Updated 30/4/2021: Ten years ago a second clean-up was still underway on Stokes Croft after a second night of disorder on the 28/29 April 2011.
A peaceful protest escalated into ferocious clashes after weaponised riot cops once again took to the streets to enforce the control desired by the ruling & political elites – locally & nationally. Despite facing militaristic and heavily armed police, protesters & locals stood their ground and fought back into the early hours. Self-defence is no offence.
This night saw the first appeareance of what became Bristol Defendant Solidarity, as volunteers handed out legal rights info & advice, and went on to support people arrested (and some who were later imprisoned).
Shortly after, local police at a public residents meeting threatened to shut down (attack perhaps?) the upcoming Bristol anarchist bookfair on 7th May at Hamilton House. At a private meeting soon after, a member of PRSC spoke to 2 members of the Bookfair Collective and expressed concern at the prospect of further disorder. The Collective members advised that if the police stayed away there would be no trouble – it was a Bookfair, not a protest. The Bookfair Collective & others went on to put measures in place to defend the bookfair & those attending, if necessary.
In the event, the Bookfair, which became famous due to the sale outside of Banksy’s ‘Tesco Petrol Bomb’ poster, passed off peacefully with an attendance of circa 2000 people. The visible police presence was limited to a couple of drive-bys of police vehicles, although organisers were in no doubt that an undercover cop or two would have been present.
The Bookfair website is sadlly no more, but this Bookfair youtube promo video gives an indication of the size & range of the event, with a cracking soundtrack from Spanner, the song ‘Crisis’. 10 years on we must ask – Crisis, what’s changed? Nothing, the Crisis has merely deepended.
Original article 21/4/2021: The evening of Thursday 21 April 2011 was unusually warm, like a summer’s evening, with dress code to match. That plus the start of the Bank Holiday weekend meant that the pubs, clubs & venues around the area were busier than usual for a Thursday. Failing to note this fact…was the police’s most serious miscalculation that evening. Warm weather & booze + an anti-cop & anti-corporate mentality, was and is a toxic mix, especially as creeping gentrification threatened a vibrant counter-cultural scene, with big business over-riding vocal local opinions – the controversial Tesco store being a main example. The negative impact of that night’s police presence on the area’s party vibe, would inevitably see the party & protest hit the streets. Big time.
Raiding a longstanding squat, Telepathic Heights, in an area where there’d been numerous squats for a number of years (many then under threat of eviction), on such a night, was a bizarre mistake. Not having enough local cops to deal with an escalating situation of their own creation (shades of Bridewell 2021 eh!), and having to wait for reinforcements from outside forces to enable them to attempt to take more dominant control, marks what has become a repetitive error. Sending cops from Wales into streets of local communities like St Paul’s & Montpellier, where they tried to boss local people around, was another fundamental error…especially given the recent history of St Paul’s. If you ignore the opinions & thoughts of local people; shut them out of the decision making processes whilst beginning to make their communities unaffordable to them via gentrification; and ride in roughshod to boss them around on their way out or home. Well what can you expect?
This author didn’t live in Stokes Croft nor the neighbouring communities, and only arrived way past 11pm for a wander, after numerous messages summed up as “there’s a squat being raided and it’s really kicked off”! And it continued to ‘kick off’ until at least 3am. So if you weren’t there in 2011, or can’t remember (!), or remain unclear what sparked such a night (and another one a week later on the 28th April), then we’ll leave it to some locals to explain…
– PRSC have an archive ‘Project page’ for the No Tesco in Stokes Croft / Boycott Tesco campaign – that cover the campaign from early 2010. Cool pics, explanations, and films.
– The PRSC film – stokes croft riot ? (13mins on youtube) – gives a voice to many local opinions, plus footage. As does Cube Cinema stalwart Ben Edwards in this film – Why did the Bristol Stokes Croft Riot Happen? A Community-Based View of Events (12mins on vimeo).
– The Stokes Croft Town Crier website, (that shut down shortly after the riots), has a series of reports on the disorder & what came before, that reflect some common local views.
– ‘Local Boy’ wrote a piece for openDemocracy – Observing the Stokes Croft Riot – which was highly critical of the police, and echoes much of what has been said in relation to Bridewell in March 2021.
– BRHG has a series of pieces/events relating to Stokes Croft. They were present at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair in May 2011 in Hamilton House (when it was still a bit edgy!). This article from 2008 sets the scene for gentrification in the area – Stop the Gentrification of Central Bristol.
– local anarchist outfit Bristol Anarchist Federation produced their antagonistic take on the affair with this Freesheet (opens as pdf).
– Plus of course Banksy produced that poster, giving the Daily Fail a typical fit when they realised that “It is believed profits from the £5 poster will go towards funding the legal defence for more than 30 rioters arrested following the two nights of violence.” Well it certainly gave the newly formed Bristol Defendant Solidarity a kickstart!
Currently, when people look back at recent contemporary history whilst thinking of 2021, they may see similarities with 2011, or perhaps the Poll Tax years in the 1990’s, or the early 1980’s urban resistance to Thatcher and racist policing – and you can see what they’re getting at. But the conditions & circumstances are never exactly the same, events are never an exact repetition. For sure we need to know our local contemporary history, to understand why we are where we are, and learn from the past. But a key point about history is this – we have to make our own story. And it’s time we won again. It may be a long hot summer!
(feature image credit – PRSC then text added by AltBristol)