An on-the-fly account of the Tescos riots by a bemused and concerned resident caught in the crossfire
Update 28/04/2011:The Stokes Croft Street Party
Yesterday was the Stokes croft “street party” – a protest against the police violence of the previous week (and against Tescos?). These two issues have now it seems been effectively bound at the hip. I didn’t promote this event before because I figured it was pretty foolish timing and a fairly provocative act itself. I headed out to take a peak at something like 11PM though. The vibe was split, there were a lot of people having a very good time, but clearly a handful of idiots who were looking for a ruck with the police. The previous night the police had shut down a “film showing and public debate” in Mina Park of the riot of the previous week, which clearly provoked a lot of people. Anti-rave legislation was used to confiscate the group’s (who organise regular local al fresco cinema showings without complaint) screen and when the showing was moved on to private property the police used anti-rave legislation again to prevent people getting in and even issue arrest threats for attempting to find another way. The film (viewable below) documented how the police and Tescos security had illegally confiscated placards from protestors in the afternoon prior to the “police riot” of the previous week. By yesterday morning most people had calmed down again from the previous week but this police action which seemed categorically aimed at silencing debate clearly heated the mood once again.
Below is the video taken from near where I was standing at the so-called “peaceful protest party”, everything behind me was 100% peaceful – that much I can say for sure. I’m still not sure what happened ahead of me, it sounded like a indefensible-yes but relatively isolated incident of bottle throwing. The police then charged through the handful of bottle throwers all the way in to the main section of the “party” which seemed to be a disproportionate and inflammatory response that if anything I was surprised didn’t elicit a harsher retaliation from the “party-goers”.
Slightly further past us the horses gained pace and charged full pelt in to where the “peaceful protest party” was taking place..
After that I decided to go home seeing as the “party” had been well and truly busted, but the police had placed roadblocks at each exit and weren’t letting people through. The situation got progressively more hostile until things kicked off on the side of the estates behind “The Croft”. At that point the police lines fragmented as a load of them ran to provide backup and we were able to slip through and get home.
Edit: This morning we were awoken by the police raiding “Telapathic Heights” (again) with 22 riot vans and a helicopter. This is the single action the police have taken here in the last 2 weeks that I’ve even vaguely seen any logic behind, from a tactical point of view that is. We watched the rooftop seige that lasted about an hour from someone streaming it on “ustream”… (Royal Wedding, what Royal Wedding?). It actually seemed to be a vaguely well conducted operation from the grainy footage we saw. It’s sad that what was until the police intervention the previous week a symbol of diversity, freedom and independence has been turned in to an epicentre of violence in the area. I’ve stood outside that house at the bus stop almost every day this year and never once felt threatened. At the same time, at this point you can see the police justification for taking action, however I just can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t have been a problem if they hadn’t made it one in the first place.
I don’t believe we live in a police state just yet but the events of the past week really does suggest some proper checks and balances are needed on the powers of the police as well as a complete change in strategy of the handling of situations like these.
I’m frankly disgusted that such a peaceful and artistic area and it’s laissez faire attitudes and politics have been hijacked by violent thugs. A change like that doesn’t come naturally. I’d really appreciate it if the chiefs of police would consider for a second that the orders they gave over the past week were what enabled that situation. (Perhaps instead of issuing increasingly Orwellian press releases.)
Rant over. Back to life as normal. Hopefully. (Please!)
Update 28/04/2011:The video the police didn’t want you to see…
Last night police confiscated the video equipment of the film makers who were preparing to play the video account of the riot to an audience in Mina Park. Numerous police vans, dogs and a helicopter were used to block the roads. Rave legislation was used to prevent passage through surrounding streets. Eventuntually the video was played in someone’s house but the police placed roadblocks outside and stopped latecomers from entering.
The video itself is an accurate yet somewhat incomplete account. No mention of the police driving the crowd all the way down Ashley road and in to St. Pauls which in my opinion was what really instigated the riot. Apparently this is just the preview though so hopefully the final copy will include that.
It seems the revolution will
not be televised..
