Support the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders

Support the Freedom Riders

Unite Community will be supporting a demonstration in Sheffield on the 7th July – see here for full details – when two “Freedom Rider” protestors will be appearing at the magistrates court for participating in a peaceful protest. Accusations have also been made of police brutality as five police officers were caught on camera manhandling him roughly. Here’s some background to the protests and what has now happened.

Making their voices heard

Under the coalition’s austerity agenda, disabled and pensioners have been amongst those hit particularly hard, and due to their age and disability they often find it more difficult to fight back and make their voice heard.

However, in South Yorkshire they have been doing just that. A group calling themselves the Freedom Riders have been protesting against the ending of transport concessions for pensioners and disabled in the Region, holding a series of vocal demonstrations and taking direct action by boarding trains en-mass without paying a fare.

As these protests have gone on, they have seen an increasingly large police presence, with large numbers of police either kettling protestors on platforms or preventing them from getting on to the platform. To their great credit, the protestors have not been deterred and have continually adopted new tactics to carry on their protests.

An excellent report on the protests is available from our Colleagues in the Barnsley Community Support Centre on their website:

Standing up against the State

We all know when we attend protests that the ‘friendly’ police presence is just an illusion. The miner’s strike and 2011 student demonstrations showed that when real opposition is growing, the state is more than willing to unleash their power and use the police to intimidate, obstruct and even assault anyone who happens to be on the other side of the dividing line, who is part of a group that the state is intent on making a victim of.

Anyone who thinks that things will be different just because the victims in this case just happen to be disabled and pensioners would be very mistaken. At the Freedom Riders’ most recent demonstration in Sheffield, it became very clear that the police were willing to ride roughshod over anyone who dared to protest, including manhandling pensioners and knocking over people with disabilities. This report in The Mirror gives some details and has a video of the police treatment of one of those arrested, and The Sheffield Star follows up their initial report and video on the arrests with some comments from both protestors and police

Freedom Rider Arrest

Freedom of the Press

As you may have picked up from the Sheffield Star article, there was a further video of the protests and arrests but the police ordered it to be destroyed, threatening the reporter with arrest if he didn’t do so. More details of that story are in The Guardian:

Yet again, as seems to happen so often when they don’t have a legitimate reason to arrest or silence somebody, the police have used the cover of Anti-Terrorism legislation to do so. So there we have it – if you try and report on the state response to legitimate peaceful protest, you can be branded as a potential terrorist!

Luckily in this age of technology, a lot of people have mobile phones and somebody else had filmed the arrest so the police didn’t succeed in covering their tracks on this occasion – but how many other times must they have got away with ordering videos to have been deleted in the past?

Next steps for the Freedom Riders

If anything, the actions of the police have made the Freedom Riders even more determined to continue their fight, and to bring even more along to future protests. They are taking the view that the state is running so scared of you that they resort to arresting pensioners and knocking over people with disabilities, you must be doing something right!

Plans are being put in place for a huge demonstration of support for those arrested when they are due in court on the 7th July – we will post full details of that as soon as they are finalised – and the group are meeting to discuss what next for the Freedom Ride campaign.

One thing is clear – they are not going to give up until they achieve more concessions and Unite Community in South Yorkshire and across the country are committed to supporting them in whatever way we can.

You should to, as their fight against austerity measures is your fight as well.


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