Back in March, in the aftermath of the bill’s second Commons reading, police viciously attacked those participating in a Kill the Bill demonstration outside Bristol’s Bridewell Police station. Mounted officers charged the crowd with batons flying. The crowd defended themselves, and by the end of the evening police vehicles had been set on fire.
The police and the government have been out for blood ever since. Those who fought the police have been labelled thugs, and their ‘wanted’ photographs have been plastered all over the mainstream media.
At least 65 people have been arrested, accused of taking part in the confrontation outside Bridewell on 21 March. 21 of them have now been charged. The majority of them have been charged with riot, which carries a maximum ten year sentence in the UK.
Ryan Roberts is currently on remand in Bristol Prison after being arrested for riot and two counts of arson.
Four people have entered guilty pleas, three of them to charges of riot. They are due to be sentenced on 30 July. The judge has told all of them to expect a custodial sentence.
Riot is the most serious public order offence in English law, and the use of the charge is undoubtedly political. For the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge people with riot, they must first get permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
We need to remember who our friends are
Its not the MPs who overwhelmingly rubber stamped the Police Bill, or the cops who attacked people for raising their voices against it. Its not mainstream journalists, who happily published ‘wanted’ pictures of our friends, and whose poison pen pieces – parroting the CPS’ allegations against the defendants – are paving the way for even more reactionary sentencing. Its not the court system either, which is gearing itself up to hand out long sentences to our comrades if they are convicted.
Our friends are the people who stood up and fought back against police violence on 21 March outside Bridewell. Now we need to stand up for them.
We need to defend those who were brave enough to fight back
We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are going through the court system. As someone who has been dragged through the courts plenty of times myself, I know from experience that the police and CPS use the court and charging processes as extrajudicial punishments against defendants. While I was awaiting my trial, police imposed bail conditions on me which made me homeless and raided my house repeatedly. Similar tactics are being played out again this year in Bristol.
The psychological and emotional effects of the repression on me and my co-defendants was massive. But the material and emotional support that came from our comrades, and the solidarity we received, made a huge difference.
We need to be there for the Bristol defendants in the same way.
Political prosecutions like the one going on in Bristol right now, backed up by the threat of long prison sentences, are designed to grind defendants down, and separate them from people who would give them support. We need to do everything in our power to defend those who are being prosecuted, and those in prison.
Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS) is organising to support the defendants. A message from BDS reads:
#KillTheBill: Bristol legal support in the streets and in the courts
**UPDATE: There have now been more than 60 arrestees from #KillTheBill protests in Bristol. Police raiding homes have used force to enter, and threatened a 16 year old girl with Tasers before realising she was not the person they were looking for. Our injury support team have reported many more people who’ve been injured by police violence. If you can, please donate today and help us reach our stretch goal of £30,000 so we keep supporting people through the court process.**
Looking back at the 2011 riots
Ten years ago, I remember watching as a group of young people looted a department store in Croydon. It was during the Summer 2011 riots. A group of people in masks were running in and out of a sports shop with armfuls of clothing and leaving them in a pile so the crowd could take what they needed. Those people were our comrades too.
I remember as over a thousand people were sent to prison after the UK riots, egged on by Boris Johnson waving a broom calling on us all to help clean up. Current Labour leader Keir Starmer was the DPP who authorised the prosecutions, and even went on morale boosting visits to all-night extraordinary court sittings.
Defendants were sentenced to a total of over 1,800 years in prison. The response from radicals in the UK was woefully inadequate; we didn’t do enough to defend people who were being railroaded to prison. And the result was a lost generation of people who had been willing to stand up and fight, and who were viciously stamped on as a result.
Learning the lessons
The repression of those charged with riot in Bristol is following the same pattern as the political prosecutions of the past. We need to step up and defend those facing court cases and prison, because they are our friends and allies.
Defending each other against state repression is a crucial part of community self defence. On 21 March, people defended themselves physically against police violence. Our response now is just another part of defending ourselves against that attack. And developing ways to defend each other from state repression is an important part of building our power from the bottom up. We are at a crucial moment right now, and we need to rise to the challenge.
Featured image via Shoal Collective