‘We are peaceful, what are you?’: Bristol against police powers

Bristol has been one of the major flashpoints in the protest movement against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with demonstrations being violently suppressed by local police. Rosa Lee, an rs21 member in Bristol, reports on the latest demonstrations in the city.

Mums & Nanas bloc at Kill the Bill protest in Bristol

On Saturday 3 April almost 2000 people gathered in a fifth demonstration against the new policing bill. The first three peaceful-turned-violent demonstrations that took place in the weeks preceding the day of action had created a tense and stressful atmosphere on the streets of Bristol, as we saw Avon and Somerset Police use provocative tactics and brutal force on protesters. The trauma of those protesters who had either endured or witnessed this violent abuse from the police was only intensified by the one-sided and distorted reports in the national media that demonised the protesters and swayed public opinion in favour of the police. 

The crowd last Saturday was noticeably smaller than the first demonstration on 20 March, with under half the number of attendees, but those of us who remained brought a spirit of defiance and perseverance. Attendees were wearing masks and socially distancing wherever possible. As protesters gathered on college green the mood was certainly lighter than the previous weeks, helped by the moments of sunshine peering through the clouds. In usual Bristol fashion a band of percussionists started the march, which had many of the protesters jumping and dancing around the city, whilst rhythmically chanting ‘Kill the Bill’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like’ in time to the beat. Members of the GRT community also led the march and started to chant ‘Traveller’s rights are human rights’, which would periodically spread through the crowd. They were shortly followed by the Mum’s and Nana’s bloc, who took inspiration from the Wall of Moms at the BLM protests in Portland who worked together to defend protesters from Trump’s militarised police force.  

With the easing of lockdown rules it seemed that the police had changed their tactics. While the sun was up there was no riot gear to be seen, only smaller groups of police moving alongside the march or filming protesters from a distance. The march came to a halt at a main intersection near the harbour side. The protesters sat down to occupy the road and members of the demo were asked to come forward to take turns speaking on the mic. For the next hour or two, we heard many impassioned and rousing speeches from all different sectors of the Bristol community, many spoke about the need for unity and organising a wider movement against the government beyond this protest. Nearby, the empty plinth of the Colston statue had been boarded up and displayed rallying slogans against the PCSC Bill, including ‘people over property’ and ‘No-one is illegal’. The crowd began to dissipate at about 8pm, just after the official end of the protest.  

Later in the evening a smaller group of just over a hundred protesters successfully occupied the M32 dual carriageway leading into Bristol. It is reported that this was a peaceful protest with many of the occupiers sitting down and chanting ‘We are peaceful, what are you?’ However, the protest was forcefully broken up by the police in the early hours of the morning, who arrested those who refused to move.  

With more demonstrations already planned, the people of Bristol will continue to show up on our streets to contest this authoritarian bill and will show a relentless display of resistance in the coming weeks. The home secretary and her police squads may have battered our bodies but they will never batter our resolve and determination to win.  

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