You might want to check your privilege before condemning the Bristol riot

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As events in Bristol unfolded on 21 March, and as police vehicles burned, the mainstream media were quick to condemn protesters. And now we are seeing protesters themselves issuing statements, hurrying to distance themselves from the events. Politicians will be rubbing their hands with glee as activists split themselves into two camps, with one morally-superior group demonising the other, and therefore weakening our collective outrage.

Bristol’s local Extinction Rebellion group released a statement about Sunday’s events, saying:

In light of last night’s events, XR Bristol emphasises its absolute commitment to non-violence. This basic tenet is one of our core principles, and represents the values of our wide range of supporters, from grandparents to schoolchildren, to doctors, scientists, builders, shop workers, and teachers.

Within their statement they included an image of a past XR action, showing a row of activists dressed in costume facing the police.

Check your privilege

The Canary’s Kerry-Anne Mendoza wrote a response to those who were condemning Sunday’s riot. She said:

For many communities targeted by police violence, the white, middle class tendency to treat police as their mates is honestly galling. Those of us who have faced harassment and violence at the hands of police know it’s an institutional issue. We know we shouldn’t trust police accounts automatically. And honestly, given the revelations of past decades, neither should everyone else.

It is surely those with white, middle-class privilege who are most outraged by a few burnt-out police vehicles and a couple of smashed windows. If you’re reading this and feeling anger at these words, check whether you have that privilege. If you do, it’s unlikely that you’ve been very harassed by the police in your day-to-day life. Yes, I am aware that you may well have been arrested at an XR protest, and you may have possibly posted on social media that you did yoga in your police cell.

Read on...

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But if you don’t have white, middle class privilege, you will know what it’s like to live with daily police violence towards you. You know what it’s like to be racially profiled. You may well have been taken into custody, and if you have, it’s unlikely that you’ve felt safe enough to practice yoga. Someone you love may even have been murdered by the police. You will likely be asking yourself, “what’s a couple of burnt-out cop cars in comparison to someone you love dying?”

Or if you’re a woman, you might have been tricked into a relationship with an undercover police officer, or raped by a police officer. You might even have a mother, a sister or a daughter who has been murdered by a police man.

No, the police aren’t here to help you to “peacefully protest”

XR Bristol continued their statement by saying:

An organised protest can have safeguards in place, but Bristol police were warning last week of £10,000 fines for anyone who took an organisational role.

The rally yesterday belonged to no organisation. When XR plans an action we organise stewards and marshalls, including stewards trained in de-escalation, plus a reasonable degree of police liaison. The escalation of yesterday’s peaceful protest demonstrates why it is essential that organised peaceful protest remains legal.

Through XR Bristol emphasising their commitment to non-violence and to “organised peaceful protest”, they are assuming that their method of organising with stewards is the only successful way to bring about change. But this statement reeks of privilege.

For a start, a vast number of people in the UK don’t feel safe enough around the police to ‘liaise’ with them. And while XR Bristol might think this the best tactic, it is a foolish one. Because if you politely ‘liaise’ with the police, they will gather evidence on you and your fellow-protesters to use against you. They are not your friends, despite their often-friendly chatter. Their job is to protect the state, gather intelligence and to defend the status quo.

And even if you do want to ‘peacefully’ protest, there’s no guarantee that the police will let you. Take this person who was beaten up at the Sarah Everard rally in London. He told The Canary:

I am a strong believer of peaceful protesting, and I was just in the demo with some friends from work, when four officers grabbed me from the side, without explanation they put me to the floor. Whilst they were trying to handcuff me I was moving my arms because of the pain and then suddenly 10 more officers were on top of me. There was [an] officer sitting on my back, two officers on my shoulders, and the rest just using unreasonable force on me. They banged my head to the floor, scratched my hands, and the handcuffs were so tight that my wrists were bruised and knees.

Or take Sunday’s Bristol protest. The Canary’s Sophia Purdy-Moore said:

We were literally sitting on the floor shouting “this is a peaceful protest” while police hit protesters round the head with batons. At one point it looked like their horses were going to charge into the crowd.

What response did they expect?

We must continue to resist the Police Bill

The government knows by now that its hope of quietly slipping through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has failed dismally. In fact, their continuous violence towards protesters is just drawing more and more attention to it. If you’re sitting at home in a comfort that others can only dream of, please don’t condemn those who are fighting for our last slivers of freedom. Because banner-waving might not be enough to win this one.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons / Tom Anderson for The Canary

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  • Show Comments
    1. The violence smacks more than a little of deliberate incitement. What better way to get the public on your side than to burn a few police vehicles at a time when an absolutely crucial bill is before parliament. It literally seeks to ban protest. Before the pandemic the type of legislation that is being waived through would not even have been considered. We are accelerating down a dark path indeed.

    2. “But if you don’t have white, middle class privilege, you will know what it’s like to live with daily police violence towards you. You know what it’s like to be racially profiled.”

      Really? If that’s the case, why is confidence in the local police so high amongst people who identify as Chinese, Black African, Indian, Bangladeshi or Arab, for example? Why do all these groups express more confidence in the local police than those who identify as White British? https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and-the-law/policing/confidence-in-the-local-police/latest#main-facts-and-figures

      1. Statistics is a slippery beast. The survey actually shows lower confidence amongst black and mixed race than white or Asian. Also the sample size was around 35,000. The response would have differed significantly depending on the affluence of the area in which it was conducted.

