Tens of thousands of British students protested against a dramatic increase in tuition fees in December 2010, amongst them Brian and Ethan. The police violently charged into the crowds, often on horseback. They then forcefully kept large groups of students confined within a small space for up to 10 hours without access to water, food, sanitation in the cold and rainy wintry weather. They had their mobiles confiscated and a swab taken for their DNA. This practice is known as “kettling”.
This documentary exposes the very controversial tactics used to silence peaceful and legitimate demonstrators. A criminal lawyer explains: “the police treat these people like football thugs regardless of the reason why they are fighting. They made it feel like a war. I’m not aware of that happening in any other European countries”. A demonstrator puts is more succinctly: “kettling is a punishment; it has nothing to do with keeping peace”. The police, on the other hand, refused to comment for the film.
The result is of the “ebulition” technique is that many young people fighting for accessibility and affordability in the education system end up with a criminal record, traumatised and stigmatised. Ethan was featured in the Top 12 Wanted of the Evening Standard. Worst still, Alfie Meadows was hit by a police truncheon and needed brain surgery. Despite his severe injury, he was still prosecuted. Hundreds more were hurt and 70 were hospitalised.
The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser argued in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses that the police has little to do with law and order, but it is instead an oppressive force. He wrote: “there are armed bodies of men – such as the police and the army -, which physically quash dissent and rebellion”. The abusive practice of kettling in the UK has come to epitomise Althusser’s teaching in the 21st century, it seems.
The film also reminds us that the European Court of Human Rights, disappointingly, ruled that kettling in lawful – in contradiction to the belief that the EU often contradicts UK rulings. On the positive side, Ethan won a court case against the police for unlawful arrest and received £3,000 in compensation – but unfortunately it took the British justice about four years to reach the outcome.
Kettling of The Voices is showing this week as part of the East End Film Festival in London – click here for more information about the event.
Watch the film trailer below: