In an age of intelligence-led policing, ‘no comment’ is of fundamental importance. Police, especially insidious Police Liaison Officers, use our innate human dispensation towards communication against those who dare to dissent; orders/questions barked out by agents of the state carry with them an implied threat of punishment for refusal. This provides police with an all-too-easy strategy for gathering information on protesters, facilitating the state’s continuing determination to undermine movements and individuals which challenge its authority (or the profitability of big business, of which it is so enamoured).
But those two words are at once both a readily available tool for stopping police gathering information they have no right to within a specific situation, and something far greater – they exist on the frontline of larger and deeper resistance against a state which assumes a right to every aspect of our lives, which intimidates us into believing they deserve that right, and which reaches deep into the private lives of its citizens without their consent, or knowledge.
In a system which is increasingly imbalanced in its division of power (and which those in power wield greater power with more serious ramifications for disobedience) ‘no comment’ – a refusal to comply, a refusal to make injustice easy – is powerful. Something changes within a person when they stand up and challenge power, however minor the act may seem at the time – and understanding that police abuse their positions of power, but that they can be (successfully) challenged, is most keenly felt through lived experience, rather than simply academically.
Successfully refusing to follow an officer’s (non-mandatory) orders, or watching them squirm to get information from you in the face of a dead-pan ‘no comment’, reduces fear of the police, strips them of their implied power. They are just people – and people who on occasion do not know the law they purport to uphold (asking ‘am I legally obliged?’ can be met with blank stares). But, perhaps more disturbing than officers of the law not necessarily knowing the law, is the willingness to lie and mislead in order to prevent people exercising their rights, and to protect corporations, actions and policies that without doubt impact them, their families and their futures too.
Intimidation has become an undercurrent running through so much of today’s policing, and intelligence-gathering occupies a central role within this strategy. It is easy to fall victim to these tactics: the game is rigged. Mass arrest, undercover policing, kettling, domestic extremism lists, abuse of stop and search, lengthy police bail, excessive restrictions on protest, and criminalisation of protesters, all serve to squeeze and silence movements which oppose the unjust system that gives rise to these same injustices. The game is indeed rigged, but it is not lost. We can refuse to play. We can choose to not voluntarily surrender that which is ours: our identity.
Any attempt to level power imbalance is critical to the continuation of movements which exist within a society in which those in power assume the right to reach ever-further into our lives, and seek to control and limit us in ways entirely inconsistent with the democratic values they claim to practice. It is growing public awareness of this democratic failure which brings people out onto the streets in increasing numbers, it is continuing disrespect which will keep them coming out, and it is prevention of information-gathering practices which will keep the doors open for more to join in the future.
While we’re out in the streets let’s keep them guessing, yeah?