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’.