Anger poured out onto the streets of Ely, Cardiff on the night of Monday 22 May after two teenagers died in a collision on the road. The boys have been named as Harvey Evans, 15, and Kyrees Sullivan, 16.
Alun Michael, the Police and Crime Commissioner in South Wales, initiallly denied widespread community accusations that a police chase caused the teenagers’ deaths. He told the Independent on 23 May that:
It would appear that there were rumours, and those rumours became rife, of a police chase, which wasn’t the case…
However, later that same day, evidence started to emerge that the police’s account of events in Ely was untrue. CCTV showed two people on an electric bicycle being followed by the police just before 6pm, moments before the crash took place.
BREAKING: CCTV footage, verified by the BBC, appears to show police following two people on a bike just minutes before the crash in Ely in Cardiff – hours before rioting.
South Wales Police & Crime Commissioner previously said the chase didn't happen. https://t.co/5F6Ne8Djl4
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— Peter Gillibrand (@GillibrandPeter) May 23, 2023
Despite the CCTV footage, Michael continued to insist that the boys weren’t chased. He repeated his claim on the morning of 24 May on Radio Wales Breakfast. Then, at around 11am, he conceded that there was a “possibility” of a chase.
Confrontations with the police broke out in Ely after a 100-150 strong crowd gathered to mourn the boys. A clear story emerged on Twitter that the heavy police presence provoked the mourning crowd, and that officers assaulted people:
He was shoving the kid hard – really not needed, the kid was just wound up. I stood between em fast to stand the situation down and let the kid back off and away. Nearly pushed him to the floor the last time. Totally unnecessary force.
— John Urquhart 🎄 #AintAsking (@TheDryhtscipe) May 22, 2023
John Urquhart, who witnessed events unfold, took matters into their own hands and brought water and medical assistance to the crowd. They also handed out masks. In one of their last tweets of the night, they expressed anger at what had happened:
I'm so angry I'm finding it hard to leave. None of this had to happen today. Now the grief will be mingled with utterly unnecessary but inevitable violence, a microcosm of the greater inevitability of violence throughout society today.
Ever from the top to the bottom.
— John Urquhart 🎄 #AintAsking (@TheDryhtscipe) May 23, 2023
If you're stuff got broke during this, that sucks. Sorry about that. Don't let it affect your solidarity with your fellow working class. Take it as a reason to work with your community to develop better and more consistance tactics of self defence.
— Anarchist 💣Federation ❤🖤 (@AnarchistFed) May 23, 2023
Commissioner Michael’s backtracking regarding police involvement is by no means an isolated incident, either. The force often put out false statements after they have caused people’s deaths. To give just one example, Territorial Support Group (TSG) officer Simon Harwood killed newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson in 2009.
Police initially said that Ian had died from existing health conditions, and that his family had said they were “not surprised” by his death. The Met closed ranks, getting a tame pathologist to do the autopsy. Disgraced pathologist Freddy Patel said that Ian had died of a heart attack. He was later discredited, and struck off the register of forensic pathologists.
Video footage of the incident showed that Ian had been a bystander at the G20 protests, and had been struck from behind by PC Harwood, causing his death. He’d done nothing to provoke the TSG.
What happened in Ely should remind us that we should take police statements with a generous helping of salt. We should also see the riot in Ely for what it was – an expression of grief over the deaths, and an outpouring of community anger against the police.
An expression of grief and rage
Back in 2021, another confrontation with the police broke out in Mayhill, in nearby Swansea. A confrontation with the police took place at a vigil for local teenager Ethan Powell. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) threw the book at those who got arrested, charging 27 people. 18 adults convicted got a total of 83 years in prison. The CPS charged the Mayhill defendants with riot, which is the most serious public order charge in English law, carrying a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.
Similarly, 35 people have been jailed for a total of 112.5 years so far after a 2021 anti-police uprising in Bristol. The vast majority of them were initially charged with riot.
Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign (BARC), which consists of some of those who were arrested in Bristol, as well as their supporters, sent a message of solidarity to the community of Ely. The group said:
In the classic deceiving and manipulative nature of the police, they have openly and confidently lied about their involvement, and the media has lapped up their story, condemning those who took to the street in rightful anger, diverting people’s attention from the truth.
We hope that people will see that this is not an isolated incident but that this has happened time and time again. We think of Mark Duggan, we think of Cynthia Jarret, we think of Chris Kaba; our thoughts go out to all of those families too at this time. The police, and only the police are to blame for every part of this incident.
Our hearts are truly shaken and we can’t begin to know how those close to the community feel at this time. We hope that the community can find strength and not allow the cowardliness of the police or the deception of the media to shake them.
Riot has previously been a seldom-used charge. For example, the CPS charged the 2011 UK riot defendants with less serious offences. But in the current political climate, there is a serious chance that the CPS could charge the people arrested in Ely on Monday night with rioting.
The courts will do whatever they can to criminalise and imprison those who stood up to the police in Ely. Community self-defence doesn’t end with confronting the police on the streets; it also means supporting those arrested. If events follow a similar course to those in Mayhill and Bristol, then the people of Ely are going to need our solidarity and support.
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