No surprises that things have gotten worse with the recent UK protests. After protestors trashed property and set fire to a police van on Sunday night, the current response from the media and politicians has been particularly telling. The violence was disproportionate, counter-productive, inflammatory, unnecessary, etc. There has been no mention of initial police escalation as the source of the unrest in the press.
None of these denouncements (or convenient omissions) are new, of course. The establishment response to protests and riots has been the same for decades. As soon as property gets damaged, the same patronising tone rings out from every soap box. This was a step too far. Any protest that is not a peaceful protest must be condemned. But we have already seen, time and again, how the police brutalise peaceful protestors. Bristol, to its undying credit, doesn’t take state bullshit lying down.
Riots are an inevitability at this point. In the 2000s and 2010s, after going on protests against the Iraq War, the bankers’ bail-out, austerity, the trebling of student tuition fees, NHS cuts, et al., there was little change. I distinctly remember my own early-2010s dejection, having engaged with politics in every way I had been advised to — at the ballot box, on peaceful marches — only to see injustice and inequality escalate unimpeded. Still, people kept protesting, until the police began brutalising young people for no reason whatsoever. (I’m still haunted by the video from that Warwick student sit-in from 2014.)
This kind of violence has become the norm. With protests reduced to a kind of palliative for the nation to let off steam, the state has now given up on its own weak sense of resolve and is now attempting to undermine your average citizen’s right to express dissent. But this has already been curtailed for some time, if not through bills than through a tactical war of attrition.
Anyone who has been to any protest ever will have seen countless incidents where police exercise violence, whether briefly or in a sustained manner. They will assault a member of the public with impunity as friends of the aggrieved corral around to try and defuse tensions and make sure no one does anything stupid. This video from just last week shows a situation I’ve seen play out countless times online and in person.
Why is anyone surprised that certain communities no longer want to put up with this sense of entitlement to a stagnant and rotten status quo? Already last year Bristol protested the pointlessness of the proper channels in tearing down a statue that had been disliked for decades. This latest protest is a blatant extension of those frustrations.
The state already gets away with so much, and with little to no consequences whatsoever. It isn’t just that this new bill will impinge on our right to protest — it will worsen an already deplorable state of affairs, extending police impunity and shoring up the state’s callous indifference to its own ineptitude.