"Last Friday's behaviour from the police was the most violent I've ever seen"

Submitted by AWL on 5 April, 2021 - 9:31
Bristol Police Bill protest

We have been sent this statement from Bristol Trades Union Council plus a report of the 26 March anti-Police Bill protest in Bristol. See here for an earlier report from Bristol published in Solidarity.


Bristol TUC motion on the Bristol protests

March 30 2021

This Council strongly oppose the ill-conceived and dangerous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being proposed by the Home Secretary. To push through repressive legislation under the cover of the pandemic is awful politics and will make dreadful law.

As it stands, the Bill seeks to:
• Erode fundamental rights of protest including vital trade union actions and activities that support working people
• Draw false links between violence and the Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests
• Attack those marginalised from society, such as traveller communities and other minority groups
• Create a fake ‘culture war’ where moves to establish a more tolerant and diverse society is somehow destroying our history.
 
We are saddened by the violent scenes in our city. As a trade union movement, we believe in the right for workers to be able to protest without police harassment or violence. We condemn the police violence towards peaceful demonstrators and members of the press.  Furthermore, we note with concern the reports of police intimidation towards journalists as they are trying to carry out their job, as well as preventing independent media coverage.

These incidents need to be fully independently investigated and those responsible held to account.


OUR SAY / KILL THE BILL. Taken from the Bristol 24/7 site

‘LAST FRIDAY’S BEHAVIOUR FROM THE POLICE WAS THE MOST VIOLENT I HAVE EVER SEEN’

By a Kill the Bill protester, Wednesday March 31, 2021

I’ve been working in various roles in the community, youth and social sectors for around a decade, including the last four years in Bristol.

I have worked with some of the most disproportionately criminalised and marginalised communities including addicts, the homeless and vulnerably homed, refugees, travellers, juvenile detainees, mental health patients, young people in care, deprived/low-income neighbourhoods and BAME young people.

Although on occasion the police, as the only system we have, have supported me in these roles, they are often at best incompetent or ineffective and at worst actively harmful and violent.

I have seen how the defunding of youth and social sectors (who work at the roots of these issues) leads to an increase in crime and social issues, and believe that reallocating these funds away from the police would begin to effect long term positive change in our communities, rather than perpetuating crime and incarcerating people away from society.

As a queer person, and as a Jewish person, my identity intersects across two communities with a history of persecution at the hands of the state. I, like many other queer people, know the violence that the LGBT+ community has faced at the hands of the state and how riots such as Stonewall have been integral to our freedom and human rights. As a Jewish person, I can understand, from a specific perspective, the very real fear that people feel when the state begins to use police power to persecute minorities and ethnic groups.

So these, among other reasons, are my personal and professional reasons for opposing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and criticising the police.

You can read sources from much more knowledgeable people about the rights this bill would infringe, not just in terms of protesting but to the cultural rights and rituals of some of the UK’s most marginalised communities.

I attended the initial march on Sunday. Contrary to statements from the mayor and the “Bristol city leaders group” (many of whom are ironically not based in Bristol themselves) that the protest was made up of violent hooligans from outside the city, I’ve seen a much larger demographic.

I’ve met doctors, nurses, paramedics, youth workers, community leaders and teachers at the protests, all who are important parts of Bristol’s infrastructure and all of whom oppose the bill and remain critical of the actions of the police.

People have been administering first aid and acting as legal observers – both essential for monitoring people’s safety, documenting injuries and unlawful behaviour and noting the actions of the police.

Despite being law abiding members of the public and essentially neutral bystanders at the protests, many of these people have been assaulted by police and remain in fear that they will be targeted or criminalised simply for monitoring legalities or tending to injuries (some very serious) inflicted by the police.

I had to work through part of the initial Sunday riots, but caught the end of the violence outside Bridewell. Contrary to the (now retracted) reports of police injuries, medics have confirmed multiple serious injuries inflicted by police on protestors that night, many of which are soon to be reported in an official capacity.

I had to leave again on Tuesday’s College Green occupation, but was surprised and disgusted to hear that the conscientious and peaceful, mainly sitting, protesters I had left had been assaulted once again.

Last Friday’s behaviour from the police was the most violent I have ever seen. I followed the back of the police line from a distance, checking behind them for fallen and injured protesters.

Countless people lay on the floor injured, ranging from concussions and bruises to serious head wounds, dog bites and pepper spray-induced temporary blindness. There were many more injuries I didn’t witness directly but most of us will have seen the many videos documenting these.

On one occasion I sat with an autistic man who had been trying to reason with the police and calm the crowd behind him. He had been hit in the chest with a shield, then hit again as he tried to stand up and get out of the way. He’d then fallen back and hit his head and arm on the ground. He was in a state of shock, with a possible serious head injury.

As I was administering first aid we were shouted at and threatened by police (who at this point were waiting idly by as the main group of protesters were in the distance). One police officer smirked when I asked him what he thought of the injured protestor on the floor as he walked past. I’m only speaking from my own experience and what I saw, but there is evidence mounting that suggests this was not an isolated incident.

As we move forward, we have now seen the police change tactics. They have realised (and proved) that without heavy police presence, and weaponised riot officers, protests remain largely peaceful.

This should not be misconstrued as an apology though – they haven’t apologised or acknowledged the violence caused on Friday, and will now be using their lack of action at Tuesday’s protest to uphold their claims that they are enforcers of peace and justice, not perpetrators of violence and institutional injustice.

Remain cynical, and stay wary on Saturday’s march.

• This account comes from a Kill the Bill protester and first aider who wishes to stay anonymous

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