Just Not Cricket

Argus title: Aggressive policing – it’s just not cricket

Last Saturday, my husband, daughter and I joined the thousands who traveled to Lords Cricket ground to watch Sussex play Lancashire in the C&G final.

I’ll freely admit that I’m not as much a fan of cricket as my husband and daughter, who are both County Club members and experience withdrawal symptoms if they miss a match. However, even I was enthralled.

The first half of the match was heartbreaking. We lost the toss, so Sussex had to bat in poor conditions. The Sussex crowd was subdued, players were nervous, mistakes were made and the final score was of 172 was low.

There was an atmosphere of depression during lunch. “We can’t win off this score” people murmured dispiritedly. I said “It’ll take a miracle” thinking that perhaps Mushtaq Ahmed, Sussex’s star spin bowler, could deliver it. In the event it wasn’t just Mushy who was touched by the angels – it was, above all, fast bowler James Kirtley.

From the moment Kirtley strutted to his mark in that second half it was clear something special was going to happen. The crowd sat forward in their seats and when the first wicket fell there was pandemonium. We whooped, shouted and sang as wicket after wicket fell, bellowing “Sussex by the Sea” and taunting the now silent Lancashire supporters with the refrain “You’re not singing any more” belted out to the tune of the Welsh hymn “Bread of Heaven”.

Kirtley took an amazing 5 wickets. The sweetest was that of Stuart Law. When he walked out my husband muttered “This is it. He always gets a 100 off Sussex”. Kirtley had him LBW first ball.

I would never have believed that I could stand in a cricket crowd singing in support of a bunch of sportsmen. But we were in the Lower Edrich stand and the atmosphere there was magical.

Towards the end things became increasingly surreal. At the beginning of the first half there’d been 2 tired-looking security people in front of our stand. But as time went on and the noise increased I noticed their numbers were growing. Eventually the police arrived.

It was a bit like that scene in Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” when one by one the ravens mass on the telegraph wires. Clearly, someone thought the Lower Edrich was going to invade the pitch.

In fact, nobody wanted to violate the sacred turf . The big screens had warned us repeatedly that we’d be arrested if we did. “Just for going on the pitch?” my daughter asked in amazement. She’s used to Sussex County Ground where fans are often allowed to play on the pitch and players are close enough to touch.

At the Sussex Ground fans respect instructions to stay off – but then nobody threatens them with arrest if they don’t. Unruly crowds are kept under control by a combination of good organization, clear rules and trust. You never hear a threat and hardly ever see a police officer.

I was still on a high when we left Victoria. However, halfway home I read the Argus and came back to earth with a bump. I have seen few more depressing local news stories than the paper’s account of the peace rally in Brighton on 19th August, called to oppose the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. My mood wasn’t improved when we arrived in Brighton to find that the police were filming cricket supporters coming through the barriers.

Two days earlier I’d seen an Argus report highlighting complaints of too rigorous policing on the August peace rally by several people, including 2 councillors. It was the latest of several complaints about over-policing of local peace demonstrations.

The police robustly defended their actions saying that the organizers had not liaised with them. They alleged a Jewish man had been “punched” at a similar rally 3 weeks earlier.

On 26th August Chief Supt Kevin Moore, clearly stung by the criticisms, went further saying that the large police presence was a response to “complaints of violence, disorder and anti-semitism”. He said that Jewish residents of Palmeira Square “felt intimidated” and that “some aspects of the July protest were racist and anti-semitic.” Most seriously of all, Mr Moore described the decision to rally “in an area where there is a large Jewish population” as a “deliberate attempt to provoke and incite.”

Protest organisers responded with fury, vigorously denying the allegations. Glenn Williams, one of the peace protesters, said “There was no racism or anti-semitism on either march to my knowledge. If there was I would be deeply concerned and certainly would condemn it but I do not believe it happened. This is a diversion tactic by the police…”

I sat on the train feeling deeply distressed. I know Glenn Williams and other people who attended that March rally. Many are Jewish and several have a substantial history of anti-fascist activism. They are all opposed to the current actions of the Israeli government, but I firmly believe they would never condone or collude with anti-semitic insults or violence.

I found it hard to understand how such a major assault – involving amongst other things an allegedly “baying” crowd surrounding a car – could have taken place on the first demonstration without being witnessed by the police in attendance or other demonstrators (police had reportedly been notified of the first demonstration 5 days before it took place).

I suspected that the police might be confusing anti-Zionist views (involving opposition to the Israeli state or the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories) with anti-semitic ones.

I was concerned that Mr Moore had been persuaded that the Palmeira Square area is a ‘Jewish’ neighbourhood. In fact, the city, unlike some others, has never had ethnically identifiable geographical areas. Its capacity to integrate communities remains one of its greatest strengths.
Mr Moore also seemed unaware that there is a growing Middle Eastern community in the area, many of whom attend the nearby Cornerstone Community Centre.

I have spoken to several people who attended the two rallies, two of whom witnessed the alleged assault. Their recollection of events differs dramatically from the account of the alleged victim. One of them, whose partner is Jewish, attended Brighton Police station to offer a witness statement. So far, it has not been accepted.

The other witness, a Jewish man, has written to Chief Supt Moore to complain about police conduct and subsequent police statements about the demonstrators. He plans legal action against the force for defamation. He too has not been asked for a witness statement.

Another Jewish protester told me she witnessed police filming very intrusively and aggressively and without explanation. She said a young Spanish woman who attempted to cover her face had her hand dragged away very roughly.

She commented on the incident in which an 8 year old child had a poster removed because the police considered it racist (it displayed a Star of David and a Swastika and equated “Zionism” with “Nazism”). She told me the child is a Palestinian who is in England because her school in the occupied territories has been bombed to rubble by the Israeli army. She said “I’m Jewish and I don’t find it offensive to make a link between Israel and the Nazis. Israel pursues a fascist foreign policy and its conduct towards the Palestinians is racist.”

She and others have said they are angry about what they believe to be a political decision by police to use anti-racist legislation to support one side in a complex political argument, while criminalizing those who take a different view.

In short, the current situation is a mess. Personally, I believe organizers should register routes of major demonstrations. However they won’t do so if police don’t make changes in the way they operate.

It’s no use the Chief Constable burnishing community policing credentials by attending Brighton’s Pride March if the local police commander is in bitter conflict with other minority communities. The Police need to recognize that peace campaigners, anti-fascists, Muslim protesters and anti-Zionist Jews and gentiles are also valued members of the community. He needs to talk to them.

Mr Moore should carefully consider whether of recent years police have met their obligation to act even-handedly, and examine whether they may, on some occasions, have been deployed in support of sectional or political interests.

Effective policing has to be based upon the consent of the community and a degree of mutual trust.

In the light of this Sussex Police could perhaps take a leaf from the book of the County Cricket Club, remembering that the best way of preventing intrusion on the pitch is to allow reasonable access to it – and to foster a sense that the pitch belongs to us all.

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