Police discrimination during Extinction Rebellion protests

The Disability Independent Advisory Group have lodged a formal complaint against police action

The Metropolitan police’s advisers on disability have accused the force of “degrading and humiliating” treatment of disabled activists during the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London this month.

A formal complaint by the Met’s disability independent advisory group (DIAG) says members are “disappointed and angered” the force failed to engage with them over the policing of the protests, and the Met may have caused “irreparable damage” to relations with disabled people.

Anne Novis, Inclusion London’s chair, who also chairs DIAG, said it was the first formal complaint issued by the Met’s disability advisers in more than 20 years working as “critical friends” of the force. “We were on the point of resigning because we were hearing so many bad stories from people,” she said.

Among the incidents they highlight in the letter are the force’s decision to confiscate equipment that was intended to make it safe and accessible for disabled people to take part in the XR protests. This included two mobile accessible toilets and showers, wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.

Following confiscation of the equipment a small group from XR Disabled Rebels held a peaceful protest outside New Scotland Yard on 11 October. The group were aggressively dispersed and several arrests made including Nicki Myers, a wheelchair -user. Whilst on her own, Nicki could not be arrested, but as soon as she needed support from her personal assistant, this was considered ‘an assembly’ and they were both arrested.

DIAG chair Anne Novis – who in June was recognised with a commendation by the force for her service with DIAG – repeatedly attempted to contact the force to offer advice from DIAG when she and her colleagues became aware of incidents unfolding during the XR protests.

The letter says that “all members of the DIAG are disappointed and angered” at the failure to seek their assistance in the lead-up to XR “in understanding the complexity of addressing the needs of disabled protesters, despite the fact that we have on several occasions tried to engage with the team”.

“The actions of the MPS [Metropolitan police service] have not been received well by the disabled and deaf community, many of whom now fear that their legal right to participate in peaceful protests can no longer be exercised if their mobility equipment is to be confiscated, and personal assistants/carers arrested. The effect on the relationship between the MPS and members of our community is at risk of irreparable damage. The actions in the last few weeks will have long-lasting consequences for our community and will take many years to heal.”

Following the arrests of the XR Disabled Rebels on Friday 11 October, over a thousand supporters gathered outside New Scotland Yard on Sunday 13 October (main image courtesy of Jon Abrams).

More information about the XR Disabled rebels protest can be found on the Disability News Service.