        1. If you click on ‘Confidence in the local police – Spreadsheet (csv) 140 KB’, you can download the data and control for variables such as socio-economic classification, geography, gender, household income, sample size, etc. It’s interesting reading and, not surprisingly, it gives little support to Eliza Egret’s cartoonish asserions.

        1. Quite right. I now realise that this survey – and any others that suggest most people rather appreciate the police – is obviously completely made up, and that anyone who isn’t a white middle-class male is liable to be harassed and assaulted by the police on a regular basis.;-)

      2. Perhaps because some of those communities, in some areas, have had some success in working with the local plod forces to reduce community tensions.

        Perhaps because, poor white working class youth, have just as much ‘profiling’ done to them, but without any media lovies and community groups to ‘work with’ the local plod to reduce community tensions.

        Ethnic minorities are not the only group to bear the brunt of the Establishment’s front line. Poor whites are just as targetted for discriminatory policing and tactics.

        I suppose you know this. Why didn’t you just ADD to the article your take on that, rather than claiming the article was “wrong”?

    3. To defeat the prejudice against the BAME community, LGBTQ people, the disabled, all those who face daily harassment, we have to propose universal values. Division must be avoided. The argument must be that our fellow citizens are facing prejudice, harassment, violence as a matter of course. Do we accept that or de we believe in equal treatment for all? Don’t play into the hands of the casual racists, homophobes and the facistically-minded comfortable. The argument from universal rights avoids the division on which their mentality thrives.

    4. This is a brilliant article, and I couldn’t agree more. After protesting in a number of causes for many years-animal rights, anti-fascism, human rights, @narchism, environmental issues etc I’m more than well aware of this sycophantic adoration of the pigs, by ignorant middle-class, wishy-washy pricks. You’re bang-on, and I’d go on a protest with you any day!

      1. So would I, everyone who supports the Police now, needs a very thorough history lesson. I spoke up for the residents of St Paul’s in Bristol in April 1980. Nothing much seems to have changed. I am still as pissed off as I was then. Lots of love from a white woman. xx

    5. I didn’t write this.

      “Bristol rises up.
      And before anyone starts getting all cross and uppity about a police van on fire try getting more angry about homelessness, about elderly and disabled and mentally unwell and other vulnerable people living and often dying on the streets.
      About the abandonment of our elderly and the state of social care. About blanket DNARS for the elderly and disabled and those with learning disabilities like something out of a nazi instruction manual.
      About the controlled demolition of the NHS, so they can use privatisation as an excuse to fix it, about the likes of Richard fucking Branson owning a chunk of paediatrics. Wtf does he know? About this being ran for profit and to hell with actual best interests of the patient !
      About children in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world, never fucking mind children in need , the children get fuck all the CEOS of these so called charities get shiny new cars. It’s sickening.
      About paedophiles and fascists in the palace, and all this forelock tugging and fucking flag waving as if the parasitical royals will ever give one single shot about the likes of me and you. Stop this shit
      About the dictatorial government and it’s fascist new laws, about a fucked up pandemic response and thousands upon thousands of unnecessary deaths and families heartbroken, jobs lost, shitty apps that don’t fucking work, tracking activists and not tracing the real likes of corruption.
      About people dying because they can’t get medical treatment, about ailing folks laying on trolleys cos we don’t have enough nurse and medical facilities.
      About that Nzi Priti Patel and her fascist dystopian shit, about boats of immigrants being sent of to the colonies like sole fucked up dystopian nightmare, about corrupt politicians.
      About the closure of fire stations, about people dying because they can’t get to them in time, about GRENFELL ffs about cheap clasding killing people to save 5 quid a meter
      And about DWP sanctions, about the rising rates of suicide because people can’t survive even in full time work,
      about the government bailing out its mates at our expense,
      about the destruction of the environment,
      about our rights being eroded, about the disgusting level of racism and cops killing black people in this country,
      about how we can always find money for war and killing of innocents abroad,
      about second homes and four pay rises in a year for MPS who serve themselves and not us,
      about the lack of democracy,
      about education and the state it is in, about the bad handling of covid. About the plight of teachers,
      about foreign policy, which pits is all in danger
      about the lying BBC ,
      about corruption in the police force, about state corruption,
      about bank and corporate bail outs at the expense of public services ,
      about handouts to governments friends and family,
      about public transport costs,
      about how welfare needs major reform, about people starving, about elders having to choose between heating and eating, about our youth having no future to hope for,
      about the rising tide of fascism,
      about nurses and doctors and care workers being shafted and betrayed,
      about the inequality in accessing higher education,
      about sexism,
      about private fucking ambulances being ran by G4S,
      about domestic abuse refuges closing, drug and alcohol treatment centres defunded, counselling services defunding, mental health services at crisis point ,
      about lack of equipment in hospitals and the community,
      about dodgy deals with foreign dictators and other places bombed to fuck for oil and other resources,
      about wildlife being decimated, about Tories declaring animals are not sentient beings,
      about toffs hunting even though it has been legally banned…. I could go on all night
      Upset about a van on fire ?
      I don’t wanna hear it”

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