The Metropolitan Police is facing intense political pressure to manage potential disruptions to remembrance events this weekend, with a pro-Palestinian march planned on Armistice Day. Police chiefs, including chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Gavin Stephens, have supported the decision of Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to allow the march to proceed, despite objections from the prime minister and the home secretary. While Stephens acknowledged that recent demonstrations related to the Israel-Hamas war have been largely peaceful, he also recognized the presence of a minority intent on disrupting the law-abiding masses. In response to the expected influx of protesters and counter-demonstrators from around the country, over 1,000 officers from various forces across England and Wales are being drafted in.
The decision to allow the pro-Palestine march has fueled a contentious debate among politicians and the public. Rishi Sunak, for instance, has vowed to hold Sir Mark accountable for his choice, while Suella Braverman has faced significant backlash for her article in The Times, in which she referred to the marchers as “hate marchers” and accused the police of favoring left-wing groups over right-wing and nationalist activists. However, according to Stephens, it is not the role of the police to hold the home secretary responsible. He emphasized the importance of separating public debates from operational decision-making, as incorporating political factors would fundamentally undermine the integrity of policing.
Gavin Stephens highlighted the impartiality and independence of police decision-making, claiming that personal views about a particular topic do not influence the process. He asserted the need for officers to make difficult operational decisions without fear or favor, in strict accordance with the law and authorized professional practice. While critics have questioned police bias, Stephens maintains that the police consider their civic responsibility to use language carefully and avoid stoking community tensions. Policing actions aimed at diffusing tensions are integral to maintaining peace and order, especially during times of global conflict impacting many families across the world.
Previous protests have witnessed troubling incidents, such as acts of anti-Semitism, support for banned terrorist group Hamas, and chants of “jihad” from a member of the crowd at a fringe Hizb ut-Tahrir protest. In response, 29 individuals were arrested during the most recent demonstration, which involved the throwing of fireworks. With Saturday’s protest planned to occur “well away” from the Cenotaph, starting from Hyde Park and ending at the US embassy, organizers claim it will not disrupt the silence observed at 11 am.
Chief Constable Chris Haward, who is leading the national police response to the Israel-Hamas war, provided insight into the challenges of managing protests. He emphasized that the threshold for banning a march is extremely high, requiring the presence of serious violence rather than objectionable chants. Banning the march does not eliminate the possibility of an assembly, as individuals can still gather in one place. Haward acknowledged that counter-protests will be facilitated impartially but stressed that hate crimes and law-breaking will not be tolerated. He also revealed a significant increase in hate crimes in London since the Hamas attack on Israel in early October, with the Metropolitan Police accounting for over 70% of such offenses nationally.
The dilemma faced by the Metropolitan Police embodies the challenge of balancing the right to protest with the need to ensure the safety and solemnity of remembrance events. While the police strive to maintain peace and order, they must also contend with political pressure and public expectations. This situation demands careful decision-making, impartiality, and the ability to navigate complex issues surrounding protests, free speech, and community tensions. The delicate balance required necessitates a comprehensive and thorough approach to policing protests, with an aim to protect the rights and safety of all involved, while also respecting the significance of remembrance events.
The Metropolitan Police’s decision to allow a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day has generated considerable debate and controversy. Despite criticism from political figures and concerns over disruptions to remembrance events, police chiefs have defended the decision as an impartial and independent operational choice. The challenge of managing protests while maintaining peace and order is compounded by the need to address community tensions and hate crimes. The delicate balance required in this situation is a complex task that demands careful consideration and navigation by law enforcement authorities. As Saturday’s protest approaches, the Metropolitan Police must carefully navigate these challenges to fulfill their responsibility of serving and protecting the public.