Bristol: ‘Burn Baby Burn!’

The chant goes up into the air as the flames of the cop van rise higher and higher, burning away a pressure that has been building for far too long.
The cop station’s windows are kicked in to the roaring joy of the crowd, its raining rocks from above on the riot cops from youths who’ve occupied part of its roof. Repeated attacks on the cop lines are visibly putting the fear into them. Bottles rain down on the cop dog unit’s failed attempt to assault the mob from behind. Riot shields and batons liberated from the cops are used to fight back, a piece of their own medicine. Others are caring for people sprayed with mace, while sound systems ring out. Another cop car is burning round the corner, this is like nothing we have seen before…

This is the scene in Bristol in 2021, 10 years since the Stokes Croft & August riots in 2011. The riot that erupted last night was a continuation of our combative memories, but from seeing so many new young uncontrollables it is the beginning of a new wave. Nothing much has changed on this prison island since 2011, if anything the conditions that led to those days are still with us, more repressive than ever. We’re being pushed over the edge, as the system of control demands either lick the boot or have our way of life extinguished.

The spark this time has been the same as it has before. The ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ in which groups of society, the undesirables are being criminalized, along with the recent killing of a young woman by a cop are only the tip of the iceberg. The repression being meated out not just here but around the world is a sign of worse to come as we inhabit a present where ‘crisis’ is amongst us, whether it be ‘Covid-19’, ‘economic’, even ‘ecological’. It is clear this is all heading in a direction of a prison society more oppressive than it has been before. Only this year Mohamed Mohammed Heisman, a 24-year old died after clearly being beaten by cops in Cardiff Bay cop station, while another 29 year old Moyied Bashir died while in Newport cops hands, who was clearly suffering a medical situation. Thousands might have turned out for the Black Lives Matter protests last year for the killing of George Floyd. Putting the toppling of a statue aside, we didn’t see the same thousands turn out for these two men. Some of us did not forget and never will, this was coming, for the cops everywhere, but also the state and its oppressive ‘rule of law’.

Some of us also feel our very way of life threatened by this bill, with Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travelers being racially repressed, not that it has been happening for a long time already! Even our memories cast back to the Dale Farm eviction in 2011 as well, when the riot started to burn last night. No one is allowed to live freely in this new fascist dystopia of Priti Patel (wannabe Thatcher!) and Boris Johnson (who plays the clown but is as right wing as they come!), not only does the bill give the power to ‘disturbed citizens’ and the cops to literally move on travelers even of one vehicle at the slightest complaint from the obedient public, but also gives them the ability to take peoples vehicles and possessions. Apart from an attack on van and caravan dwellers this is the racist attack from the Tory government on Roma, Gypsy and Irish Travelers, a group who have always been attacked in the ‘country of apparent toleration’.

In all this, the bigger picture needs to be seen to believe it. With destruction of the planet, ecosystems, extinction of species, the water, the air, even fetuses being polluted by plastic, borders being closed, migrants dying just to get here, too many of our friends in prison just for the colour of their skin or from the housing estates, throwing in the rise of the technological society with its hundreds of machinations designed to control us, from smart cities, to artificial intelligence, to mass surveillance, artificial reality, robots and drones coming at us, its enough to understand there is a monumental shift occurring in our time, that has only begun.

What started last night has been coming for a while. This is not the time to be cowering behind curtains, complaining about the common good or fighting Covid, it is the symptom of an already dying planet. Outside this island the world is already burning. Neither the local nor national politicians condemning us will stop us, we have never listened to them! Apparently we’re ‘Unacceptable’, your UNACCEPTABLE! They will never understand our burning rage we have for their nightmare future they promise us.

“Nothing ever burns down by itself
Every fire needs a little bit of help”

Some anarchists, youth, travelers, unknowns, THE EXCLUDED!
source: 325

Reflections on the riot in Bristol

Yesterday Bristol erupted into rioting in what is likely to amount to the first instance of new forms of resistance to the draconian Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Following on “social media” it was hard to tell exactly what was transpiring outside the images of objectively cool people doing kickflips in front of burning cop cars and, well, so many burning cop cars.

That this happened in Bristol is perhaps unsurprising, but it could also have happened anywhere. There is popular anger against the police, both for a serving police officer allegedly murdering Sarah Everard and for the attack on the freedom to protest. There have been vigils and marches across the country, attended by thousands. A petition organsied by the Network for Police Monitoring has attracted near 300,000 signatures in the past week. As local radical outlet Alternative Bristol notes:

After a tough winter of lockdown & covid stress, many see the Tory move to introduce the Bill as outright cynical, and an attempt to turn temporary coronavirus restrictions into something more permanent whilst the people remain restricted by the lockdown. The last couple of weeks have seen simmering anger at the Government, and the police. Tonight that exploded, and it happened to be in Bristol, but could have been anywhere.

We should be wary of making distinctions between the riot and the protests that took place earlier in the week. To do so would be to lay the ground for the inevitable (indeed as of last night already underway) attempts to divide this nascent movement into the ‘bad’ rioters and the ‘good’ peaceful protesters. The police have criminalised in some form every resistance to the police crackdown bill. In Newcastle yesterday police harassed protesters as they laid flowers in memory of Sarah Everard. Just over a week ago the Met attacked women at an entirely peaceful vigil for Everard, right in the raw moments of the news that a serving Met officer had been charged with Sarah’s murder. Protests this week have also been reactions to police repression.

The protests in London on Sunday and Monday were in response to police violence at the vigil on Saturday. Bristol ascended into a riot once the riot police, horses and dogs had already been deployed. Again, from Alternative Bristol:

What was a carnivalesque party & protest at the top of Union Street/onto Castle Park at 5pm, has ignited into serious clashes this evening during a picket of Bridewell police station in the city centre. […] Outside Bridewell the atmosphere was initially a continuation of Bristol’s party vibe. But within an hour this escalated as riot police arrived in 6 vans, along with 4 mounted police, to protect their police station – and clashes developed as protesters refused to disperse. Later as dusk fell, more police with dogs arrived, and more riot police, but protesters continued to stand their ground, and some responded in kind to the police use of force.

Alternative Bristol March 21, 2021

There has already been talk of the ‘optics left’. And yes, it has been grimly chilling, if unsurprising, to see Labour MPs, so slow to condemn police violence at the vigil last week, make themselves indistinguishable from Priti Patel. We should never forget that the current leader of the labour party brutally repressed rioters in 2011 when he was director for public prosecutions. Disproportionate sentencing and 24 hour courts are in his blood, authoritarianism is an instinct. What we don’t need now, is a kind of triangulation away from the riot and we should challenge those who try to do so.

What to take from the Bristol riot? First, we should look to our existing activist legal support infrastructure, something which has been providing a fundamental solidarity to those who have been subjected to police violence, be it arrest, Fixed Penalty Notices, incarceration in police cells or assault. A heartening feature of this current movement has been the centring of legal support, something which the police have took notice of and are none too happy about. Second, we should recognise that the walling off of ability to protest, drowning a fundamental freedom in bureaucracy, officially sanctioned leaders and dizzyingly restrictive conditions will make what happened in Bristol more likely. Protest itself is not going away as the climate crisis deepens, as the state keeps killing and as the inequality and poverty spreads. For now we continue to build the movement we need for our present moment.

Source: Freedom

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