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July 07, 2005

A modern cavalry charge

Kate linked to a fascinating first-person account of being on the fringe of a police-versus-protesting-anarchists battle:

As the reinforcements arrived, the foot-based riot line opened to let them in, let the cavalry withdraw behind, and then re-formed into an even tighter set of double ranks. Isn't this interesting. Something's coming. Rotten fruit and garbage, looted from adjacent dumpters, began to fly from the crowd toward the ranks. I dashed in front of the anarchist lines to get a shot of the police formation. A full sack of garbage landed between us as I got my shot; and then the policeman in the center raised his right arm. The anarchists surged forward. I fought my way back and into an adjoining alley. The police charged.

It was a fearsome sight, seeing the lines clash. The outcome was never in doubt: some of the kids were trampled, some thrown bodily back a surprising distance, some fled in pure fear. All deserved it. As swiftly as it began, the police line halted just shy of my alley, having cleared perhaps a hundred feet of Rose Street. The foot soldiers resumed the stalwart stance, and the cavalry trotted up in a line behind. The anarchists were in disarray, with most of the girls screaming, and most of the men assiduously not helping them.

And then, after one of the protestors was dragged into the alley where the writer was observing the drama,

Two anarchist women, clad in black but with orange crosses pinned to their shirts, moved forward to render first aid. As they did, the second charge descended.

The rush came in two waves. First, the foot police line split neatly in two and swung in a manner to make Schlieffen proud. They neatly sealed off my alley and the alley across the way; and the cavalry moved up from behind to maintain the ground gained on the main thoroughfare. The crowd began shrieking again — and then the cavalry charged. I have never seen a mounted charge before, but I certainly hope to again: the sight was profoundly more amazing than the foot charge witnessed mere minutes before. At once I understood the age-old truth of the power of the horseman over the man on foot: a lesson that those of us whose military service was in the modern era have precious little opportunity to grasp. Again the anarchists lost ground as fast as their fleeing feet could take them, and I was sure that the entirety of Rose Street would shortly be seized in the name of the Lothian and Borders Police. But no: passing the alleyways and arriving at a point at which their flanks were secured by solid walls, the cavalry stopped dead.

The foot police sealing me and a platoon of anarchists into our alley opened ranks, and two cops, in full armor but without shields or batons, strode confidently among us. Ignoring threats and curses, they walked to the old woman in seizure, knelt down, and began to render aid. In a flash it became clear why the cavalry had charged as it did: with their flanks and rear secure, the police could render aid. Having been among them long enough to get a sense of their nature, I have no doubt that lone policemen amongst the crowd would have been assaulted mercilessly even in their mission of mercy; now, though, they could do good work unhindered.

Posted by Nicholas at July 7, 2005 06:31 PM

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