Police vs. Brag

anger is a gift

The police in the UK claim to be neutral enforcers of the law – disinterested machines dedicated to the violent enforcement of the will of the state. This would be contemptible enough, if only it were true. The thugs in uniform that House of Brag has encountered over the past week have not only persecuted us in the absence of any accusations of law-breaking but have actively ignored strong evidence of violent law-breaking which clashed with their anti-squatter agenda.

To take a step back – House Of Brag (HoB) is a small collective of idealistic queers and allies seeking to create a non-commercial space for queer people and activists to organise, network and socialise. A week and a half ago, we squatted a long-term abandoned council-owned building in South-Central London and opened up The London Queer Social Centre with a cafe, free-shop, work-shop, stage, library and events spaces – all free to use for anybody. For context, it may be worth making clear that we have not had any late or loud parties or done anything that could be considered anti-social or a disturbance in any way.

Our first interaction with the police happened on the second night of occupation, the owner of the business renting a unit next door to ours came in the night with heavies and weapons and smashed the outside windows, threatening to kill us if we did not vacate. HoB phoned the police. When the officers showed up they clocked us for squatters immediately and so rather than take a statement, accused us of criminal damage. We told them that we had not committed criminal damage but had successfully filmed those who had. Being presented with video evidence of the accusations they were bandying around, the officers immediately lost interest in this claim and informed us that they couldn’t wait for the law to be changed so they could ‘come in there and drag you out’. Clearly then, we were on our own – so far, so bad.

The next day, we found that our water had stopped. Hours of investigation by us and a plumber friend failed to resolve the situation so we were reduced to transporting water across the road in tanks and buckets from the out-door tap of a kindly neighbour who, of course, said we could take the water that we needed to drink and cook and clean. This regime continued for a few days until our neighbour called by looking quite harassed. It transpired that the uniformed thugs had been round to her house and threatened her, claiming ‘neighbourhood disturbance’ and instructed her to build a box around her outside tap to stop anybody drinking water for free.

Fortunately, we have now resolved our water crisis (with flushing toilets and everything!) but are all pretty disgusted and angry at the bullying, under-handed tactics employed by the cops to persecute us. This is not the end of it. Already we have been informed that the place in which we are living and working is to be taken away from us. Abandoned for years, the council would rather see it rot than house human beings and serve the community. Only the absurd logic of property fetishisation could lead to the establishment spending so much money to harass us and try to crush our endeavours. We are going to fight back. Stay tuned for updates…

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12 Responses to Police vs. Brag

  1. Julian Moran says:

    Sounds traumatising. Especially the threats to your life and the criminal damage caused by the neighbour. Keep strong and stay in the light. In love and harmony. Julian x

  2. A says:

    So what’s your legal status at the moment? Not being in the UK means I’m a bit behind with the recent changes to the law and what they mean for non-residential squats. Have you been served papers?
    Also, have you tried liaising with the locals/neighbours to rally support for when/if an eviction attempt is made? Even statements from happy neighbours are useful in court.
    Keep up the great work

    • houseofbrag says:

      We haven’t done anything illegal – squatting residential properties is illegal but we are in a commercial property – the council have sent us a letter threatening to IPO us (the quick-eviction which applies to buildings actually in use – ie. not this one) but they have not mentioned a court date. We have sent a letter out to the local community explaining what we are up to and about and re-assuring them that we aren’t going to have any big late parties – there are mixed degrees of reception and interest but a few locals have joined us for lunch etc.

      Thanks for your words of encouragement 🙂

  3. acab says:

    i find it interesting that you make no mention of the racial make-up of your group in this post. i take from this that you are all or predominately white, with the race privileges attached to that identity, including ignorance/lack of awareness of how people of colour routinely experience policing in this city of ours. am i wrong?

  4. I recently attended the North east feminist gathering that was held in an empty building where the owners have given the space over to various collectives, there are some tax benefits for them, would may be a viable option, it may be that the owners of your building are unaware that they could actually save money by allowing people o use the space.

  5. anon says:

    why did you not allow my comment? did it make you feel a little bit uncomfortable? challenges to your white privilege would do that, i suppose… wow it must be nice to feel safe enough around cops to actually call them when you feel threatened. us folks with darker skin don’t get that option. and when we try to talk about it, and related issues, we get silenced/invisibilised. like you just did, by blocking my post. you really are revolting, and not in a good way. so sad.

  6. houseofbrag says:

    Of the 3 people who were in the building when we were attacked, two of us were of colour.

    It felt like a question of pragmatics at the time.
    Being fresh to squatting, we called some more experienced friends, who were unfortunately too far away to be immediate help, and they advised us that if we were genuinely terrified, we could call the cops.
    It was a deeply problematic decision, with mildly problematic results. We had extensive conversation on the matter after the fact, particularly in relation to our Safer Spaces Policy. It is not a decision we would repeat, particularly now we have a bigger support network in the area.

    Why your comment wasn’t approved IMMEDIATELY; no-one who had been there at said incident had checked the word.press, and therefore didn’t feel entitled to/weren’t sure how to respond to your comments.

    Definitely, there’s a lot in terms of a thinking thru of how spaces imagine themselves as safe or inclusive, but actually fail to recognise the subtle ways in which they erase difference. I don’t think we’ve really even begun that work in earnest.
    Equally tho, making assumptions about other’s racial demographic based on a text-account in no way aids that work. Making harsh judgements and critiques of queer people who were victims of violence, and how those victims responded to a really recent violent incident seems to, at best, lack in solidarity and be problematic, at worst, it silences me and my decision, claims to speak for my skin colour and the kinds of decisions “us folks with darker skin” can or can’t make.
    Anyone CAN make that decision, whether we SHOULD make that decision is another discussion, in which identity definitely needs to hold the floor

  7. Colin Bell says:

    You are brave guys – doing a great thing. Good luck to you all!

  8. Pingback: The Red Pepper round-up: 26 October | Red Pepper blog | Red Pepper

  9. Pingback: News Round, October 2012 – Squash Campaign

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