Update 15:45 24/04/2011
There’s been a lot of misguided debate on the cause of the “protest”. This was a riot, not a protest, it wasn’t planned and it definitely wasn’t orchestrated by the anti-tesco movement. It was the reaction of an angered and confused community to what appeared at the time to be a police assault on the neighbourhood. What I’m doing here is just trying to present the perspective of someone living here without getting in to the politics of it. This isn’t to justify the actions of the rioters but just to help people understand why this happened so hopfully we can avoid it happening again.
Below is some new footage from Picton street. This was shortly after the first round of violence errupted not long after 10PM. The police charged violently in to a street full of bystanders in reaction to a violent onslaught by a small group throwing bottles. The reaction of my neighbours made me proud. When the police entered Picton street and pushed everyone that was stepping outside to see what was going on to the end of the street everyone calmly sat on the floor and began singing peace songs. The police clearly got a call for backup from their colleagues who had continued to charge down Ashley road (for a good 7-800 metres). What happened next was fantastic, the police calmly walked backwards out of the street. As the police began to retreat someone hung a boombox out of the window and played “Beat it” by Michael Jackson. The crowd joined in and serenaded them out. Serenaded isn’t the right word but you get the gist.
The point is that this event woke up an entire street who took it upon themselves to dance and sing until the police left. The police eventually stopped at the top of the street and still refused to let anyone through or give out any information so out of curiosity people made their own way round. Yes, there was great pre-existing anger about Tescos but it was sheer curiosity and frustration at the police who really didn’t appear to be “serving” the people in any way, shape or form that brought people out on to the streets. The pre-existing anger at being ignored with regard to Tesco wasn’t just the cherry on the cake, but it certainly wasn’t what initiated the riot. From where I was standing at least. There were a few thugs who were just out for a fight and the odd anarchist stirring trouble but most were just bystanders roped in by the absolute bungling of what now sounds like a misinformed police sting.
I’m glad the photo below made the papers because it sums up the mood ever since..
The police are now saying there was a petrol bomb found in the house. The fact that they didn’t suggest there was a criminal investigation on Thursday and following the riot described what they found as a #potentialpetrolbomb means that they are so discredited round here that I’m not sure exactly what they will have to do to get anyone to believe them.
Update 4:55AM 23/04/2011
Can’t sleep. Rolling news coverage was pitifully inaccurate. Half looking forward to popping over to Galiford Stores when dawn breaks to buy a copy of every newspaper. Galliford stores is featured in message to Tesco from local shopkeepers below. Just a shout-out for galiford stores: It is an amazing shop on Picton street (directly behind Tescos) that many don’t even know exists. They sell fresh locally sourced groceries, a range of world foods, wonderful 22 inch naan-breads the likes of which I’ve never seen elsewhere in Bristol (great for making lamb wraps) and they are always happy to take my parcels when I’m out. None of which would be possible if they were put out of business by Tesco.
This is their message to Tescos:
NB: The people featured in the protest videos are NOT the same people that participated in the riot. The riot was a completely spontaneous event consisting of a random wild crowd fuelled by panic caused by a completely bungled police sting operation that ignited what’s been a simmering tension in the area.
More NEW crowd-sourced footage:
Update 4:51PM 22/04/2011
Dear News Networks,
I am aware you are reading my blog, I have been contacted for comment by the BBC, the Guardian and SKY news. My formal comment is below in bold. When you cover last nights riots that completely surrounded my home tonight please balance your report with the circumstances. Below is footage from the peaceful protest that has continued for over 2 years and included formal complaints to the council from THOUSANDS OF RESIDENTS DURING EVERY STAGE OF PLANNING APPLICATION.
Please note the following facts in your reporting:
- There was no evidence of violence before the police arrived.
- Tesco was NOT petrol bombed as Sky news and The independent are now reporting.
- It is extremely unlikely that the police claim that petrol bombs were found is true. The protesters were liberal pacifists (prior to the police onslaught) as evidenced by the links provided and in 4 hours of sustained full scale rioting in which the police were forced out of the area NO petrol bombs were thrown.
Update 4:21PM: HQ crowd-sourced video from last night:
Update 1PM 22/04/2011:
Independent Bloggers: Yes, you may use this material. Please link back.
Sky News: No you may not use ANY of my material. Your coverage is too twisted and I’ve been burned by you before.
