The Bristol ‘Kill the Bill’ protest was shocking – but necessary

People do not protest or riot because they’re bored or enjoy destruction – it is always the last resort

<p>‘The uprising of our people is not new to this country, nor is it unique to Bristol’</p>

‘The uprising of our people is not new to this country, nor is it unique to Bristol’

I felt a strange mixture of pride and fear as a former Bristol student, last night, watching crowds of people protesting against the government’s attempt to slowly snatch away our freedoms.

I wasn’t there in person; but I – like so many others – was glued to my screen, seeing thousands of people descending on the city for the “Kill The Bill”protest; incensed by the way that The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will restrict our rights to protest, by controlling the location, volume and structure of demonstrations. This bill would make it easier to pick out and criminalise individual protesters; and could see people jailed for up to 10 years for defacing statues.

The bill will also give the police added powers, which will only create an anxious and hostile environment around any kind of activism. This will, inevitably, dampen any kind of change or progress – and will make life worse for those who are most disadvantaged, by forcing them to suffer in silence.

“Kill The Bill” protests have been happening across the UK because people have realised that their freedoms are in great danger – and that this government will stop at nothing to force us into what looks like little more than an authoritarian state.

While many officials flocked to condemn the action, to them I would say this: it’s hypocritical to condemn people protesting against oppression, when as a country we’ve historically used violence to oppress. So much of British history has been violence. Colonialism was violent; slavery was violent – this country has used violence to become a world leader. 

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If we taught British history properly, we would all know about the Moss Side uprising, where hundreds of youths besieged a police station. We would know about the Brixton uprising, where people took charge of an entire bus to disperse officers. So much change has happened in this country due to the brave and selfless acts of activists.

The uprising of our people is not new to this country, nor is it unique to Bristol. None of us are condoning acts that result in physical harm. But people do not protest or riot because they’re bored or enjoy destruction – it is always the last resort. When you are ignored and neglected at every level, the power of your voice and physical presence become your greatest tools – now, this government is trying to take that from us.

Unfortunately, we do not get free by asking for it; we have to demand it. When people attended Sarah Everard’s peaceful and silent candlelit vigil, they were violently handled by police officers. Yesterday, in Bristol, a teenager was grabbed by the neck for, seemingly, simply shaking his head.

The increased police powers this bill allows for could see acts like this only worsen and intensify. Under this government, and potentially under this bill – if passed – there will be no “right way” of protesting; any action will be condemned and criminalised. It doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you sit – you should be worried about this, and support the people making noise to stop it. 

Politicians are now using what happened in Bristol as an excuse to enact their harmful bill. Protesters have previously been described as thugs, and some have even linked this to Black Lives Matter.

By constantly linking this to Black liberation, people validate the heavy use of force and the immoral retraction of human rights. But nothing will ever legitimise what this government is doing. If it starts criminalising protests, imagine what could be next?      

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