Charly May Pitman was sentenced to three years in prison on 7 July for her part in last year’s Kill the Bill demonstration in Bristol. On 21 March 2021, thousands of people took to the streets to resist the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, and in anger at the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer.
A large crowd of supporters packed out the courtroom and gathered outside the court to give Charly a send off. People chanted “Charly we’re proud of you, you are not alone” and “our passion for freedom is stronger than your prisons”.
Charly went to the protest because she had been shocked to hear about the brutal rape and murder of Sarah.
Nerida Harford-Bell – defending Charly – told the court:
Sarah Everard was a young woman like Ms Pitman, she was walking the streets and she was attacked.
She said that Charly went to the protest to remember Sarah:
she went out to pay her respects – and to protect the right of women to be on the streets.
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Sentenced for “simply standing her ground”
Charly is one of at least 82 people arrested following a succession of protests against the draconian PCSC Bill. During the protests, police hit people over the head with batons, cracked their shields onto activists’ skulls, and set police dogs on them. 62 people reported sustaining injuries from police violence.
Bristol Anti Repression Campaign (BARC) commented:
Charly has been sentenced for simply standing her ground near the front of the crowd, in the face of a police line in full riot gear. The evidence against her amounted to a few kicks towards officers, and throwing a small object. Video played in court by the defence clearly shows that – at the time when Charly fought back – the police were using extreme violence against the crowd, bringing their riot shields up above their heads and thrusting them down at protesters (in a practice known as blading), kicking demonstrators while they were on the floor, and striking people on the head with long batons.
Harford-Bell asked Judge Lambert to give a suspended sentence. But Lambert said that there was “little room for mercy” as the riot charge left “little room for manoeuvre”.
BARC pointed out that the jury in Charly’s case didn’t reflect the diversity of Bristol. They said:
The jury in Charly’s case took just over an hour to come back. They couldn’t have properly discussed the evidence in Charly’s case in that time. The jury was majority white, and middle-aged. On the day of the verdict one jury member came to court in a union jack t-shirt. [BARC] stands with Charly, and with all of those who are in prison or going through the court system.
BARC explained the devastating impact of the riot cases:
So far, 20 people have been sentenced to prison time for their role in Bristol’s 21st March 2021 uprising against police violence, that began outside Bridewell Police station. Five more people will be sentenced this summer, and at least 20 people are still awaiting trial. Two others have been found not guilty of riot.
Most of the sentences have been for between three and six years, but Ryan Roberts was given a massive 14 year prison sentence last year. We are full of anger at the government which is enacting laws to take away our freedom, and at the police who use violence to brutalise those who speak out.
BARC expressed anger against the system that has imprisoned its comrades, and reaffirmed its support for those who fought back:
We are full of rage at the so called ‘justice’ system that helps to hold this system in place.
We are also full of inspiration at the spirit of rebellion that poured out onto the streets outside Bridewell. We are proud of the rebels of 21st March, we will not forget our comrades who are in prison. Their resistance, and the draconian sentences they are facing, are already inspiring a new generation of people in Bristol to fight.
The PCSC Act is only the tip of the iceberg
BARC says that the only way to resist the government’s new legislation is to build up our communities’ capacity to defend ourselves:
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act is now law, despite massive public opposition. The government is now enacting new repressive measures, such as the Public Order Bill and the Nationality & Borders Act. These pieces of legislation are a massive assault on all of us, and we must resist them by making ourselves ungovernable. We will do this by building up our communities capabilities to support one another, to defend ourselves, and to fight back.
The group pointed out that this state legislation is applied unequally, and it disproportionately affects marginalised communities:
The mainstream media has focused on how the new powers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act will affect demonstrators. But we know that the police and the ‘justice’ system use their violence disproportionately against working class people and people of colour. This unequal treatment can be clearly seen in the death of Oladeji Omishore, a Black man who drowned in June 2022 whilst trying to escape the violence of the Metropolitan Police.
The Act also aims to destroy Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities’ nomadic lifestyle, and it’s up to us to stand with them as they face the oppression of the state.
BARC concluded their statement with a message of solidarity for the Kill the Bill defendants, and an invitation to others experiencing state repression to join together in struggle:
BARC stands with all of the communities experiencing the violence of the police and the court system. We feel absolute love and rage for Charly. We stand with each and every one of the defendants who stood up for us all last year. We hope that we can connect with others who are struggling right now, to support each other, and to fight.
People in Bristol are trying to raise £60k to support those in prison. You can donate to their crowdfunder here.
Featured image by Eliza Egret
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