BBC/Guardian: No interviews, sorry. Just not got the time right now.
If any news sources need a quote you may only use the following BOLD quote unedited and in it’s entirety:
I was dismayed by the council and police reaction to a sustained peaceful protest that has existed against Tesco for over two years. Until this week Stokes Croft was the last remaining major high street in the West of England inhabited exclusively by independent establishments. Tesco moved in despite universal local disapproval in an area already surrounded by dozens of Tesco stores. Despite the palpable disquiet protests have been entirely peaceful. This was not a volatile situation until police moved in to the area in full riot dress with no explanation for kettleing stokes croft except “health and safety” and “something to do with Tescos”. As police entered “Telepathic Heights” rumour spread that more raids on houses were intended. As this was not an unlikely story due to recent dawn raids on protesters houses and confiscation of computers and books over the last (xmas) exam period the community barricaded the remaining entrances to stokes croft and the police responded by charging the barricades, apparently for no other reason than for a fight. This action alone provoked violence from the famously diverse, educated, peaceful, loving and pacifist community of Stokes Croft. END QUOTE
Here is a higher quality photoset by Jonathan Taphouse (copyright photos reproduced with permission, please contact him for permissions):
Original rush post (5AM 22/04/2011):
WOW. I’ll update this in the morning, I have just returned from a week abroad to pure and utter carnage on my doorstep. Please excuse all the errors in this – it’s been about 20 hours since I slept. (I have deadlines next week, this has been literally the most ridiculous unplanned night of my life.)
Since I got back to Bristol this evening I’ve been stuck between various police roadblocks and witnessed running battles between police and mostly random people woken in the middle of the night by the sound of police sirens and choppers. When I arrived the police would only tell me that I could not enter stokes croft (where I live) for my “health and safety” and that it was to do with Tesco. Asking around there were various different explanations. Most people said that the police were raiding protesters houses throughout stokes croft. We could see across the police line approximately 10 riot vans and a riot squad entering the famous “Telepathic heights”. A house, like a lot in the area painted from head to toe in murals. One mural on the side of the block reads “No Tesco in Stokes Croft” in huge letters. Stokes croft is known in Bristol as the cultural quarters and spansonly a few thousand square feet of concentrated cultural activity not dissimilar to Camden in central London.
At something like 10PM a huge crowd landed on the front of stokes croft drawn by the lowflying helicopter with spotlight and the army of police emerging from 12+ riot vans dressed for combat. Pretty soon tension peaked as no explanation would be given for the roadblocks and there was intimidation on both sides.
I was on the junction of stokes croft high street when the police charged what was only at that point a croud (of about 100 but which quickly grew) down Ashley road pretty much all the way to the end of it over the course of a couple of hours. Due to the absolute confusion a number of people had emerged from their houses only to shortly find they were the wrong side of a road block and got roped in to what became a three hour running battle through pretty much all of the back streets coming off Ashley road croft and in to St Pauls, numerous burning barracades were errected and a huge amount of people were battered and bloodied by police for attempting to approach police lines to get home and find friends. By this point there was devastation everywhere. All junctions were blocked by overturned glass bottle dumpsters and makeshift neighbourhood roadblocks.
Eventually what seemed like the entire residence of stokes croft (and St. Pauls) emerged and pushed the police back on to stokes croft high street. For a long time there was a deadlock, people stood around and shared rumours about the reason behind the army of police that had arrived unnanounced and were terrorising the neighbourhood.
There was total confusion and stokes croft (street) was mostly cordoned off, the police started making arrests and then all hell broke loose. Missiles began coming down from edit: youths who’d climbed on to the buildings surrounding the Metropolis (Jesters)
Telepathic heights, the location of the starting point of the problem and police brought out dogs to clear people from the street, quite a few got bitten. Meanwhile a lot of police vans had their tyres let out. At that point the dogs retreated and the convoy of about 10 vans that were surrounded drove at speed through the crowd clipping a large number of people on their way out. Both Tesco and telepathic heights were abandoned by the police.
At this point I decided to go home since now the police had retreated all hell was being unleashed on Tescos and hundreds of pieces of police riot gear were being handed out from the abandoned vehicles, since then the police returned and there’s been more running battles and people flooding down my street.
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