The state tries to portray a ‘vulnerable’ and ‘disorientated’ protester as a rioter in Bristol Kill The Bill trial

Demonstrators and police at the March 21 Kill the Bill protest in Bristol
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Another Kill The Bill activist has been standing trial in Bristol this week. Charli-Mae Pitman is one of at least 82 people who were arrested following a succession of protests against the draconian Police 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 injuries.

Charli-Mae is charged with riot after attending the protest on 21 March, which saw police vehicles set on fire and police station windows smashed after the police attacked demonstrators. There were calls by politicians for an investigation to examine the violent and disproportionate policing of the protests, but of course, this has not happened. Instead, it is the protesters who find themselves in the dock.

Charli-Mae told the court that she attended the protest to join the vigil for Sarah Everard, who had been murdered by a police officer. Accused of joining in chants such as “Whose streets? Our streets”, she said:

It was personal to me because of Reclaim The Nights… It was a solidarity gesture so that women can walk freely in the night without being hurt.

“Vulnerable”, “confused” and “disorientated”

Prosecutor Sarah Regan attempted to portray Charli-Mae – a young woman suffering from anxiety, who lost her two friends in the massive crowd, and whose phone had died so she had no way of contacting them – as a rioter who was part of a “violent mob”. Rather than acting with others around her, Charli-Mae said that she was “vulnerable”, “confused” and “disorientated”.

Regan portrayed the police as a defenceless force who were attacked with “missiles”. Meanwhile, police officers who took the stand also fed into a narrative that they acted purely in self defence.

But two police officers admitted that they had used not just their batons, but their shields, to attack the crowd. In a statement that was read out, PC Williams said:

Read on...

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I performed multiple shield and baton strikes…

The jury was played a number of pieces of footage, a lot of which showed the extreme violence of the police officers that has already been well-documented in both The Canary and the mainstream press.

Defending women

Charli-Mae herself is accused of standing at the front of the crowd, kicking out at PC Bowers and hitting him on his helmet. She said that she kicked out:

because I saw others around me, including myself, be pushed and shoved by police. I struck out to make space for myself and create a bubble.

Bell asked her how she felt at that moment. She said:

Frustrated. I went for a peaceful protest and police were in front of me in riot gear. It made me feel intimidated.

Charli-Mae told the jury that she was hit and shoved by police using their shields, and that she fell several times. She said that she saw a woman struck multiple times by a police officer using a baton. Bell asked her how she felt when she saw others struck by the police. She replied:

scared, actually.

Asked if she felt like she was in imminent danger, she said:

yes.

Defence barrister Harford-Bell said:

She was – is – very protective of others. She – no doubt then and no doubt now – felt very protective in particular of other women. She had seen her friend being attacked…

We know that she says she acted because she was defending another.

During the protest, she picked up something from the ground – which she said was a piece of paper or cardboard – and threw it towards the police. She said:

I didn’t do it maliciously… It wasn’t a gesture to hit the police. It was to release my frustration at that situation. They’d released dogs and horses at this point. I’m a bit scared of dogs.

Regan asked her why she didn’t leave the scene. She said that she didn’t feel safe leaving on her own. She recalled:

Every time I went to move back I was pushed forward. I didn’t want to turn round and just leave because I was scared of what was going on behind me.

Targeting Bristol’s protesters

The targeting of Charli-Mae is part of the state’s ongoing persecution and repression of the Bristol residents who took to the streets last March.

Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign (BARC), which is made up of a number of the defendants and their supporters, released a statement of support for Charli-Mae. It said:

The protest took place just days after Sarah Everard’s murder by a police officer. The brutality the police used to shut down the protest reminded us again of the violence of policing. And the aftermath of the protest – the arrests, raids, harsh prison sentences and trumped up charges – reminds us of the violence, sometimes less visible but just as scarring, of the entire criminal justice system.

Harsh prison sentences

BARC continued:

We’ve been disgusted by the number of harsh prison sentences that have been handed out following the protest. We see this as political repression — it’s clear the police and courts are sending out a message that anyone who opposes them will be heavily punished. Last year, Ryan Roberts was given a shocking 14 year sentence for their involvement in the protests, and we’ve seen people receive prison time for ‘crimes’ like nicking a policeman’s hat!

These harsh sentences illustrate how the court system criminalises protest and punishes those who act for social change.

The jury is likely to reach a verdict tomorrow.

Featured image via Shoal Collective

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