The establishment has reacted with horror to the furious protest that erupted in Bristol on Sunday. Around 5,000 people joined a demonstration against the new Tory police bill that would make it much harder for people to protest.
The action was also driven by fury at the death of Sarah Everard, suspected to have been killed by a cop, and years of racist policing. One Bristol Live reporter said Bristol city centre was “in the control of thousands of people”.
Demonstrators laid siege to Bridewell police station in Bristol, fought the cops and burned police vans. Tory home secretary Priti Patel described it as “thuggery and disorder by a minority”.
Avon and Somerset Police Federation boss Andy Roebuck said, “This is the worst violence in Bristol for many, many years.” And Bristol’s Labour mayor Marvin Rees called it a “shameful day for Bristol”.
But the real violent thugs were the cops.
Bristol university student Faisa told Socialist Worker that she joined the protest after hearing that cops were on the attack. “I saw a tweet saying that peaceful protesters were being pepper sprayed,” she said.
“Everybody keeps milking the fact that some police officers were hurt. But lots of protesters were hurt.
“I saw three police in riot gear corner two protesters. They were hitting them with batons and throwing punches. A police woman on a horse tried to reverse her horse into protesters who were cornered.
“I saw police just provoking people in front of them. One called a girl who wasn’t saying anything to them a ‘fucking bitch’. It wasn’t caught on camera.”
Riot police used pepper spray, batons, dogs and horses against protesters. But now the mainstream media is full of denunciations of the “lawlessness” of demonstrators.
Marvin Rees claimed the protest was “not political”. It’s a lie. The protest drew people from various campaigns including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.
“It’s so important to remember how many people were peacefully protesting during the day,” said Faisa. “All those people came out in solidarity. We’ve been fighting all these different struggles—anti-racism and anti-sexism. This bill would infringe on all of those.”
She added that scenes of burning police vehicles “look dramatic”. “But I think it’s actually a huge under-reaction given what happened to Sarah Everard,” she added. “Property is replaceable. Sarah can’t be returned.”
There are already calls to hound those who protested. But it’s right to protest against a vicious system that spawns violence against women and then tries to block the right of people to fight back.
Several other big protests took place against the bill at the weekend, including in Brighton, Newcastle and Manchester. More will be needed to push back the cops and the Tories, and to defend the right to protest.
“At the end of the day, people were frustrated,” said Faisa. “The government should take what happened as a warning. If they proceed to take our rights away, we will not be quiet about it.”
‘No justice, no peace’
About 1,500 people rallied and marched in Brighton on Saturday chanting, “Kill the Bill” and, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
The protest was made up mainly of school, college and university students. It also had support from Brighton and Hove Trades Council, Acorn and the UCU union branch at Brighton university. Its size is testament to the anger at the brutality displayed towards young women by Sussex police during the vigil for Sarah Everard in Brighton a week before.
Speakers from Brighton Black Lives Matter highlighted the institutional violence, racism and sexism of Sussex police.
Christian reports, “Several local cases were brought up. They included Blessing Olusegun, a young black woman whose suspicious disappearance last year was put down to drowning. And Shana Grice, a teenager killed in 2016 after harassment and stalking that the police blamed on her rather than her murderer.”
Aflo, a poet from Brighton BLM, told the rally, “If we are going to kill this bill we need to stick together.
“Because let’s face it, if protest didn’t work, they wouldn’t be trying to stop us!”
Up to 1,000 people joined an angry protest that defied the cops in Newcastle. One demonstrator told Socialist Worker, “We ended up marching through Newcastle illegally.
“They kettled protesters at Monument but they didn’t have enough to do that to protesters at the Civic Centre.
“It was absolutely fantastic—really militant and angry. People were chanting, ‘Whose streets? Our streets.’
“Lots of women spoke about their experiences of harassment and violence. And there was support for marginalised people such as Travellers in terms of the police bill.”
Protester Raj said the young protesters “ran rings” around the cops who eventually “gave up and withdrew”. “Clearly the police didn’t realise how organised we actually were,” he said.
“It definitely has built the confidence of young people.”
Thousands of people also marched in Manchester on Saturday over violence against women and the police bill. They brought the city centre to a halt.
Crowds chanted, “Kill the Bill” as they marched through the city.