I’ve just been sentenced to 21 months in jail for the Bristol KTB protests. My punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Christopher Hind
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Christopher Hind was sentenced to 21 months on 11 November 2022 for his role in the Bristol uprisings on 21 March 2021. This article is republished, with permission, from Christopher and the Network for Police Monitoring.

What would you do if you saw a man hitting another person with a stick?

A lot of people might see this, assume it’s none of their business and walk briskly past with their head down. But let’s say you’re not one of those people. You can’t just hurry off and forget what you’ve seen. It’s an ugly spectacle and you wonder if you should do something about it. On further inspection, you realise that the person on the receiving end of this man’s stick is unarmed, which makes things a lot more serious. This has now become a real cause for concern, and you start to wonder not if anything should be done about it, but what exactly should be done about it. You look around at other people who are witnessing the same thing, you’re all looking back and forth at each other with startled expressions, not knowing exactly how to react.

What if the unarmed person being hit by the man with the stick is also a lot smaller and younger than their assailant? The situation now takes another, darker turn and, unless you’re somewhat empathetically challenged, it surely then becomes impossible not to take some kind of action. How you may choose to act in this situation might vary depending on what kind of person you are. Maybe you’re hard as nails and you wade in to try and restrain the attacker. Maybe you point and shout to raise the alarm to other passersby. Maybe you whip out your phone and upload it to Tik Tok. Of course, the most common course of action would be to phone the police. But what if this was the police? The scenario now takes on a whole new meaning.

And what if the person with the stick was wearing a police uniform?

Imagine all the same fundamental elements apply – there is a large man with a blunt weapon attacking a younger, smaller, unarmed person in the street; but now the attacker is wearing a police uniform. The clothing this man is wearing should seem fairly insignificant in this context, and in a sense it is – because what you are witnessing remains completely unacceptable no matter what clothing is being worn. But how should you react now the attacker is wearing a police uniform? Do you phone the authorities that police the police, or send out the bat signal?

We can all agree that large men hitting smaller people with sticks is generally bad. You don’t need to be a high-powered lawyer to know there are laws against it. So why do these laws seem to disappear in a puff of smoke as soon as it’s a policeman swinging his stick at people?

Let’s say you didn’t see this take place in the real world but saw it in a video on the Mail Online. A policeman hitting a young, unarmed protester with his stick. You get really angry, you’re fuming, and as the red mist descends you bang on that capslock and write, “WELL SHE MUST OF DONE SOMETHING TO DESERVE IT!!!!!!!” And then you go off for a little cry and punch a wall or something. A more composed contributor might make the point that something must have happened to provoke the violence. So then someone informs you that what they did was stick their finger up at the officer. “SEE THAT WOT U GET M8 LOCK HER UP AN THROW WAY THE KEY!!” would be a common online response, especially in the comments section of the second-most-read news outlet in the UK.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Would you say the punishment fits the crime here? Is the punishment for flipping off a police officer to be flogged repeatedly with a baton? Is this the iron age? Also, if a large crowd of people witnesses this in real life, not just once but on multiple occasions by numerous officers, do you think there might be some kind of backlash?

Read on...

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Imagine you’re a man in his forties. You shine your shoes regularly and you wear a goatee with pride. You drink protein shakes and work out in your home gym every chance you get. You’re proud of your bulky mass, it makes you feel protected yet powerful, and as a result you’re not an easily intimidated person.

Let’s say one evening you, a large goatee-adorning man in his forties, are coming out of your local Tesco Express; you’ve just been to pick up Adele’s latest album, and as you’re walking back across the car park someone of radically less mass than you gives you the finger. This considerably smaller and much younger person stands right in front of you and just flips you off, right up in your face, in front of other onlookers. Do you, a large, bulky, goatee-sporting, protein-shake-drinking, home-gym-going man in his forties – a man of reasonable firmness – fear for your safety? It’d be weird if you do, but let’s say you would, for the benefit of the tape. Let’s say you’re so scared that you drop your Adele CD and go straight for your metal bar that you have hanging from your belt (just in case someone flips you off) and swing it as hard as possible at this person, in self-defence of course – because obviously, you’re really scared.

