Dublin Reclaim the Streets attacked by Gardai - Mayday 2002

Gardai at Dublin Reclaim the StreetsIt was expected that this (May 6th 2002) would be the largest Dublin Reclaim the Streets to date due to the massive level of publicity for it. The city centre had been covered in posters, stickers and graffiti from three weeks before advertising the event plus. Posters had also been put up in Cork and flyers distributed in Belfast. What was not so expected was that by the end of the day 24 people would have been arrested and over a dozen hospitalised by a police riot on Dame street. Pic:Gardai face crowd at RTS


The demonstration started at the GPO in Dublin with around 400 people at the start point. As this set off down O'Connell street at least another 200 joined in so by the time we reached the destination (Burgh Quay) the crowd had swelled to 600 or 700. From the start there was a heavy presence of police vans and cars although a fairly small number of foot Gardai.

Gardai cars at the GPO before RTS
Pic:Cops and crowd at the start

Burgh Quay was blocked off with a chain across the road just before we arrived. The cops managed get the Fire Brigade to cut this fairly fast but even so it provided the necessary space for the crowd to occupy the street, preventing its use by traffic. At the O'Connell street end a rapid piece of gurrella gardening meant we were greeted on arrival by a small flower bed, complete with fence and gnome in the centre of the road. (At some point later a heroic motor bike cop found the time to stamp on the garden, picture on indymedia).

Gurella gardening at RTS in Dublin
Pic: The garden

The large numbers meant that unlike previous RTS events the police could not simply push us back onto the pavements after a few minutes. They had to be content with sealing off the ends of the road and waiting for their chance to ruin the street party. In the sealed off section sound equipment was rapidly assembled and the music began.

Sound equipment being set up at RTS in Ireland
Pic: Setting up the sound

A banner reading 'Reclaim the Streets' was also strung across the road, fake street signs were erected and the dancing began. With other WSM members I distributed our anti-election leaflet and copies of Workers Solidarity 70. Passing through the crowd it was obvious that everyone was enjoying the sun and catching up with old friends. There was a small group of radical cheerleaders present and a guy running around in nothing but a bondage pouch and harness. Later on a Samba band arrived down.

Bondage man
Street party sign

Pic: Bondage dude and street party sign

RTS had bough a junk second hand car for the traditional car demolition that happens at these events. However as soon as this started the cops charged into that section of the crowd and started pulling the car away up a side street. Their party pooping was somewhat spoiled when someone dropped a smoke grenade through the open window of the car forcing them to back off.

gardai remove car
RTS car with smoke bomb

Pics: Cops surround car but then the smoking starts!

From this point the cops were obviously trying to provoke a fight by shoving people around. Whenever they got a response they would try and haul that person out of the crowd to arrest and beat them. For the most part they failed as others would rapidly haul the person back . So they pulled their batons and charged into the edges of the crowd resulting in the first injuries and the first arrests of the day (they managed to drag one young man on crutches along the ground to a van). In this way they succeeded in pulling the car behind their lines.

Liberty hall in Dublin Ireland
Pic: Car smokes as in the background liberty hall tells us to return to the electoral circus to deal with traffic!

A little later at the same point they pulled a homeless man out of the crowd. A group of five or so cops they proceeded to beat him senseless before throwing him in the back of a van. When others tried to intervene to stop the beating they threatened to arrest them also. As this happened in the side street the vast majority there were unaware what was going on and continued partying.

no gods no masters
Street graffitti in Dublin

Pic: Some road decorations

The party continued for about three hours with the road being graffitied and RTS flags being run up the flag poles. As cop numbers built up they became increasingly aggressive at the edges of the crowd and managed to make another couple of arrests through provoking people by snatching beer cans out of their hands. When the victim objected they were arrested and at least one of these people was beaten in the Gardai van on the way to Pearse St police station and again in the cells.

Injured RTS protester
Aggressive gardai

Pic: Aggressive cops and injured protester

Numbers started to fall so sometime around 6.30 it was decided that we would march to Stephens Green and disperse there. By this stage there were about 250 people. As we set off we had to pass a line of Gardai cars forming a barrier across the road. Here again the cops were trying to provoke people by pushing anyone who tried to pass through this barrier back and telling them they had to use the path which, due to a curb side fence, was difficult to reach at that point.

RTS flags
No car

Pics: Street party sign and RTS flags

Then when we were just past the Ha'penny bridge they drove an unmarked police car with siren blaring into the march. It got about half way through before it was stopped and it was then surrounded by dancing people. Within a few minutes several Gardai vans arrived and on getting out the Gardai drew their batons and started attacking people. Even when things had calmed down they carried on trying to provoke the crowd by taking peoples cans and emptying them on the street at that persons feet.

