Kettling: a 1968 experience

The UK High Court has decided that kettling the G20 protesters in 2009 was ‘not justified’ (see news story). The technique seems to be a relatively new police tactic with the earliest example cited by Wikipedia in Germany in 1986. However, the police tactic may have its origins in earlier events linked to Vietnam War protests of the 1960s.
Back in 1968 I went to an Anti-Vietnam War protest in Sheffield, organized by local trades unions with the support of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. It was one of several protests following the March 1968 demonstration at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, which culminated in serious police violence captured on camera. Although I hadn’t been present in London, I had been in Paris and had experienced at first hand the police violence during the events leading up to May ’68 there.
Reaching the centre of Sheffield, we were compelled by police to enter a cordoned-off area surrounded by solid thick wooden trellises. We were being bottled in, I felt. Coming from Paris, I immediately felt this was a trap and we were about to smashed up by the police. I shouted to warn my fellow marchers not to go into the ‘bottle’, as I saw it, but they thought I was deranged. So did the police who threatened me if I didn’t go in. I simply couldn’t go in, I was petrified. Eventually I was told to f- out of there by the police, and ended up getting picked up and questioned by some mysterious gentlemen from Special Branch or MI5 or something like that – they didn’t tell me who they were.
The technique used in Sheffield did not result in any violence. However, the carefully enclosed area would keep the demonstrators penned in and they wouldn’t get out until the police let them. It was an ingenious tactic by the police since it enabled the police to ‘control’ a crowd with relatively few officers, but keep many back in reserve to deploy rapidly to any side of the square ‘pen’ should incidents arise. Thus it gave the police flexibility, but curtailed the freedom of movement from the demonstrators. Was this an early experiment that led to the current police tactic of ‘kettling’?

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