Violence on the steps of St Paul's

Today (15 October) has seen a global day of action against corporate greed, financial mismanagement and government cuts, which has grown out of New York's 'Occupy Wall Street' demonstration.

A large number of protesters gathered in London in a peaceful demonstration: 'Occupy the London Stock Exchange'. Police prevented the participants from approaching the Stock Exchange and the demonstration, which continued to be peaceful, was 'contained' in front of St Paul's Cathedral.

The coverage given to this on the BBC has so far made no reference to the events which are being reported on Twitter this evening.

The largely good natured interaction between protesters and police seemed to change rapidly after the Met announced its intention to move people from the the steps of St Paul's “to maintain the integrity of the cathedral.”

Tweets report dogs being introduced and police officers on the steps with raised batons. Some tweeters said that the police were “going in hard” and that they “charged up the steps of the cathedral, throwing people down”.

It is reasonable to ask where the clergy of St Paul's were during the time which led up to this violence. Standing in solidarity with those protesting the impact of injustice and greed on the innocent and vulnerable would seem to have been the obvious course for followers of Jesus. As would opening the cathedral doors to offer shelter from the night air and sanctuary as violence erupted. The presence of clerics might well have defused the situation – Met officers would presumably be aware of the kind of publicity which would result from raising their batons to the Dean or hurling members of the Chapter down the steps of their own cathedral.

There is no suggestion that the protesters presented any threat to the fabric of the cathedral or were behaving in anything other than a non-violent manner. Their cause is essentially a moral one with which the church could have no possible quarrel. That it apparently did not recognise this is a cause for sorrow.

An opportunity to witness to the way of the rabbi who threw the money changers and traders out of the temple was lost. It seems that the caution of Establishment has once again obscured his radical message.

[Since this was written, the chancellor of St Paul's, Giles Fraser, has publicly supported the rights of protest and has asked the police to leave demonstrators alone in the vicinity of the Cathedral. Demonstrators have also praised the friendliness of staff there. More: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15566 ]

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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