Sunday, April 24, 2011

Videos of the day: From Brixton to Bristol, Rebellion against cops and capital in the UK

Here's some good video out of Bristol, England from last week that I came across over at neurobonkers. This is a crowd sourced collection of video shot on the night that months of community resentment at the opening of a Tesco shop exploded into an open rebellion against the corporate chain and the police. The night began with a heavy police presence entering the St Pauls and Stokes Croft area to remove a protest outside of the Tesco, and to raid Telepathic Heights, a squatted building, occupied across the street from the shop.

From the Bristol Anarchist Federation's write-up on the night's events:
The blocking of road by the police and the news that Telepathic Heights was threatened and that the Tesco protest had been forcibly broken up meant it wasn’t long before a substantial crowd had gathered. The crowd became more and more angry as police refused to give justification for their presence, pushing or hitting anyone who got close to their lines. The increased tension of recent months, which has built up as austerity measures begin to kick in and the community of Stokes Croft and St Pauls feel ever more ignored and marginalised, had found a focal point and personification in the belligerence of the police. All it took was for someone to tip over a glass recycling bin.
While it received a good trashing, it's still business as usual in Bristol, and Tesco, the world's second largest retail profit operation (after Walmart), plans to reopen the shop on the 28th of April. Bristol anarchist Ian Bone also reports that at least two people arrested are facing serious charges from last week's ruckus, and that more arrests of the Tesco resisters are likely.

The anti-police/anti-Tesco battle was the biggest explosion of discontent in riotous form in over 30 years in Bristol, and following on the heals of the 30th anniversary of the massive anti-police riot in Brixton. While last week's riot in Bristol wasn't anywhere near the scale of the anti-police rebellion in Brixton back in '81, both were responses to police provocation, and in Brixton it was Operation Swamp 81 that pushed the community to act. Swamp 81 was a massive stop and search operation, a police tactic in England that relies almost entirely on racial profiling but is justified under an officer's mere "suspicion" that a law has been broken, not all too different from the justification given by Maricopa County sheriff's office deputies during the "crime suppression" immigrant round-ups in Latino neighborhoods across the valley. As intended by police, Swamp 81 made a big impact in a five day span, 950 people were stopped and searched, in the largely black community. As outrage over the police presence peaked, it was the police's treatment of a young man who was mortally wounded, that sparked the massive riots that lasted for two days, seeing 82 arrests, over a hundred buildings damaged, and 279 coppers injured.

I came across the second and third videos at "History is made at Night," an interesting blog focused on the intersection of music, dance, and politics. There was a post dedicated to the different songs dedicated to the Brixton revolt on the 30th anniversary a couple of weeks back. "Insurrection" by Hiatus is a tribute to the UK dub reggae classic "The Great Insurrection" by Linton Kwesi Johnson. I've included both videos because I think they both deserve a viewing.

I'm not posting these to romanticize the riots, clearly Brixton suffered for many more years from grinding poverty and racism from the police. Nor have the police ceased the use of "stop and search" as a tactic, just last year the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that it was still broadly applied to primarily Asian and black residents:

The Commission said its analysis showed that if black people were stopped and searched at the same rate as white people - there would have been around 25,000 searches - instead there were more than 170,000.

Several police forces have increased their use of stop and search against ethnic minorities, with black people being stopped and searched at least six times the rate of white people, the commission said.

Asian people were about twice as likely to be stopped as whites.

London had by far the highest rates of stops with 183 out of 1,000 black people searched.

Similarly, the police have not learned a lesson from the events last week in Bristol, if anything they're likely to increase their presence and patrols. No, the reason I find these ruptures are worth celebrating isn't simply because they are riotous, but rather that those in the streets are acting against the authorities without delegation or representation. This is not always a default position in moments of conflict with the authorities, more often there is a political compromise negotiated by a friendly face, who may come in the form of a "community relations" cop, a professional activist from an organization in the community, or a local politician who allies themselves with the plight of people on the bottom of the ladder.

To look at our situation in the valley, just imagine if, instead of another Circle K opening in a neighborhood, people rallied against the junk food hawking corporate chain by using a number of different tactics to stop it from opening. Or what if the next time Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio calls for another immigrant "crime suppression" sweep, the people take to the streets against the power of the police. For the first time in many of our lives, we would have done more to create the space needed to struggle for a free society than any political hack, from either the Left or the Right, could offer through a compromise with those in power.

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