I would like to start by referencing an article by Phillip Oltermann published in the guardian earlier this month; Phillip exposed how the German authorities are currently phasing out the WaWe 9000 due to “safety fears”. Here is what I consider to be 3 key pieces of information obtained from his report:
- An engineer at Ziegler with whom this recent deal has been struck told the Guardian that the cannons the government have just purchased “have been built no more recently than 1995 and still use old-fashioned, pre-digital technology inside the passenger cabin”.
- The German police have themselves admitted that several flaws in the design of the WaWe 9000 contributed to the death of left-wing activist Günter Sare, who was ran over by a WaWe 9 at a protest march in 1985. German police officers also described the aiming of the cannon’s powerful water jets at a specific target as "a matter of luck" and that the vehicles suffered from engine noise and a cockpit layout which meant those inside had only a “limited sense of what was happening outside”.
- Video evidence of Robert Booth, a reporter invited to take part in a military training exercise in Belgium to demonstrate how water cannon could be used to peacefully disperse large crowds. Despite assurances from everyone involved that officers “never aim for the head” as a matter of policy, Robert was unexpectedly and unintentionally hit in the back of the head during filming. Robert was clearly unnerved by the experience and concluded that “Despite their high tech systems, these weapons seem as capable of being miss-controlled as any other – and the fear is that if you can be accidently hit in the head during a simple training exercise, worse could happen in real life if they are introduced on our city’s streets”.
It is important to bear in mind that this accident happened in a controlled environment, with water cannon equipped with technology far superior to that of the “pre-digital” WaWe 9000’s that Boris has decided are fit for policing in London. So, how exactly are the police planning to minimize the risk of accidents of this nature - given that they will be operating outdated and now unwanted weapons based on “pre digital” technology?
With some of the most vulnerable people in this country the most at risk from austerity measures, how long is it before someone is innocently struck down by one of these monsters and is seriously injured or [god forbid] loses their life as a result? Taking this hypothetical a stage further, what if the police were to deal with this incident in the same irreprehensible way that they dealt with the case of Mark Duggan? Then the powers might actually have a riot on their hands.
As if the incredible force behind these weapons was not enough - something that nobody in power is telling us about is that these vehicles are also designed to be filled with tear gas and are capable of delivering this upon demonstrators with just as much devastating ease as they can water. While I am not at all suggesting that the second these weapons arrive in London the Metropolitan Police are going to have a field day and start dousing innocent protesters with tear gas, they will soon have the capability to do so. Such an act would of course require approval from the home office, however - given that Boris has already decided to purchase these weapons at the behest of the Metropolitan Police without waiting for a final decision from Teresa May – how can we trust both him and the metropolitan police to respect these procedures in the future? It is also worth noting that any future home office approval could also lead to the use of “smart water”, which contains an invisible marking identifying an individual’s presence if hit or sprayed at a protest or demonstration.
Yet another reason to oppose the purchase of water cannon that I am not hearing nearly enough about is that these vehicles are expected to last at least 5 years. With a general election looming on the political horizon, do we really want to hand over the potential power of these weapons to an as yet unknown ruling majority?
Finally, it strikes me as somewhat ironic that in the very weekend following Boris’ decision to purchase not one, not two, but THREE of these dangerous and undemocratic monster’s to control future protests against austerity - 50,000 people took to the streets to take part in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity – the demonstration, which brought central London to a standstill last Saturday involved a march from the BBC’s office at Portland Place and a rally outside the Houses of Parliament. Tens of thousands of people marched in unity from across the political spectrum to demand an alternative - and not one arrest was made. Yet further evidence that there really is no justification for the purchase of these weapons to tackle political unrest on this issue - which is probably why the BBC practically ignored the gathering on their doorstep – and why David Cameron declined to comment altogether.
If the powers that be are in genuine fear of violent unrest due to future austerity measures being announced – they need to start a genuine dialogue with the public and hold genuine opportunities for debate on the alternatives.
We need to call on Teresa May and the Metropolitan police to service to reverse this decision and assure us that these dangerous weapons will never reach our shores, just as we have assured them that we are equally as fearful of losing our democratic right to demonstrate peacefully in Britain – and that nothing – not even 21,000 gallons of water will serve to dampen our spirits, our cleanse our commitment to justice.
You can call Teresa May at the Home Office and voice your opposition on 0207 219 5206.