What Do We Want? When Do We Want It?

In a free democratic society one has the freedom of speech and a right to peaceful protest. Regardless of ones opinion it’s generally accepted that society would exercise tolerance, even if the aims of the protestors were viewed as being deliberately provocative, their right to protest would be protected at all costs. Yet with that freedom comes responsibility. Like driving. One can own a car: using the common highway along with other users in a safe and responsible way according to legally accepted rules. The problem with a public protest of any description is that there appears to be little or no generally accepted guideline for its execution or control by both the authorities and the marchers. When one hears that this or that protest has been organised to take place at a given place and time then it appears that ‘ad-hoc’ measures are put into place to martial proceedings according to perceived threat levels. Last weekend saw a provocative protest by the English Defence League (E.D.L) in Leicester city centre. At the same time, another protest had been organised by the Anti Nazi League to show their distain for the views of the others. This is where clear rules would be handy. For example, If its known that the E.D.L. are planning a march then it should be understood that, in the interest of the common good, those with opposing views may be allowed to protest on the same day but with a ‘restraining order’ which would prevent them from protesting within a ten mile radius of the others. After all, one wouldn’t expect emergency vehicles to travel on the M1 in the wrong direction purely because we believe their intensions to be of greater significance than our own. They still stick to the rules. Of course, there are those today who hide behind their ‘human rights’ or, come hell or high water are determined to break any rules or laws regardless. Just like a speeding motorist. It’s important to add that any such rules must apply equally to those gathering to protest, the police, local authorities and the public. A public whose safety and ‘human rights’ must be protected at all costs. Was the Home Secretary right to ban the E.D.L. from marching? Restricting them to a static protest in an allocated area? You decide. In my view this made them ‘special’, different and newsworthy. Had the march been able to take place then the police would have had greater control of movement, marshalling, and safety. Of course there is the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) which came into force in 2005, but again, its an act that appears very one-sided in its approach, and is seen by many as confrontational in itself. It doesn’t suggest a working solution that has been drafted as a rule book by society in general, and until that happens, very little will change. Then there is another problem. Who amongst us gets a say in the wording of the rules?

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