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Climate Protester Dragged From Top of Train by London Commuters

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The crowd appears to attack a protestor in a video shared on Twitter by ITV journalist Mahatir Pasha. VOA News / Youtube screenshot

Some London commuters had a violent reaction Thursday morning when Extinction Rebellion protestors attempted to disrupt train service during rush hour.


When a demonstrator walked on top of a train in Canning Town, an angry crowd first threw drinks at him. Then, one man dragged him from the roof, and the crowd appeared to attack him, according to a video shared on Twitter by ITV journalist Mahatir Pasha.

"One commuter shouted 'I need to get to work, I have to feed my kids,' when the protestors initially went up," Pasha tweeted, as NBC News reported.

In addition to Canning Town, activists climbed on top of trains in Shadwell and Stratford, BBC News reported. The Docklands Light Railway and Jubilee Line were temporarily suspended. In total, eight people were arrested, British Transport Police said.

The train disruptions, and the commuters' response, have set off a debate about the best way to call attention to the climate crisis. Extinction Rebellion's International Rebellion, which began Oct. 7, has sought to cause disruption in central London and other world cities in order to force government action on climate change. In the UK, demonstrators are demanding the government declare a climate emergency, achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and convene a Citizens' Assembly to guide its response to the crisis.

But some question whether commuter trains are an appropriate target for disruption.

"The Tube & all modes of public transport are part of the solution to climate change, not the problem," the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), the union that represents UK train drivers, tweeted. "Can we kindly suggest you stick to protesting against those who create the problem. Not our industry, members + hard working commuters."

But Extinciton Rebellion protesters defended train disruptions in one statement Thursday.

"If this is what it takes to make them take notice before it is too late, then this is what we must do," 21-year-old spokesman Robin Boardman said. "None of us want to inconvenience ordinary people. That's why we're doing this in the morning when it will impact business as usual, and not in the evening, when people want to get home to be with their loved ones."

However, internally the group is divided about targeting transit. A poll of 3,800 votes from Extinction Rebellion affiliates found 72 percent opposed targeting London's Tube system, BBC News reported.

Another statement posted on the group's website reflected this division.

"[T]his action had been announced on Tuesday, and was received with overwhelming opposition and consternation from those in our movement, both regarding the nature, location, and timing of the action," the group wrote. "This concern was communicated to the planners of the action —a very small group, which did not participate in 'national level' Rebellion decision-making bodies."

However, the group's organizational model, which allows grassroots groups to carry out actions as long as they are in line with 10 principles and values, meant that the action went ahead.

The action comes the same week that Extinction Rebellion was banned from London by police for causing disruption in the capital. That decision is currently being appealed by the group, according to BBC News.

Police did speak out against the actions of the commuters who attacked demonstrators, however.

Assistant Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Sean O'Callaghan said their behavior was "unacceptable," The New York Times reported.

"[It was] concerning to see that a number of commuters took matters into their own hands, displaying violent behavior to detain a protester," he said.

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