in baby-blue tabards often seen at protests nowadays) have a defined operational intelligence-gathering role. Some of the PLOs had also been riding undercover on the previous month’s Critical Mass.
So, although Forward Intelligence (FIT) Teams and photographers are less often seen at events, the ubiquitous PLOs have taken over much of their role, and are often to be found wandering through a protest, accessing areas that would have been difficult for FITs, engaging with activists using psychological techniques to gain information, and often caught listening in on conversations.
The ride (25th July 2014):
To mark the 2nd anniversary of the unlawful mass arrest, the July London Critical Mass bicycle ride headed East, and hundreds of cyclists rode through Whitechapel, and Mile End, over the Bow flyover, and past the spot where police had formed the largest kettle, eventually riding on to the Olympic park.
With powerful sound systems pumping beats, there was a party atmosphere under a dramatic sunset, but after some resting and partying, a several-hundred strong group set off again towards the iconic velodrome, where after carrying bikes up the stairs, they circled the building on the upper walkway.
The velodrome itself is now surrounded by a fast open air bike road and track circuit, which snakes around a BMX and mountain biking park. Secured from public use by waist-high fencing, it wasn’t long before a hundred or more cyclists were mischievously shooting round these tracks. A couple of security folk looked on helplessly, and one of them complained loudly that the cyclists looked like a bunch of “weird squatters”, that they weren’t supposed to be there without paying, and that she was therefore calling the police. Cyclists tried to point out that Londoners HAD paid rather a lot of money for these facilities, but the velodrome is now a private commercial concern charging upwards of £30 for ‘taster sessions”!
After about twenty minutes, the police arrived – one plod on foot, and a community support officer on a bike – without the corporate power of the IOC (International Olympics Committee) behind the operation, it seems the Met didn’t regard this year’s incursion as such a high priority :)
It was now dark and the remaining mass – still a couple of hundred in number – were ready to return to London. Near Mile End, there was an unfortunate incident when a rider came off his bike and, not wearing a helmet, landed badly, losing consciousness. Some cyclists stayed with him and sought medical attention, while the rest of the ride continued on so as not to crowd or gawk.
By the time the got back to Brick Lane it was way past 10pm – a later finish than usual for the ride – and began to disperse.
Although I can understand the Mass wanting to mark this anniversary, I couldn’t help thinking it was ironic that in a way, once again, corporate sport had distracted people from World politics – huge sporting events have become modern weapons of mass distraction. Without the Olympic mass arrest, I feel sure that last week’s ride would instead have paid a visit to the Israeli Embassy, and maybe an arms company or the BBC, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.