The ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration and subsequent disturbances show why the bill itself will not work. Making something illegal does not make it go away. So far we have seen two protests with a further scheduled for tomorrow.
Following Sunday this second protest was focused towards support for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities with a temporary solidarity camp set up. According to a ‘protest liaison volunteer’ at College Green on Tuesday, there had been good communication with police, with protesters being told they could stay on College Green and were even offered toilets. However, for whatever reason this attitude changed and allegedly ended up with young women being beaten with batons and police trampling on the vigil to Sarah Everard.
Being a frontline police officer is not an easy job and has been even harder since the pandemic began. Avon and Somerset Police have worked hard over many years to gain the trust of Bristol’s communities by prioritising public safety and respecting the right to peaceful protest. I worry that a lot of good work will be undone if there is now a switch to zero tolerance policing on protest.
I welcome that the police have confirmed that they will be conducting an inquiry into the riots and their policing. I urge them to consider widening the scope of that inquiry to include those who witnessed the riot itself from the other side.
In my view this inquiry should be led by someone from outside Avon and Somerset Constabulary and that a non operationally sensitive version of the report is available to the public. In the meantime I would also advocate for an emergency ‘stakeholders meeting’ bringing together protesters, police liaison officers, the Chief Constable or senior officer, and the current PCC. Representatives of the Gypsy Roma Traveller communities should also be included as the criminalisation of trespass has a big impact on their way of life.This dialogue is crucial if we are to meet some kind of cohesion and understanding moving forwards.
‘Avon and Somerset Police have proved themselves over the past year as a police force, able to strike the right balance between public order and freedom of speech. The Policing of the Bristol Black Lives Matters protests and the vigil for Sarah Everard were of the highest standard. An especially difficult task during a pandemic.
But Any incident of the magnitude of the Sunday riots should be investigated and lessons learned. I welcome their announcement of an inquiry and I support Cleo Lake in her call for it to focus on re-building trust between our communities and institutions.’