To start with the bad news, last Monday Matthew O’Neill admitted charges of riot and arson and was sentenced to five years. The sentence was accompanied with the usual rhetoric of a protest “hijacked”, of “wanton violence” and of police “dehumanised”.
More encouraging was the result of the trial of Kadeem Yarde who, on May 11, was found not guilty of riot by a jury at Bristol Crown Court. In his trial, Kadeem claimed that he acted in self-defence against police aggression.
Speaking after the verdict, Kadeem said his acquittal was ‘a win for the movement’ which he hoped would give hope to other defendants that ‘we will win.’
He said that his verdict shows that: ‘We actually were there for a purpose and hopefully they’ll [the jury] start changing their mind on what the people were actually there for.’
Kadeem’s win is obviously great news for him, but it’s also a win for efforts to reclaim the truth of the Bridewell riot from the official narrative
Protesters gathered outside Bridewell last March because of repeated and escalating incursions on police violence into our lives. From the Policing Bill (now Act) to Sarah Everard’s murder, the Clapham Common vigil, and the effect of the Policing Bill on GRT people, the protest was intensely political and, for many of the protesters, deeply personal.
Yet from the night of the riot last year, all of this has been overlooked by the state and the CPS in their attempt to push onto jurors a simplistic narrative of unruly rioters attacking police, of a peaceful protest turned violent by the actions of an aggressive minority.
The protest was depoliticised, not least by Marvin Rees who famously called the protesters ‘politically illiterate,’ and the protesters dehumanised. After the riot, chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation called protesters a ‘mob of animals,’ words that echo those by the likes of Priti Patel.
Kadeem’s acquittal, along with that of Jasmine York, who was found not guilty of riot in February, and two other cases this month in which the jury failed to reach a majority verdict, shows that jurors are no longer buying this official version of events.
In accepting that Kadeem acted in self-defence, the court accepted that police used excessive force. This is a small but significant chink in the state’s armour.
If the police used excessive force, even amounting to ‘criminal offences against the person’ according to a cross-party parliamentary group last year, why have A&S Police issued no apology for their actions?
If Matthew is guilty of using a police baton and shield against police officers, then why are police not guilty of using those same weapons against protesters?
The police, let’s not forget, have been supported and enabled by our politicians and public figures during the whole Kill The Bill saga.
On March 23 last year, even as protests were having their heads smashed on College Green, a group of so-called city leaders were writing a statement affirming their ‘full confidence’ in Avon & Somerset Police. Not one of these leaders has ever retracted that support or offered an apology to protesters.
Seventeen people are now in prison for taking part in the Bridewell riot. Doubtless others will join them. We can do our best to support them through the work of groups like Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Bristol ABC, who are raising money for Kill The Bill prisoners.
But the ultimate win to push for is to hold to account those in power who have sought to rewrite history and to deny justice to all those who suffered at the hands of police throughout the Kill The Bill campaign and suffer still as a result of the corruption, racism, sexism and bigotry at the heart of British policing.
All images © James Ward.