It takes only a minute or so with Jody McIntyre to realise it would take much more than the combined forces of the Metropolitan Police, the Daily Mail and the BBC to keep him down. After a week of tumult and sleeplessness, he is buoyant and focused when I meet him at his family home in East Dulwich, south London. Seven days ago, this 20-year-old political activist was at the student protests in London with his younger brother Finlay when police allegedly hit him with a baton, and pulled him from his wheelchair not once, but twice.
It was an angry and passionate demonstration,” says McIntyre, “and it was also hugely tense and hugely hostile, because there were mounted police ready to charge into the crowd.” He was at the front of a large group of protesters in Parliament Square when he was struck on the shoulder with a baton by a police officer, he says. “Then around four police officers pulled me out of my wheelchair and carried me away.”
Not long after the protests, footage emerged of the second incident which, while grainy, shows McIntyre out of his wheelchair, being pulled along the ground by police, as voices in the crowd shout “What the fuck are you doing?” and “You just tipped him over!” It’s difficult to watch without mounting horror, and the thought: has it come to this? The police dragging a man with cerebral palsy through our streets?
Not everyone had that reaction. In the Daily Mail, columnist Richard Littlejohn compared McIntyre to the Little Britain character Andy, who is notoriously monosyllabic and isn’t actually physically disabled – whenever possible, he gets up behind his carer’s back and runs around. “If [McIntyre’s] looking for sympathy, he’s come to the wrong place,” wrote Littlejohn. There also seemed a distinct lack of sympathy from the BBC, in an interview conducted by journalist Ben Brown on Monday night, that has attracted thousands of complaints. The BBC News channel controller, Kevin Bakhurst, asked why people objected to it, and the answer seems to be this: in interviewing an apparent victim of police brutality, Brown’s tone was highly accusatory. He asked whether McIntyre might have been “rolling towards” the police in his wheelchair, whether he had thrown missiles at the police, and repeatedly questioned why he hadn’t yet made a legal complaint about his treatment.
He has been on a lot of protests, on a wide range of issues, and says he has always had a political outlook, which he chronicles on his blog, Life on Wheels (“One man’s journey on the path to revolution”). He isn’t a student himself, but says he cares deeply about the issue both because “acceptance into university should be based on the merit of your grades, not the size of your wallet” and because “education is simply the first target. These cuts, this axe that the government is wielding, is going to affect everyone.”
He will therefore be on the next student protest, whenever it occurs, and is pleased that the “media myth of us as some kind of apathetic generation has been completely blown to smithereens”. But he worries about what could happen in future. “I honestly think in one of the upcoming demonstrations, if the police continue with this brutal violence, that someone will die,” he says
A disabled man has described being dragged from his wheelchair twice during the tuition fees protests. Jody McIntyre says that in the first incident he was dumped on the pavement and his chair was left in the middle of the road. The 20-year-old political activist and blogger said: ‘I was at the front of the crowd in Parliament Square. One policeman struck me on my shoulder with his baton, quite badly bruising me.‘Then four or five grabbed me, pulled me out of my wheelchair, carried me about 100 yards behind the police line and dumped me on the pavement. ‘I was sitting there for five or ten minutes, until my 16-year-old brother was allowed through with my wheelchair.’
Mr McIntyre, who has been disabled since birth with cerebral palsy, said he was behind the police line when a second incident took place around half- an-hour later. ‘I was away from the crowd, on my own. One policeman asked me to move and I shook my head. ‘Then another, standing about 30 yards away, recognised me from the earlier incident and came running over. ‘He pushed me out of my wheelchair on to the road, and then dragged me across the road by my arms.’ Mr McIntyre, who can stand but struggles to walk 100 yards, and is not a student, was again reunited with his wheelchair by his brother. He said he may have been targeted for being behind a line of police on foot but in front of mounted officers, preventing their advance. Pictures of the incident were posted on social networking websites. One image on Twitter appeared to show him being pulled from his chair. A police spokesman said: ‘This individual hasn’t made a complaint to us. If he does, it will be fully investigated.’