March 28, 2021
From Alternative Bristol (UK)

Events of the 21st and 23rd and now 26th in Bristol have propelled the city to national consciousness as a symbol of resistance to the Government’s new Police and Crime Bill. After the 21st, the police – who have their own media relations people to help shape the narrative – saw the press give the protestors almost universal condemnation and there were many, many stories of serious injuries to cops such as broken bones and a punctured lung. Yet soon after that narrative fell apart under scrutiny. Yet we still don’t know the numbers of wounded protestors, though reports suggest it may be way higher than the numbers of police;

A first aider on duty during the demo told the Observer that he personally treated six protesters, including people with bleeding head wounds, serious bruising and eye injuries. The first aider, who asked not be named, said he was also struck repeatedly with a baton. “I told the policeman I was a first aider but he continued beating me,” he said.

An NHS worker on duty that night told the Observer that no officers were treated in the hospital designated for the police, whereas the hospital designated for protesters was inundated with injured people. The worker, who also asked not to be named, said: “Over the course of the night the hospitals that were taking protesters filled and the hospital taking police did not see a single officer.”

The protest of the 23rd focused on how the new Bill will impact the rights of travellers, Roma, Gypsy communities. Smaller numbers than the 21st, but no less important an issue nor passionate protestors. However, the cops busted that up too. Only now is that issue rising to national consciousness;

An estimated 200 to 400 people live in vehicles in Bristol, making it one of the largest communities of “van dwellers” in the country. While some of these are artists and musicians who enjoy the freedom of life on the road, many are low-paid workers priced out of homes in the city. They include people who want to live in a low-impact, more sustainable way as well as homeless people escaping life on the streets. Yet there are growing fears that Bristol’s van dwellers may be hounded from roads and laybys under the proposed powers in the bill.

The shocking events of the 26th saw an array of police attacks on protestors; example include punching a woman in the face, using riot shields to bludgeon protestors and attacking members of the press. While most of the city’s ‘civic leaders’ either stuck-up for the cops or said nothing, it does lead to the question about how these same cops can ‘police by consent‘ if a section of the community has been beaten by cops?

But amidst all the understandable discussion of police violence, policing by consent, media coverage of protest etc we must not lose sight of why these protests are happening: Because this government, much like we’ve seen in authoritarian regimes around the world, wants to remove the right to protest which has been a cornerstone of our rights. The government intends to do this by expanding the powers of the police to shut down ‘noisy’ and disruptive’ protests and the Bill is elastic enough that the cops can easily stretch the definitions in it to cover any form of protest, no matter how peaceful;

This new offence is therefore a prime candidate for use against almost any activists who does anything more than simply march or hold a demo – and even they might be covered since “serious harm” also includes ‘serious annoyance’.

Remember, in protests like the BLM ones; they include protest at the actions of the cops themselves, who then get to decide if that vocal criticism of them, no matter how justified, is ‘annoying’ and then shut it down. So why are the government doing this? Because to them the ‘culture war’ is a means to power, and they see attacks on movements like XR and BLM as a way to cement their power;

We see the Bill, then, in its proper light: a lightning rod, diverting proper attention away from the imminent threat of climate change and onto those who exhort for a different way of life to tackle it, away from those subjected to racialised policing and onto those who tear down statues. The Bill is the epitome of much wider contemporary political discourse, one that allows government to cast us as good or bad, activists and citizens, reinforcing tensions and division at the expense of collective social solidarity, and for that reason alone we should oppose it.

Little wonder that there is more and more resistance to the bill, inspired by protest in Bristol, and to this authoritarian government.