We then moved off up Parliament street and onto Dame street. By this stage the crowd had shrunk to around 200 even though some new people had joined in on route. We intended to go down the bottom of Dame street and then up Grafton street to the park but the Gardai had other plans!

Neat the bottom of Dame street they drove vans and bikes into the front of the crowd and then baton charged the front of the crowd. This was the worst of the baton charges I saw, previously they had been happy taking a few swings at a couple of people to frighten people back. This time they were knocking people to the ground and continuing to baton and kick people once they had gone down. I saw a young man being thrown against the side of a bus and battoned there by at least five Gardai.

More agressive cops
Pic: More aggressive cops, at the centre back is the thug from the Burlington

Significantly I noticed that among the most brutal Gardai was one of the Gardai caught on video at the Burlington protest lashing out with his baton at anyone within reach. What happened on Dame Street was much worse though and from reports on Indymedia and Morning Ireland they also attacked people waiting in nearby Taxi queues. One advertising executive reported that he had been hit three times before seeing two motorbike cops banging a young mans head off a wall.

A woman was knocked off her bike and beaten on the ground before being arrested and many people were sent to hospital at this point. It worth explaining that the lack of pictures here of police beating people is due to the fact that they singled out people with cameras for attack. This is detailed on indymedia and also shown by the fact that they arrested a photographer from the Irish Independent at this point. Some brave souls did get some pictures though which you can see on the Indymedia site.

A stand off developed with people pushed onto the pavement as a senior guard read something to the section of the crowd nearest TCD. When I went down to listen to this it appeared to be some sort of formal dispersal order. In any case we decided we were far too exposed on Dame Street and so people moved back into Temple Bar before the Gardai had a chance to charge again.

Radical cheerleaders
No car zone

Pic: no car zone and cheerleaders

We passed through Temple Bar where the large numbers of tourists and the narrow streets meant we had some protection from further Gardai assaults. A number of us tried to stop the march here and get people to disperse but others wanted to go to the Civil Offices to meet in the park there. The momentum of the march carried nearly everyone up there.

Here growing numbers of police, some now with dogs, had us almost trapped in a space that was out of sight of everyone else. Around now I came across a 14 year old boy who was in obvious pain after being punched by a Gardai. It was obvious we could not stay here long. Unfortunately at this point one of the organisers of the SWP/GR got up and announced that we were marching on Pearse St. police station where those arrested had been taken. Many of the rest of us reckoned this was suicidal as getting there required us to again march down Dame St. If we hadn't been allowed to do this once it was obvious that we would just be offering further people up for arrest and battery. It made little sense to add further to the 14 already arrested.

At this point the crowd split with half choosing to join the charge of the light brigade and the other half-staying behind. As the light brigade left most of the cops followed them or moved to cut them off so the group I was with used this opportunity to disperse. We later heard that those attempting to march down Dame street were attacked again and that about 10 more arrests had been made. Some people from our group did make it to Pearse Street later by going down in ones and twos.

RTS flag
Pic:RTS flag

In hindsight it is a pity that the demonstration did not simply end on the Quays at 18.30. This would have left us with the positive feeling of having held a section of the city centre for a party for three hours at a cost of only a few arrests and a couple of hospitalisations. Instead due to the vicious Gardai assaults there are two dozen arrested and who knows how many injuries. People need to realise when further action is counter productive and its time to sound the retreat so we can protest another day.

The morning afterwards the media is full of discussion about the Gardai brutality. Perhaps this will open a few eyes as to the actual role of the Gardai, the protection of state and capital, rather then people. This is the latest in a sequence of protests they have attacked. Perhaps this time, because they made the mistake of battering people in full view on Dame street, it will result in the politicians being forced to be seen to bring them to heel.

RTS demo in Dublin
Pic: The crowd on the Quay

What is most significant is this violent attack on democracy and the freedom to protest has taken place in the middle of the general election campaign. We can clearly see how our rulers mean to cut off all our access to democracy except for the meaningless choice every five years between virtually identical parties. Part of the reason for RTS protests is that capitalism has increasingly eliminated public spaces where we can congregate and organise. The Gardai actions underline how determined those who rule us are to deny us that freedom.

The Gardai assault was intended to demonstrate to us that we had over stepped the limits of allowable protest. We can march up and down O'Connell St. or we can waste our time voting for someone who promises to be a better leader. But we are not allowed directly challenge, even on the most localised and temporary basis, the rule of the state. If we allow ourselves to be scared off effective protest by these Gardai attacks they have already won. We need to defend ourselves by organising ourselves and spreading the ideas of direct democracy and direct action as an alternative to their electoral circus.

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First published on the WSM web stie, see also the follow up article on the massive demonstration against Gardai brutality

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

  


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