East London Police State Stop Olympic Critical Mass

27 Jul

As the Olympic ceremony unfolded the Olympic police state revealed itself. In a corner of east London, just in sight of the stadium, hundreds of cyclists on Critical Mass (a monthly celebration of cycling along London’s roads) were suddenly stopped by hundreds if not thousands of policemen. Van after van after van of police raced down the road where the cyclists had been blocked by some other police. My friend and I and many other critical massers turned back and fled the way we had came back to Mile end – on our way back we saw streets lined with police and police cars heading after us.

Gathering as usual from 6pm just under Waterloo bridge on the last Friday of the month, we were joined by the Forward Intelligence Team filming us from the top of Waterloo bridge and a police helicopter hovering above us. On the ground amongst us, the police liaison officers in their sky blue jackets were trying to mingle. There were about 8 police on bikes who started at the front of critical mass but seemed to vanish quite early on.

As we headed off at 7pm we found that the police had blocked Waterloo bridge to stop us going north of the Thames. We cycled down another road playing cat and mouse with the police – determined to have our usual monthly jaunt around the city. We ended up at Blackfriar’s bridge where a half hearted police line had formed – as hundred of cyclists edged closer, the police line completely broke and we cycled across the bridge.

We spent the next couple of hours cruising the streets of London with sound systems, waving, cheering, dinging our bells to curious and excited passersby. The atmosphere was relaxed and fun as is always the case with Critical Mass.

As we got further east the police tried to stop us again by blocking the road in front of us. We were able to step around these blockades and continue on our way. At one point, a group of cyclists went left down one road which someone then informed us was a dead end. We tried calling them back and headed straight down the main road, we’ve heard reports that members from this group were arrested. We reached a huge bridge where we got a view of the stadium. On the other side of the bridge a couple of police vans had blocked the road again. Suddenly, van after van came screeching down the road. The vans kept on coming. My friend heard a policeman say to his radio ‘this is game over’. We turned and fled. I have never seen so many police in my life. I have never cycled so fast in my life. It was terrifying. It was a mini-police state in that corner of east London. I’m still grappling with what happened, it seems so surreal. One moment we had been waving to cheering east Londoners, the next moment we were being surrounded by flashing blue lights and screeching sirens, watching horrified as what felt like the entire Met police force descended upon a couple of hundred cyclists.

Whilst a good number of cyclists managed to flee, there were still a significant amount who were being surrounded by the thousands of police. They have been arrested and have been bussed to jail.

We raced back along the streets only to pass policemen lining the roads and police cars, marked and unmarked, travelling in our direction.

As we cycled back to south London we passed a poster under a railway bridge – the poster had a picture of a bike with the frame spelling out the word ‘freedom’.

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12 Responses to “East London Police State Stop Olympic Critical Mass”

  1. Aloicious July 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    I went where you ended up as well and ended up getting kettled for about 5/10 minutes (could have avoided it as I went past the inital block but stupidly turned back to the junction). However I chatted up a few policemen and found one who let me out. Cycled off briskly after that and there were lines and lines of police vans queueing up.

    Was really surreal and heavy handed. I think they may have announced something about restrictions at the start of the mass but it was no way near loud enough and 30 minutes before it started.

  2. no no July 28, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    the group which went left was fine. went over a12 into an industrial estate and hung about for a while, turned about, met some refugees, don’t know where they went then….oh yeah, they headed towards it. dumb.

  3. Alan Stanton July 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    This seems doubly dubious given that inside the stadium Danny Boyle’s show included suffragettes, trades union marchers, the Windrush, and NHS staff – and much much more. Or are such things now permitted only as symbols from the past – suitably cleaned-up, drilled and choreographed?

    In our less romanticised present was there any conceivable reason why the “Critical Mass” cyclists posed a threat? Were a few perhaps hoping to gatecrash the party? Or simply tweaking the noses of Locog?

    Was the route agreed with ther police supposed to stay south of river? If so, why? Do people now need permission to cross the Thames? Maybe like Saul Alinsky crossing a state line with guns trained on him, cyclists could hold up their passports?

