Yesterday, the 29th of April 2011, was a day unlike any other. In other words, it was a day like every other. It saw two key events unfold: the first was a wedding between two people towards whom I bear no personal ill will. However, as Royalty, they were immediately thronged upon and raised above us all.
The other was the punchup at the wedding reception. An as yet unknown quantity of activists, though numbers are clearly into double if not triple figures, were rounded up and arrested under spurious ‘pre-emptive’ circumstances. Anti-monarchist protests were hounded and one individual was even seemingly arrested for singing about a ‘police state’ in public. Squats and houses were, and continue to be, raided. In addition, several, maybe 50, profiles, events and groups came under attack on facebook (though the facts of this are still contestable and some argue perhaps point to weaknesses of planning rather than orchestrated repression in cyberspace).
What connects these two events has a fairly obvious face-value reading. This is basically that police were ordered to clamp down on any and all forms of potential dissent to the Royal Wedding in order to make sure the day went smoothly. Sod the IPCC and court cases for wrongful arrest that might arise: its worth it to make the big day go without a glitch.
This isn’t in and of itself wrong. Its probably likely that theres an element of truth in here. However, its also possible to stretch the case a bit further; that this contributes to the normalization of a paradigm of policing of major pubic events, especially patriotic ones that are matters of ‘national pride’ (eg. the 2012 Olympics, Queens Diamond Jubilee, and maybe even international trade summits). Usually at major public events, we see massive security and restrictions on movement in a city like London. However, it is rare that visual and performative, but non-direct, protest is denied outright. Usually it is quite literally chanelled into a safe zone such as Hyde Park, Whitehall, or Trafalgar. Not so yesterday- individuals, groups, and organizations found themselves pre-emptively attacked for saying even the most benign of anti-monarchist statement. This is what political philosopher Giorgio Agamben might call a ‘state of exception’-a moment of transgression is established by the ‘sovereign’ in which ‘normal’ rules are suspended because of some dire emergency or unusual circumstance. Think about the use of the recession to dismantle much-loved public services.
Exceptions are built upon pre-existing exceptions, rather than simply invoked against a standard norm. The exception, rather than going away, then becomes the norm. In this context, pre-emptive arrest upon suspicion of protest, but without conviction, might become the norm- policing may increasingly become the punishment in and of itself- like a softer form of the system in 2000AD’s Judge Dredd, where judgement and punishment are decided on the spot. A night in the cells, or at least a forcible removal from the area, seems to be the prescribed punishment for anyone who decideds to protest.
Yet, what is a wedding if not a form of exception? Surely marriage is the codification of an exception concerning two individuals by the state? Of course, marriage is also to do with a certain kind of love, but then the specific legal distinction is different to merely being recognized as sharing a unique relationship in front of a community. In short, the Royal Wedding, unlike a games competition or a trade summit, was a moment prone to exceptionalism right from the start. This isnt to argue that the love between two people I find fairly boring and irrelevant to my own life is not legitimate or alternately somehow fundamentally authoritarian. But what is important is a shift of the role of Monarchy in relation to sovereignty and the police. Rather than being that which is protected by the state through the police, the monarchy is instead weaponized by it as a tool for controlling and supressing dissent. Like a chess piece or playing card, the monarchy has become a tool of politics and policing, rather than its goal.
This is not likely to be some flash-in-the-pan but rather a model for future policing of protest at national events. Of course, this will not prevent protest. But it will make the forms of protest people use more likely to endanger the public and less democratic as underground organization becomes a necessity, rather than than an extremity, of organizing even the most simple and benign of protests at major events. Which should concern anyone actually concerned about ‘public safety’.