Grassroots groups in Bristol express solidarity with Bristol ‘riot’ defendant after guilty verdict

Protesters decorate riot shields, to symbolise self defence - At the trial of Ryan Roberts
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Two grassroots groups in Bristol have published a statement in solidarity with Ryan Roberts

On Friday 29 October – at Bristol Crown Court – Ryan was found guilty of rioting and setting fire to police vehicles.

Ryan – who’s been remanded at HMP Horfield since April – was charged following the 21 March confrontation between Avon & Somerset Police and protesters outside Bridewell police station, during a demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Bristol Anarchist Black Cross have written a joint statement, saying that they continue to stand with Ryan regardless of the verdict:

On Friday 29 October, Ryan Roberts was found guilty of riot and four charges of arson.

We continue to stand in solidarity with Ryan and all other defendants charged following the Kill the Bill demos in Bristol. We will give them all the support we can, whatever the sentences they receive.

Our hearts are heavy. We are full of rage. Ryan’s conviction only adds fuel to the fire of our hatred of the carceral system and our desire to dismantle it.

Read on...

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“Police officers punched and kicked protesters”

The statement continues, describing how Ryan’s trial was the first time that the police violence on 21 March was:

put before the courts. The court heard from a legal observer that “it was the actions of the police who pushed the crowd that caused the escalation.”

The court heard that police officers punched and kicked protesters. It heard that officers used their shields as weapons. The jury saw footage of a line of police officers in riot gear knocking two people to the ground, repeatedly hitting them with riot shields, and kicking them.

“They only call it violence when we fight back”

The two groups pointed out the hypocrisy of people being criminalised for fighting back against extreme police violence. The statement points out:

Under cross examination one officer stated:

“you can call it violence or you can call it lawful force.”

Because as [we’ve] said before – they only call it violence when we fight back.

“Every one of us has a duty to stand in solidarity with those persecuted for fighting back”

Ryan was convicted after fighting back against police violence. The Bristol groups’ statement stands by Ryan and their resistance:

it is not a crime to fight back against police violence and state repression. We cannot stand to one side when people are beaten. And every one of us has a duty to stand in solidarity with those persecuted for fighting back.

“It is the police who dehumanise us on a daily basis”

The statement goes on to point out that those in court accused of riot are up against the weight of the state, the police, the courts, and the mainstream media:

We are under no illusions that the situation is stacked against us. The mainstream media and state narratives have served to demonise those that took part in the protest on 21 March. They have labelled people thugs for daring to fight back when they’ve been battered and pepper sprayed; when they’ve been bitten by dogs and seen their friends injured. The trial judge has already stated in the cases where people have pleaded guilty that the actions that night “dehumanised the police”. But it is the police who dehumanise us on a daily basis. Every stop and search, every baton strike, every arrest is another act of dehumanisation. It is the police who are the problem. Not those who resist.

But we will change that narrative. We will expose the violence the police showed not just that night, but in our communities, on our protests and on our streets on a daily basis.

On what will happen if the police bill is finally passed, the groups state:

The repression people are currently facing in Bristol is just the start. This repression is set to get worse. The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, will make it easier for the police to criminalise and imprison protesters. But the bill is not just about protest. We stand in solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities whose way of life is being outlawed by this bill. We stand in solidarity with Black people, already bearing the brunt of a racist police force, who will be disproportionately targeted by the stop and search powers in the bill. In Bristol, Black men are nearly ten times more likely to be stopped and searched than white men.

In Bristol and across England & Wales women continue to experience sexist & misogynistic behaviour, and – all too often – assault, at the hands of police officers.

“They are scared of our anger”

The groups argue that the verdict shows the authorities are afraid of the anger of people on the streets. The statement reads:

The state is pursuing ridiculously serious charges against the Bristol protesters because they are scared. They are scared of our anger. They are scared of our passion. They are scared at our willingness to fight back. They are scared that more and more people are finally seeing the police force as the violent, racist, classist and sexist institution that it is; something that those from marginalised communities are already so acutely aware of.

New charges brought

On Tuesday 2 November, nine more people will appear at Bristol Magistrates’ Court charged with riot. One person is also charged with arson.

These new charges mean that 82 people have been arrested and 42 charged after the events of 21 March. Avon & Somerset Police last week – however – confirmed that they will not be pressing charges against 25 of those who have been arrested, and that two people have been given conditional cautions.

During Ryan’s trial last week, an officer confirmed that none of the complaints made against the police by protesters after 21 March had been upheld. This is despite an All Party Parliamentary Group report stating that some of the actions by the police in Bristol against Kill the Bill protesters potentially amounted to “criminal offences against the person“.

However, this is not surprising. In Avon and Somerset, only 1% of complaints made about racism between 2014 and 2017 were upheld. Meanwhile, figures from the Met Police from 2020 show that only one in 200 complaints were upheld. Raju Bhatt, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, described the complaints system as “dysfunctional” and “simply not fit for purpose”.

Call for support

Bristol Anarchist Black Cross is calling for supporters to write to Ryan Roberts and to donate to their Kill the Bill prisoner support fund:

The support fund has already raised nearly £25k.

“The fight continues”

The two groups conclude their statement about Ryan’s case with a message of anger, defiance, and of commitment to continue the struggle by saying:

while our hearts are heavy and our thoughts are with Ryan and their family and friends, our determination to fight and support those facing repression is undiminished. We refuse to be scared. We refuse to be intimidated.

The fight continues.

Featured image via Bristol Anarchist Black Cross (with permission)

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Get involved

  • Donate to the Kill the Bill prisoner support fund, and write to the Kill the Bill prisoners.
  • Listen to this podcast about Ryan’s case, and what people are doing in Bristol to support the Kill the Bill defendants.
  • Read our account of what happened on 21 March and our reports from Ryan’s trial.

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