Free movement for people not weapons

Thursday I was back at the protests against the arms fair, for a day dedicated to the  free movement for people not weapons, with Veterans For Peace attempting to set up a military-style checkpoint on the road into the DSEI in order to check lorries arriving for any illegal weapons. Protesters called for refugees and others to move freely across borders while stopping the movement of arms.

Veterans for Peace began their action with a briefing, with people being assigned into groups with different roles and being given orders for the operation in some detail, before marching to the road carrying a large poster for the Banned Weapons Search Checkpoint and taking up their positions.

Two advance groups waved at lorries to slow down and the a group led by Ben Griffin stepped out into the road to stop a lorry. Police rushed to surround the Veterans, and Griffin read a statement saying that there were good reason to believe that some lorries would be carrying illegal weapons, and that unless the police would stop and search them the Veterans would try and do so.  The police officer refused to engage with the argument, simply telling them that unless they got off the road they would be arrested, and eventually the Veterans were forced off the road.

They attempted several further stops of lorries and vans, with police again rushing to move them away. Eventually the police went in groups to the road side and waved lorries on, encouraging some drivers to speed up, and after one lorry came through at excessive speed putting some of the Veterans at danger they decided to end their attempt to stop traffic. The police action seemed to me to contravene the clear duty of care they have for the public – including protesters.

There were a few diversions, with people playing games on the road, including with the large DSEI dice, and police largely cleared the road as lorries arrived, and there was music and dancing.

Then at lunchtime, North London Food Not Bombs moved onto the road, blocking it with their picnic, serving free food to all who wanted it, most of whom then sat on the road to eat it.

At first police liaison officers in blue waistcoats came to tell people politely that they were obstructing the highway and ask them to leave and were ignored. A few minutes later more police arrived and moved in, telling the diners that unless they moved they might be arrested, at first as a block and then hunkering down individually with each person and giving them a final warning. I think all did then move to the pavement and there were no arrests, though some did get a little forceful help to move.

One of the problems of being a photographer was that I was far too busy taking pictures to eat, and though I’d had my eyes on the Food Not Bombs cake I only got to photograph it. Of course it probably wasn’t suitable for diabetics, which for me was one of its attractions. What was insulin discovered for if not to let me indulge occasionally in unsuitable foods?

After lunch the protests continued with some dancing and a large scarf which had been knitted for some hours with the aid of two missiles as sewing needles – I’d earlier declined to add a few stitches myself but had photographed Ben Griffin doing so. You can see a picture of this as well as many more of the day’s activities at Protest picnic & checkpoint at DSEI.


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