‘Hands Off Women Picketers’: solidarity against police harassment

On Tuesday 16th September 1986 five anti-apartheid activists were arrested on the Non-Stop Picket outside the South African embassy in London.  The City of London Anti-Apartheid Group reported the arrests in Non-Stop News the following week:

at about 10.30am the police swooped on Hans.  When Chief Steward Simone asked why, she was arrested, the arresting officer held her against the Embassy gates and pressed her from behind in a sexually obscene way. (Non-Stop News, No. 11, 19 September 1986)

The next day two more women picketers were sexually assaulted and abused during the course of arrests.

Police Sergeant A33 led a violent sexual assault on Amanda Collins who was thrown into a police van face downwards.  PS A33 got on top of her.  Several police officers kicked and punched her while PS A33 sat on her.  She was grabbed between the legs.  At Cannon Row [police station] Amanda was put in a cell with several male police officers and assaulted.  Cat was also thrown into the van and abused.  The police: ‘You’d like a great big black one up you’, ‘No, she’s a lesbian’. (Non-Stop News, No. 11, 19 September 1986)

In total 11 arrests were made on the Picket over a two-day period.  In addition to the violent sexual harassment and assault of these three women picketers, two black picketers were called ‘niggers’ by the police during the course of their arrests, and a young gay man needed hospital treatment for the injuries he sustained at the hands of the police.

City Group responded to the assaults on Simone, Cat and Amanda by calling a “Hands Off Women Picketers” protest outside Cannon Row police station on 24 September 1989, and mobilised the support of women’s groups from around London to the protest.  The arrests on 17 September brought the total number of arrests since the Non-Stop Picket started on 19 April 1986 to 68.  These arrests resulted in 81 charges.  Of the first 23 charges to be heard in court, 8 resulted in acquittals and 6 of the charges were dropped.

While it is important to remember the harassment meted out to supporters of the Non-Stop Picket by the Metropolitan Police, to catalogue both the more extreme assaults and the petty arrests, I want to use this post to make a different point.  City Group did not just carry out political solidarity work with those opposing apartheid in South Africa, it had a strong ethic of care and solidarity for its own supporters.  When picketers were arrested, City Group members would phone or visit the police station to check on their well-being in custody.  Very often other picketers would wait at Cannon Row or Bow Street police stations until their friends had been released – greeting them with food, tobacco or just a hug and a friendly face.  City Group organised sympathetic lawyers to represent picketers when they were arrested and to defend them in court.  Members of the group were mobilised to be in court to offer support to their friends.  When arrests were particularly violent, abusive or unjust, court pickets and protests like the ‘Hands Off Women Picketers’ events were called – these boosted the morale of defendants, raised publicity for their cases, and made their defence a political act.  Finally, when arrests did not result in charges being levied, charges were dropped, or defendants acquitted, City Group would frequently sue the Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest.  Much of the compensation raised through such claims was donated back to City Group to pay for the on-going legal support for its supporters.

Amongst the archival material we are currently cataloguing are papers relating to many (if not all) of the arrests that took place on the Non-Stop Picket and City Group’s defence of its supporters who experienced legal cases against them.  As the research progresses, we will continue to analyse this material and think about how City Group members practiced solidarity in multiple ways, at different scales, near and far.

About Gavin Brown

Professor of Political Geography and Sexualities University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Archival research and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ‘Hands Off Women Picketers’: solidarity against police harassment

  1. Pingback: Viva the women! Celebrating women’s anti-apartheid activism | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  2. Pingback: Terry O’Halloran (1952 – 1989) | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  3. Pingback: “Being arrested is now a way of life” | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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