Cycling hopefuls arrested on eve of the Olympics

The long-awaited and controversial London 2012 Olympic Games are now under way, and not without incident as mass-arrests, kettling and counter protests precede the event.

As Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was unfolding on Friday evening, over 180 people taking part in a monthly ‘Critical Mass’ cycle ride were arrested close to the Olympic stadium after police said they had ‘ignored warnings’ and rode on the Games Lanes.

Critical Mass, a monthly cycling procession that has taken place in the capital since 1994, is a broad international movement/event protesting or raising concerns about a whole host of issues, or none at all. As the London Critical Mass website describes, “there are probably as many aims of the CM as there are participants. Each individual comes there with his or her own idea of what it’s about, and the sum of this makes up the Mass.”

From a report on London Indymedia: “As the mass assembled from around 6pm on the south bank under waterloo bridge, there was already a FIT team, several ‘police liaison officers’ including chief inspector sonia davis from hackney’s counter-terrorist operations office, a dozen or more cycle cops, and a couple of dozen uniformed police including a contingent from south yorkshire police.

numbers at first seemed lower than normal, but by 7 had built up to several hundred.  as an armed forces lynx helicopter hovered overhead, the police drove a large range rover vehicle into the crowd to make indecipherable announcements over a poor loudspeaker system, while officers mingled with the cyclists handing out their section 12 warning letters.

soon after 7, with some chants of “whose streets, our streets”, the cyclists set off, and began their customary loop around the imax cinema and onto waterloo bridge. there, police ran across the road, blocking the procession, and a large police van parked across the carriageway.

arguments ensued, including the fact that police were overstepping their own conditions by not allowing bikes onto the bridge, considering that it was actually south of the river! after several minutes, with the bridge closure creating far more “disruption to the life of the community” than the critical mass would normally cause, much of the mass moved on east. however, some remained, continuing their pressure on police, and eventually the bridge was reopened to traffic, and a few cyclists did get across”

“…it was close to 9pm and the authorities were finally mobilising and closing in. i counted 30 police vans, with many TSG, sirens blazing, bringing up the rear of the cyclists, and a group of sixty or seventy were finally cordoned at the junction with warton road, a further couple of dozen making it on towards stratford station, where they too were held.”

“within the kettle, no food, drink or toilet arrangements were provided, and people sat or stood around on the concrete for around 90 minutes before a slow process began of handcuffing or cable-tieing each person, photographing them, and escorting them on to one of three single decker buses that had arrived. as the first bus filled with police and arrestees, the second was used for bicycles, pretty much thrown in on top of each other, and the third bus for the rest of the detainees.

meanwhile, the group held at stratford had been loaded into some vans, with others escorted in handcuffs on foot, and they passed by the kettle west towards the fly-over. they’d been told they were being taken to charing cross police station, but presumably some more transport was on its way, although i’m not sure how long they were walked for.

it has emerged that in all, 182 people were arrested that night, the majority under suspicion of having knowingly breached the section 12 conditions imposed on critical mass, but some for other public order offences and alleged assaults elsewhere along the route.

some were taken to charing cross, but many found themselves in edmonton or in croydon. there were no toilet facilities provided on the buses and the arrestees were aboard these in handcuffs for hours, then made to sit on concrete for a further three hours, before finally being given something to drink.

none were allowed to leave with their bicycles, instead being told the bikes were in charlton and that they’d have to phone to arrange retrieval. the first bikes have been returned today.

it seems that all were given bail conditions which ban them from cycling in newham, or going near any olympic venues or routes, and of attempting to interfere with the passage of olympic paricipants.” 

In other news…

Around 400 people took part in a ‘Counter Olympics Network‘ demonstration in east London on Saturday. The march, which involved people from dozens of groups, passed off without major incident. Protesters said they were taking part in the demonstration for a number of reasons; highlighting the ‘side-lining’ of local communities and businesses, the cost of the games and its relation to austerity and cuts, missiles being placed in residential areas and the role of capitalism in sport. More can be read about the demonstration here.

On the same day in Calais, a counter-Olympic ‘Games Without Borders’ day was held, involving protests and athletic events. Refugees, migrants and their supporters held the day in response to ‘Olympic evictions’ and provocative security measures being taken by the local authorities, and the town being ‘cleansed’ for the arrival of tourists and athlete training camps.

unofficial procession

As one report describes, “In Calais as everywhere, refugees, migrants, and all people without the right official documents are world champions in endurance and survival events. Each day involves hours of dedicated training in escaping police harassment. The quest to cross the border to England is a momentous sporting challenge in the journey of a lifetime. To make the race still tougher, at each olympic games governments deploy stifling security measures under the pretext of anti-terrorism. In Calais, recent weeks have seen mass arrests, beatings, and evictions. In the “Games without borders” event on Saturday 28 July, we celebrate our fighting spirit as cross-border athletes. 

The Calais region authorities tell us that they are “welcoming the world” for the olympic games. People arriving from Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Palestine, Mali, Kurdistan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Lybia, Albania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt have all been welcomed … with a closed border, arrests, beatings, detention centres, and constant harassment.”

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