  4. Jean July 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I haven’t cycled any of the critical mass rides for many years for the cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Since the Olympics is an exceptional event where there is genuinely security issues, then would there have been anything in route planning not to cause concern by the police. Remember I lived in downtown Vancouver near major venues during 2010 Winter Olympics where efforts were made to encourage cycling and less cars. meaning closure of roads for cycling and walking, bike parking en masse, etc.

  5. john July 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    why has this story disappeared from the mainstream news pages

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave | Old News - July 30, 2012

    […] Traditionally, Critical Mass has been mostly left alone by the Met since the failed attempt to ban it in 2008, and a smaller police presence letting the ride stay within its usual bounds (roughly around zone 1) and allowing participants to stay together would have made it easier to keep the group away from Stratford using pinch points over the A12 if it was felt necessary. Instead, a policing nightmare was created as the Mass split up into at least four fast-moving sections, with groups heading east and west along the south bank of the river from the roundabout at Waterloo. The part of the ride I was cycling with went east along the Thames meeting roadblocks at every bridge and finally crossing under the Rotherhithe tunnel – another large group broke the police line at Blackfriars bridge. […]

  4. Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave | Excel-R8 - July 30, 2012

    […] Traditionally, Critical Mass has been mostly left alone by the Met since the failed attempt to ban it in 2008, and a smaller police presence letting the ride stay within its usual bounds (roughly around zone 1) and allowing participants to stay together would have made it easier to keep the group away from Stratford using pinch points over the A12 if it was felt necessary. Instead, a policing nightmare was created as the Mass split up into at least four fast-moving sections, with groups heading east and west along the south bank of the river from the roundabout at Waterloo. The part of the ride I was cycling with went east along the Thames meeting roadblocks at every bridge and finally crossing under the Rotherhithe tunnel – another large group broke the police line at Blackfriars bridge. […]

  5. Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave | The best worldwide news for u - July 30, 2012

    […] Traditionally, Critical Mass has been mostly left alone by the Met since the failed attempt to ban it in 2008, and a smaller police presence letting the ride stay within its usual bounds (roughly around zone 1) and allowing participants to stay together would have made it easier to keep the group away from Stratford using pinch points over the A12 if it was felt necessary. Instead, a policing nightmare was created as the Mass split up into at least four fast-moving sections, with groups heading east and west along the south bank of the river from the roundabout at Waterloo. The part of the ride I was cycling with went east along the Thames meeting roadblocks at every bridge and finally crossing under the Rotherhithe tunnel – another large group broke the police line at Blackfriars bridge. […]

  6. LED Lighting News » Blog Archive » Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave - July 30, 2012

    […] Traditionally, Critical Mass has been mostly left alone by the Met since the failed attempt to ban it in 2008, and a smaller police presence letting the ride stay within its usual bounds (roughly around zone 1) and allowing participants to stay together would have made it easier to keep the group away from Stratford using pinch points over the A12 if it was felt necessary. Instead, a policing nightmare was created as the Mass split up into at least four fast-moving sections, with groups heading east and west along the south bank of the river from the roundabout at Waterloo. The part of the ride I was cycling with went east along the Thames meeting roadblocks at every bridge and finally crossing under the Rotherhithe tunnel – another large group broke the police line at Blackfriars bridge. […]

  7. Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave | Womens Health - July 30, 2012

    […] Traditionally, Critical Mass has been mostly left alone by the Met since the failed attempt to ban it in 2008, and a smaller police presence letting the ride stay within its usual bounds (roughly around zone 1) and allowing participants to stay together would have made it easier to keep the group away from Stratford using pinch points over the A12 if it was felt necessary. Instead, a policing nightmare was created as the Mass split up into at least four fast-moving sections, with groups heading east and west along the south bank of the river from the roundabout at Waterloo. The part of the ride I was cycling with went east along the Thames meeting roadblocks at every bridge and finally crossing under the Rotherhithe tunnel – another large group broke the police line at Blackfriars bridge. […]

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