Today upto 7 people will appear at Bristol Crown Court on charges of riot arising from the first Bristol #KillTheBill protest back on 21 March, which saw Bridewell police station attacked after people fought back against police attacks that utilised vans, horses, shields, batons & armoured protective clothing. No police have as yet been charged for the violence, brutality, injuries & trauma that they dished out that evening – and again on the 23 & 26 March. British justice? What an injustice!
These 7 will bring the total number of people brought to Court facing charges from the 21 March to 29 in total, out of 78 arrested – so 49 are still to be charged. Two people out of the 29 charged remain on remand in prison. A further 36 people are still wanted by the cops, according to images on their website. In addition, other protesters have been arrested from later #KillTheBill protests; some of these are still to be charged, whilst a small number already face court dates. It’s not all bad news however. A number of people have had minor charges dropped, whilst many others have pled not guilty. Plus we’ve heard via Bristol Defendant Solidarity that 1 man has had a charge of ‘Violent Disorder’ dropped from 21 March, although he too still faces minor charges including possession of a bit of weed. In Bristol FFS!
But there is grimmer news. On 30th July 5 people were sentenced to prison sentences. 4 men had pled guilty to riot & were made prisoners of the state for between 3yrs 3 months to 3yrs 11months, initially sent to Horfield prison. Another person was sentenced to 5mths in Eastwood Park women’s prison, for essentially having a piss on the streets (no public toilets were available). Less than a week later, a noise demo was held outside both prisons one evening, in a show of solidarity – report here. But in more bad news, last Thursday 19 August a 35yr old man was sentenced to 20 months in prison after pleading guilty to 6 charges of assault on an emergency worker, meaning he threw objects at 6 cops, none of whom were injured under their armoured riot gear. Bristol Defendant Solidarity on twitter is probably your best bet locally for upto date news on defendants, courts news, solidarity & resistance….whilst Bristol ABC have a website & Instgram account.
It is clear that the state & the CPS, pushed hard by the Tory Government, are involved in a campaign of political & judicial repression against all those who dissent, and fight back, against their many authoritarian new Bills & Laws, of which the PCSC Bill is just but one. The police & CPS have pushed huge resources into persecuting protesters from 21 March, increasing the level of charges as they try to intimidate & scare defendants – so it’s great to see that a large number of defendants have so far determined to fight their most serious charges – which seems to be really pissing off some of Bristol’s judges. A charge of riot has to be authorised at the very top, by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a political appointment, and a job once held by Labour leader Starmer, that Tory in disguise – and as big a class traitor as our local Bristol Labour Mayor. This article makes clear how unusual riot charges are, and how harsh these sentences, for people who plead guilty, are. Whilst this article – BDS_riotcharges_30May (opens as pdf) – explains why pleading guilty is not at all a good idea most of the time. Do read both articles.
But where there is repression, there is always resistance. In Bristol people have rallied around to support & help out local support groups such as Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Bristol ABC Prisoner Support. Two crowdfunders, one for defendants, and one for prisoners, have attracted over 1500 donations from individuals and grassroots activists groups, raising over £45k to provide a range of forms of support. Numerous message of solidarity have come from around the country, along with many small fundraising events. The next, bigger one, in Bristol is on the 25 August, 2-11pm, at the PRSC Space off Stokes Croft – a #KillTheBill Solidarity Fair. But we need to do more. The fact that the most recent National day of Action to Kill The Bill, on 21 August, didn’t see a visible Bristol protest, is disappointing. Yes we know it’s summer and we can at last go out to party, but don’t forget the protesting & organising needed too. Party AND Protest! We need more than spontaneous eruptions of anger against police brutality – we need consistent, organised and full spectrum resistance, and a regular street protest presence. We can stretch the system, until it breaks.
In this quote from a Statement issued on 30 July, after the first 5 people were imprisoned, Bristol ABC & BDS set out clearly the political backdrop to what’s really happening. (It’s worth reading in full here):
The demonstration on 21st March was against the Police, Courts and Sentencing Bill, a bill which aims to give the police even more power to repress political dissent, and which will destroy the ways of life of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities in the UK. Those who have been struggling against the Bill across the UK are resisting the expanding imbalance of power between the state and the people, and against the further criminalisation of one of the UK’s most marginalised communities.
The clash with the police on 21 March happened in the context of rising anger and action against the British police’s racist, classist and misogynist violence, and a government response to the coronavirus pandemic which left the UK one of the worst hit countries. The brunt of the Covid-19 crisis has been felt by working people and those seen as disposable by the government.
Bristol was a focal point of the UK’s Black Lives Matter protests last year when over 10,000 people marched through the city and pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston before throwing it in the river – an action that had taken inspiration from anti-racists in the US. Similar actions took place all over the world against other monuments of colonisers in a wave of anti-racist organisation. Yet the police’s racist violence continues unabated. This year two Black men – Mohamud Hassan and Mouayed Bashir – both died after being detained in police custody in Cardiff and Newport. This is nothing new, there have been 1792 deaths in police custody or following contact with the police in the UK since 1990. And in Bristol, if you’re Black you are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.
Throughout March 2021 – in the weeks leading up to the March 21st Kill the Bill demonstration – weekly vigils had been held for Sarah Everard, who was murdered by an officer from the Met Police.
The Policing Bill aims to further criminalise those who defend themselves against police violence, doubling the maximum prison sentence for assaulting a police officer, while the police are able to use violence and even kill with impunity. Sentences for damaging ‘national monuments’ such as statues of slave traders will be increased to a maximum 10 year prison sentence.
The Bill also aims to massively increase the number of people in prison in the UK. At the moment, most people are released from prison after they have served half their sentence. If the Bill is passed some defendants will have to serve two-thirds, and courts will have more powers to impose long sentences against those under the age of 18. These measures to lock up more people go hand in hand with state plans to employ 20,000 more police, to build six new mega prisons and 18,000 more prison places in the UK.
(All images c/o BDS & Bristol ABC)