Thousands of people took to the streets of towns and cities across Britain on Saturday after riot police attacked protesters in Bristol the night before.
Thousands of young, angry marchers had come out in Bristol on Friday over the Tories’ protest-smashing police bill. It was a show of defiance against police violence, which has broken up two other Kill the Bill protests in the city last week.
Charlie, one of the protesters. told Socialist Worker the police were “trying to show strength to intimidate the crowd” on Friday. “When we arrived there were already riot police with helmets and batons,” he said.
“It felt like they were trying to get revenge and reassert their authority.”
The crowd started to disperse after dark when the police tried to arrest people, but it was met with heavy-handed repression.
Yet the state and press has tried to blame protesters for the violent scenes. Tory prime minister Boris Johnson condemned the violence as “disgraceful” and described the scenes as a “mob intent on violence”.
The police were the mob intent on violence.
Avon and Somerset police had claimed after last Sunday’s protest that officers suffered broken bones. This turned out to be a lie.
“After Sunday all the media sided with police,” Charlie said. “They’ve stuck with backing the police. Those that have been injured by police don’t get any recognition.
“I’ve seen so many people talking on social media about how they’ve been assaulted by police.
“The police are trying to show they are dominant and in control. They do that by being violent to peaceful protesters.”
On Friday night people chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets.”
“It’s about reclaiming the streets from the police,” Charlie said. “We have a lot of reason to be scared late at night because of the police—especially when they are out in riot gear stamping their authority.
“As the crowds get smaller and it gets dark people get their heads smacked, even those sitting with their hands in the air.”
On Saturday around 2,000 protesters marched in Sheffield.
Protester Patrick said the demonstration was “spontaneous and the creativity was huge”. “We marched to the police station in town and did a sit down protest,” he told Socialist Worker.
“The crowd shouted, ‘Acab,’ and, ‘No comment,’ when police tried to find out what was happening.
“It was electric and really powerful.”
Patrick thinks a year of lockdown and Tory failures contributed to the protest’s success. “We’ve had a year of absolute brutality from the government,” he said. “It’s backed the bosses and the rich, and people have felt so isolated and downtrodden.
“Now protest, the one thing we have, they are trying to take away from us. But there are so many new faces out on the protests since the outcry against sexual assault in society.
“The bill has set fire to an anger that has been there for a while.”
Meanwhile, Richard, a socialist in Nottingham, reports, “Around 1,000 people gathered, with Extinction Rebellion supporters prominent, for a Reclaim our Streets and Kill the Bill Protest.
“It was good to see a Unison union banner there.”
And around 1,000 people took to the streets in Brighton. They chanted, “Shame on you,” as they marched past the police station.
Over 500 protesters in Manchester gathered in St Peter’s Square. They marched to the police station and took the knee for 8 minutes 46 seconds in silence at the George Floyd memorial.
This is the same length of time cop Derrick Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Protesters also blocked the streets with sit-ins and brought trams to a halt.
Sky, who was on the protest, said there was chanting, singing and music—and the crowd was anti-capitalist, radical and angry. “The reason the crowd was diverse is because this bill affects all oppressed or working class people, whether LGBT+ or black,” Sky said.
“We’re standing in solidarity against the bill, but the movement is also about wider issues because it's emblematic of the system.”
Sky added, “I think if it wasn’t for Bristol the numbers we’re seeing in Manchester wouldn’t be so high. It’s a sign of solidarity.
“The police aren’t going to protect us, so we have been protecting each other.”
Police intimidated marchers by turning up in large number with vans. By the end of the protest, cops had dragged people off the tram lines and started making arrests.
In Cambridge around 100 people gathered outside the police station to join the movement against the bill.
The angry crowd represented groups who feel the brunt of Tory repression, including Extinction Rebellion and Disabled People Against the Cuts.
And in Portsmouth over 250 protesters gathered to resist the bill. Other protests were called in places such as Winchester, Bath, Kingston-upon-Thames and Lancaster.
Crowds also gathered in Norwich with placards reading, “Killing protest kills democracy”.
The way to defend the right to protest—and to kill the Tory bill—is to turn out in large numbers on the streets.
‘It reminds me of the miners’ strike,’ says ex police chief
Even top cops are worried about the new Tory police bill. Not because they want to defend ordinary people’s rights, but because they fear it will mean more trouble for them.
Michael Barton, former chief constable of Durham, said that the new laws would move Britain dangerously towards “paramilitary policing”.
Barton complained that the Tories are “flexing their muscles via their police forces” like “repressive regimes” across the world.
Under the bill, police would be able to stop protests deemed to be causing a “public nuisance” or “serious inconvenience”.
Barton worries this will cause a headache for the cops. “Police chiefs will be seen as the arbiters of what is and is not allowed when it comes to protest,” he said.
And he fears it will turn even more people against the cops.
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, also opposes elements of the bill.
He said it is a “politically driven” bill that is a “reaction to Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter”.
“It reminds me of the miners’ strike when policing was mobilised for a political reason,” he said.
The police are never on our side and their role is to protect those at the top of society. They don’t need a new bill in order to do that.
What they fear is that the new bill will make their repressive role more obvious.
Many Tories also oppose parts of the bill. Divisions at the top reflect the Tories’ weakness. Ordinary people should exploit this and ramp up actions against the bill.
The things they say
‘The police have my full support.’
Tory prime minister Boris Johnson after cops attacked Bristol protesters
How home secretary Priti Patel describes the protesters
‘Thugs intent on causing trouble’
What Superintendent Runacres said cops had shown in Bristol
‘At times reasonable force had to be used’
‘We have a duty to protect people’
Runacres following cops hitting protesters with shields and batons
‘Two were taken to hospital after suffering broken bones’
What Avon and Somerset police said on Monday had happened to cops in Bristol, following Sunday’s protest
‘Neither were found to have suffered broken bones’
What Avon and Somerset police admitted on Wednesday
‘A punctured lung’
What Avon and Somerset police said one cop had following Sunday’s protests—which was also incorrect