Bristol protesters speak out against the way they are perceived

Protesters took the opportunity at yesterday’s Kill the Bill event to address the way they are perceived.

Around 100 people gathered in College Green at 2pm on Saturday (April 17) in opposition to the proposed Police and Crime Bill, which would curtail people’s rights to peacefully protest.

The demonstration passed without physical confrontation, though police put a dispersal order in place after around 20 protesters blocked St Augustine’s Parade just before 7pm.

As well as two marches through the city centre, protesters made a series of speeches on College Green throughout the afternoon – and a recurring theme was the way they are viewed by some sections of society.

With fellow demonstrators sitting around him, one man took the microphone and said: “We need the police to understand that we are not thugs, we do have jobs, we are normal people. We are not a bunch of hooligans and we don’t just want to destroy the city. We’re from Bristol and we love it.”

Making reference to the violent clashes at Bristol’s first Kill the Bill event on March 21, he directly addressed the officers at College Green. Around 20 were present.

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“When that clash happened at [Bridewell] police station, people were not attacking you as you, your name, you as an individual, what your life represents, your family, everything you live for.

“It’s about the police and what you represent. And there are certain police chief constables across the country that have come out and said they think this new amendment to the bill is a bad idea.”

The speaker called on officers to think about the consequences of the bill and raise their own concerns, adding: “What we need is for the police to go and have talks between yourselves – what does this new police bill mean?”

Another speaker also argued there are misconceptions about the people who have taken part in the Kill the Bill protests.

The woman said: “I know some people think we’re crusty thugs who smell. Well I’m beautiful and I smell amazing.”

She added: “The reason you look so gorgeous is you’re out here righting for all our rights. You’re out here fighting for your right to protest, protecting the rights of the GRT (Gypsy Roma Traveller) community, fighting for every single marginalised community.

“And that makes you f*****g gorgeous. It makes you glow from the inside out, it really does.”

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A third speaker said people felt compelled to protest because they feel they have “no say, no autonomy, no voice, no presence, no place to actually be felt in a society that is supposed to be serving us”.

The crowd also heard from a traveller, who voiced fears over how the bill would impact her community’s way of life by criminalising unauthorised encampments.

She said: “Racism is on the rise, the right wing is on the rise. Everyone is self-obsessed, and everybody is out for themselves in society as I see it, and what is happening is a movement is coming up.

“And you can keep going because look at me, I’m 53. I’ve been trashed, I’ve had laws made against me, I’ve had my vehicle shot at, my friends have had their vehicles burned out… it’s a scary place out there.”

The Police and Crime Bill would see police chiefs able to put more conditions on static protests, including imposing a start and finish time, and setting noise limits.

Refusal to follow police directions could result in a fine of up to £2,500, under the proposed changes.

You can read more about how the protest unfolded here, and more about the proposed bill here.

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