July 19, 2012
Queer zombies in court defeat
Last year, I wrote an article on Lesbilicious about the arrest and alleged sexual assault of individuals intending to participate in a “zombie flashmob” organised in part by anti-cuts group Queer Resistance.
The zombies, accompanied by the London Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, planned to meet up for a picnic and performance in Soho Square on the day of the Royal Wedding.
As it turned out, flashmob participants in the square were ordered to move on. Police officers argued that royalists might be offended by the gathering: “You have four minutes, either you leave or be arrested,” they declared.
But when five zombies decamped to Starbucks, it wasn’t long before they were searched and then arrested on suspicion on planning a breach of the peace. The group were held for four hours before being released without charge.
A worse fate was in store for other potential flashmobbers. Two trans people who arrived early in Soho Square were arrested after police found that they were in possession of a small tube of red paint and a flyer. The pair allege that they were consistently misgendered, before being sexually assaulted by an officer who was attempting to ascertain their respective genders.
The flashmob participants weren’t the only individuals to be targeted by police ahead of William and Kate’s big day. Officers arrested Professor Chris Knight outside his home, confiscating equipment from a Channel 4 crew whilst they were at it. Others were arrested at Charing Cross railway station after being found to be in the possession of placards. Two squats were raided. In total, 55 people were subject to “pre-arrests” across London.
“I’ve never been arrested for dressing as a zombie before”
It wasn’t long before a number of those arrested on the day of the Royal Wedding came together to plan legal action. They successfully applied for a series of Judicial Reviews: a process in which the legality of state action is assessed by the High Court.
The arrestees argued that they had a right to both free assembly and free speech, whilst representatives of the Metropolitan police stated that public order was under threat, and that the arrests were a proportionate response. A full account of the trial can be found at the Pageantry and Precrime website, which is maintained by a number of those involved in the arrests.
The trial was important because it stood to establish the legitimacy of “pre-arrests” prior to the Olympic Games. Do people have a right to protest on the margins of large public events? Is dissent permissible in a high-security environment? How far can police action be challenged?
Ruling and consequence
On the 18th July Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Openshaw ruled against all four of the Judicial Reviews.
“We find nothing in the various strands of the claimants’ case, whether taken individually or cumulatively, to make good the contention that the policing of the royal wedding involved an unlawful policy or practice, with an impermissibly low threshold of tolerance for public protests,” they said.
The judgement stands as a chilling precedent for future protests, regardless of cause. I spoke to zombie flashmob participant JMC, who feels disillusioned in the wake of the court’s decision. “It seems that, increasingly, the role of the courts is to protect business, the rich, Members of Parliament and police officers,” she said.
JMC added that the sexual assault case – in which a police officer allegedly groped two trans people – has also been affected by the ruling. “We were basing our estimate on the likelihood of success on the outcome of this trial, so it probably won’t go ahead just now…we’ll only go ahead with the sexual assault case if we win this one on appeal.”
The possibility of an appeal is now being considered by the various groups involved in the case as they assess their remaining legal options.
In the meantime: what now for Queer Resistance? Well, the good news is that the group appears undeterred by the events of last year. Its members have since participated in numerous events, from Occupy to London Pride. As long as LGBT rights are under threat, protest will follow.
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