Kill the Bill protester Jasmine York has been sentenced to prison after putting her body on the line to defend women from police violence.
She’s one of 82 people who were arrested – most of them for riot – following a demonstration in Bristol against the draconian police bill. York has been sentenced to nine months, half of which will be served in prison. Meanwhile, 14 others have already received prison sentences for taking part in the protest.
Dubious arson conviction
A jury found Jasmine guilty of arson. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) insisted that during the demonstration Jasmine pushed a rubbish bin towards a burning police car, and the bin added fuel to the fire. But Jasmine insisted she was using the bin to try to create a barrier between her and the police. Crucially, there was no evidence whatsoever that the bin in question ever caught fire or fuelled anything. Despite this, she’s going to prison.
The Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign (BARC) is made up of a number of Kill the Bill defendants and their supporters. It said of the sentencing:
We’re proud of Jasmine, who tried hard to protect other women from the police and was severely beaten by them herself. We’re glad that she was found unanimously not guilty of riot, and also not guilty of a more serious form of arson [with intent to endanger lives] in her trial last month.
The CPS has spent ample resources prosecuting Kill the Bill defendants. It has painted them as an angry “mob” that worked together to beat up police officers and set fire to police vehicles.
In his sentencing, judge James Patrick stated:
You were very well aware of damage caused to police equipment which is paid for by the community, for the benefit of the community. Rather than standing by, you played your part by continuing the lawlessness.
Yet in her week-long trial, the jury saw ample evidence of the police themselves behaving unlawfully. They saw evidence of officers cracking the edges of their shields onto people’s heads, and officers hitting and kicking protesters while on the ground. The jury saw photos of Jasmine’s dark bruises at the hands of the police. Her defence barrister Russell Fraser emphasised that “time and time again” Jasmine put her own body in harm’s way to protect others.
During her trial, Fraser said:
The one consistent thing [Jasmine] does is that she comes to the aid of other women. Consider the woman thrown back into the crowd. She moves across the line for that reason. There’s not many of us who would do that sort of thing, you might think.
Cracking down on anyone who resists state repression
The judge summed up his sentencing by saying:
Your offending played a part in a very serious incident that caused lasting damage to public and private property. I would fail in my duty if I didn’t impose an immediate sentence. You will serve half of the nine months in prison.
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that our increasingly fascistic state is keen to make an example of the Bristol residents who took part in the demonstration. After all, scenes of the Bristol unrest were broadcast around the world. They drew international attention to both the government’s new laws and to police brutality. The state is desperate to keep its citizens in line and to terrify them into obedience. And the best way to do this is to hand down harsh prison sentences.
We recognise that the legal system is designed to maintain inequality, protect the police, and prevent political dissent. We know that the justice of the courts is a tool the state uses to preserve and defend itself.
Indeed, Jasmine is just one of fifteen who’ve been made an example of by receiving prison sentences following the Kill the Bill demonstrations. Back in December, the same judge gave Ryan Roberts a massive 14-year sentence.
Although we were hoping for a non-custodial sentence [for Jasmine], this wasn’t unexpected – the repression following Kill the Bill protests has been harsh. The police and Judge Patrick are trying to send a message to anyone who takes a stand. Just last week, Mariella was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison.
Mariella Gedge-Rogers was found guilty of riot after being brutally attacked by police on the same demonstration. She was kneed to the ground by an officer, dragged around by another, and held down by three more. As The Canary reported:
Mariella is a Woman of Colour. She said that being “kneed to the floor” was especially frightening in the light of the murder of George Floyd, who died of suffocation as a result of Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck.
It’s telling that none of the police officers who were caught on footage attacking people are facing any accountability whatsoever for their brutal actions. They continue to keep their jobs while our friends go to prison.
Meanwhile, the wider public barely questions whether it’s legitimate that an armoured and trained gang can brutalise communities and beat up protesters. It’s widely accepted – especially among white, middle class communities – that this gang’s use of violence is legitimate, and that it can be trusted to carry arms.
2022 will see many more Kill The Bill trials, and potentially many more people going to prison. We can expect the state to put a spin on all the trials, depicting the police as a force that was attacked and fearful for officers’ lives. Don’t fall for this rhetoric – the police, the court, and the prison system are all in place to crush our spirit. But as BARC says:
We wont go quietly and this is not the end. Collective self defence is our greatest weapon!
Featured image via Eliza Egret
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