Tuesday, 24 July 2012
How the Olympics brought Belfast to east London
My friend from Derry could scarcely contain his amusement when he declared now you know what it is like to have the Paras on your street corner.
He was referring to the deployment of the army onto the streets of east London ready for the Olympics.
I live in east London, just a couple of miles away from the Olympic stadium and even closer to the blocks of flats fitted with surface to air missiles in case of a terrorist attack. Many local people wonder what the guidance is for using these weapons, should that become necessary in this heavily built up area?
The hysteria over security around the Olympics has been a wonder to behold. Some 13,000 military personnel were due to be deployed around the area to maintain security. Now, with the meltdown of the private contractors G4S operations, another 3,500 soldiers have been called in, many coming straight from frontline action in Afghanistan. No doubt pumped up and ready for action on the streets of east London.
G4S though will still be doing their bit, with several thousand rapidly recruited staff being given security duties in and around the Games venues. Some variance in standards of security here though, between a hurriedly recruited G4S operative and a fully trained police officer or soldier.
Security though has become the watchword for this Olympics. Not far from one of the blocks with the surface to air missiles, a “temporary” police station has been erected with a number of cells to deal with any surfeit of arrests at the Olympics. There are concerns that once this building is established on Wanstead Flats it will provide a precedent for building on an area where it has been banned for centuries.
The police have been given special powers, including dispersal orders to control people they don't like the look of. This in the main relates to youngsters and will no doubt result in some living under an effective curfew throughout the Games.
The courts will sit around the clock, in an operation likened to those put into action for the riots last August.
This type of securitisation of the area causes many locals to pinch themselves and wonder, is this not a peaceful festival of sport, when nations come together to celebrate in solidarity? At times, this particular Olympics has begun to more resemble a dry run for World War III in the east end.
I can though understand the smugness of my Derry mate. Some 20 years ago when visiting the north of Ireland I remember being repeatedly told that the great securitisation of society going on there at the time would one day all come home to London and beyond.
In those days, there were the observation towers around the walls of Derry, in Belfast and beyond. I remember the Rosemount Tower with its notice from the RUC explaining that it was only there to protect the community from terrorists. No one in the nationalist community believed it, especially those told by soldiers on the street what they had been doing in their own homes the previous day.
At the time, we debated how people in an area of London would react if a surveillance tower was put up, with the proviso that it was there to cut drug related crime.
And so it came to pass, for tower now read CCTV. Not only did the great British public accept this surveillance but many actively campaigned to have CCTV cameras on their streets, please, please watch me.
Other things came over from the North like plastic bullets, riot control methods, the loss of the right to silence and other human rights. All sacrificed on the altar of security.
The Olympics though does seem to have brought the whole thing full circle with troops finally deployed on the streets of London. But no worries, remember they are only here to keep us safe, maintain the peace and will all have gone home by Christmas