If you were an onlooker and saw someone in a carpark react in this way, to such a minor transgression, would you think that was okay?

It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

So, now pretend you’re this same man, but you’re at work. You work as a police officer and have trained further in the field of crowd control. It could be appreciated that hundreds of protesters gathering right in front of you and your colleagues, to vent how angry they are at how you’ve dealt with them, could make you fear for your safety. But if your unnecessarily violent approach to crowd dispersal is the exact cause of the instant repercussions you and your colleagues are at the receiving end of, then why keep doing it? If this is the reaction you routinely get from heavy-handed policing then why use this approach in the first place?

Crowds can obviously become rowdy, and as groupthink takes hold the vibe can plummet suddenly, so you and your work mates put on protective vests and helmets, you all grab shields and truncheons and you run out there and start hitting people? Do you think that’ll calm things down? It’s certainly not de-escalation 101. And not only are you hitting people, you’re hitting people indiscriminately, including the smaller, more vulnerable people in the crowd, and then expecting everyone else to just turn around and walk away.

It doesn’t really make sense, does it? If we don’t want big public altercations that end up with police vans on fire, then de-escalation is the only way to prevent that. But in theory, if you wanted to provoke a crowd of people who were protesting about worryingly authoritarian laws being passed, then a more violent approach would start to make sense.

As a normal person, you’d never want to see violence on our streets. But as a police officer, media mogul, or a politician – maybe it does serve a purpose. If you were a politician who was attempting to pass laws that attack the very foundations of democracy by repealing the right to protest, and your mate was a wealthy media tycoon, and you were having lunch together (on a purely personal basis, and definitely not a political one, promise ;-)) you might suggest to your friend that, “maybe it’d be rather handy to make these protesters look like unruly savages. I say, here’s an idea – let’s get the police to provoke them into an angry response by hitting them indiscriminately with those stick things we gave them, and then you can frame it, in that clever way you seem to be so adept at, so that your readers think the protesters are rather nasty fellows. Maybe you could put ‘DEEPLY MARXIST LOONY LEFTY ENGINEERS OF EXTREME TERROR AND CHAOS ATTACK POLICE IN BOTCHED ATTEMPT AT WORLD TAKEOVER’ on the front cover. They only pulled down that statue of Colston so they could replace it with one of Stalin, you know. Tell you what, old chap, the police themselves could even issue a false statement saying they’ve suffered broken bones, it doesn’t matter if they had to retract it later, just put the retraction in small print on page 30 or something. All that would work wonders for the PCSC bill that we’re trying to put through.”

Any protesters who’ve experienced these situations firsthand knows that this is actually an age-old tactic. It’s especially beneficial in the context of the PCSC bill, but it’s a tactic that exists not only in the form of aggressive policing but also in the form of agent provocateurs and other forms of baiting to encourage people to behave in a way that can be re-contextualised in the news to undermine the integrity of protests. Escalation and provocation of this kind can be used to shape public opinion in a way that benefits the political discourse of that time.

If de-escalation is the only direction of traffic in terms of keeping the peace, it seems that riot police work in direct opposition to that model, and the people they most often clash with seem to be those who are trying to change things for the better. To serve and protect is their motto, but in terms of protest, it seems that the public is not included in that.

I’m not a violent person

I was arrested and charged with riot after they matched my DNA with blood they found on one of their riot shields. On that evening, I was hit on the hand and knee with a truncheon, kicked in the ribs, whacked on the head (hence the blood) and pepper-sprayed. I’m not saying I was a saint during that altercation, but I’ve got a feeling I did much less damage to them than they did to me. I’m not a violent person, but when you see an unarmed person of diminutive stature get hit with a baton at full force for sticking their finger up at an officer, it’s extremely hard not to react.

For a year and a half now, I’ve had a black cloud looming over me. I ended up deciding to plead guilty to violent disorder, as some kind of weird bargaining tactic to minimise the damage. I can have more of an influence outside than in, so the less amount of time I spend in there the better. On my return, I’m going to make sure it doesn’t end here, they’ve made a strong enemy for themselves. Their primitive system of punishment will bite them in the ass, and I’m going to make sure it really fucking hurts.

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