Last week thousands of people took to the streets of Bristol as part of the nationwide resistance against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Mass protests were met by violence from an army of riot police who were drafted in from all around the south-west. 25 people have been arrested so far in relation to the protest on Sunday 21 March.
In the last week, I have seen police attacking crowds with dogs and charging them with horses. I’ve seen riot police slamming their shields down on the heads of protesters. On Friday 26 March, I saw a man knocked to the ground by a line of riot police. He was only saved from being trampled underfoot by the same police officers after the crowd dragged him to safety. Many people have been arrested, but it hasn’t stopped people from taking to the streets. There are two more Kill the Bill protests planned in Bristol this week, which will make five in a fortnight.
Now, Bristol Defendant Solidarity has launched a campaign to raise up to £30,000 to support those arrested as part of Bristol’s Kill The Bill protests.
Here’s just a few of the reasons why it’s important to stand with those arrested.
Because the mainstream won’t tell the real story
The people who demonstrated at Bristol’s Bridewell Police Station on 21 March were branded as ‘thuggish’ by Pritti Patel and demonised in the mainstream media. Police claims that officers suffered broken bones and a punctured lung have turned out to be outright lies and eyewitness accounts of the day have shown that people defended themselves after police launched a brutal attack against demonstrators.
It was then that the siege of Bridewell police station began. Wanted pictures of the demonstrators circulated by Avon & Somerset police have been printed not only in the right-wing press, but also in supposedly left-leaning media like the Independent. It was only when a journalist from the Mirror was attacked by the police that the mainstream media began reporting on the police violence.
The people of Bristol have been left to defend themselves against an army of police for the past week, and when we’ve fought back we’ve been branded monsters. Those arrested during the protests are only going to receive more condemnation from the mainstream as they’re dragged through the court process. That’s why it’s so important that radicals offer them unconditional, practical, and material support.
Because the state will try to divide and pacify us
Divide and rule is a time honoured tactic of the British state to control populations. To give just a couple of examples, British colonialists have played nationalists and unionists against each other in Ireland and manipulated the divisions between Muslims and Hindus in India.
The divide and rule game works just the same way here. Police and government spokespeople will try to pacify us by making the argument that some protesters and those arrested are beyond the pale. And it’s also why groups need to think carefully before they listen to mainstream narratives and put out statements condemning the protesters.
We need to ignore the lies and stand with all those accused.
Because we’ve seen it all before
We know what’s coming. When people fight back against injustice, the state tries to counteract the resistance. People arrested at the Kill the Bill demonstrations will face a politically motivated crackdown.
The state’s response to previous street movements and insurrections – like the anti Poll Tax riots, the student fees movement, and the 2011 UK riots – was to impose draconian sentences against those arrested. Those facing prosecutions after being arrested at Kill the Bill demonstrations may well face the same treatment.
They are also likely to be given harsh bail conditions, designed to isolate them from people who might support them. Prosecutions also very often lead to people losing their livelihoods. Court cases can take years to go to trial, the stress on defendants is immense, and even if people are eventually acquitted, lives can still be ruined in the process.
The defendants are going to need all of our support and solidarity.
Defending ourselves against repression is a part of struggle
If we are going to build a movement capable of stopping the Policing Bill, we are going to face repression. If we are going to succeed, we need to defend ourselves. Supporting those arrested and imprisoned is a necessary and vital part of this self-defence.
Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.
Photos by Shoal Collective
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