An attack on the radical community of Stokes Croft in Bristol on Thursday 21st April 2011 led to a night of violence, which spilled over into the neighboring St Paul’s district, in which barricades were erected in the streets and running battles with police carried on until 4am. During the night 8 police officers and numerous local residents were injured.
The trouble started when police attempts to evict the ‘Telepathic Heights’ squat in Stokes Croft resulted in a concerned community mobilizing to defend itself from these outside troublemakers. The resultant night of police aggression can only be described as an assault on the communities of Stokes Croft and St Pauls, an area well known for its history of anti-police sentiment. The backdrop to the night’s events has been the long running dispute over a proposed Tesco in the area which would be the fifteenth in Bristol.
A claim in retrospect that seems to serve multiple purposes: justifying police violence; presenting locals reacting to the violent excursion of police into their community as simply ‘anti Tesco’ protesters and subsequently demonizing anti-Tesco campaigners as ‘extremists’ rather than concerned members of a diverse heterogeneous local community standing up to the imposition of a corporate monoculture and masking historical grievances at the heavy handed policing of the area.
Subsequent nights of rioting have followed and one of the latest arrests has been of a 17 year old charged with attempted murder on Tuesday 3rd May, revealing a trend towards disproportionate numbers of youths being criminalised in the area.
While it is tempting to view the events of the past few weeks as a novel phenomenon arising out of a corporate friendly police response to the ongoing Tesco protests in the area the truth is probably far more complex. Just as the St Paul’s riots of 2nd April 1980 were sparked by a raid on the ‘Black and White café’ yet represented a background of racial tension, poor housing and police harassment of youth in the area so the raid on ‘telepathic heights’ represents similar underlying issues exacerbated by the unwanted presence of Tesco in a community that prides itself on autonomy and radicalism. And just as the night of April 2nd 1980 led to further rioting in the Southmeade area of Bristol and arguably fueled the decade of disorder which followed including the Toxteth and Brixton riots; so the recent events in Bristol have the potential to spark a reaction up and down the country. That there is a wider agenda at play in terms of undermining the burgeoning culture of resistance in the Stokes Croft area is illustrated through attempts to evict the ‘Classix Freeshop’ and ‘Emporium Art Gallery’. A statement from “Classix” stands in stark contrast to the corporate agenda of Tesco which serves only the interests of its share holders, destroys local businesses and views Bristolians as a source of profit and a true community initiative that seeks to enrich and enhance the lives of local people:
‘Classics has been the beloved home of much needed and cherished community resources. The Freeshop has served as a not-for-profit hub of exchange, with clothes, household goods and books freely swapping hands, since it opened its doors in 2008. Local homeless charities have recognised its importance and now direct their clients to the shop. The Emporium has held a dizzying array of exhibitions from projects as diverse as The Somalian Youth Project, The Big Issue, Burning Candy Crew and Amnesty International to name but a few. It has also hosted film nights and various talks, discussions and meetings.
These projects have become an intrinsic part of the local community and we can ill afford to lose them. Now is the time to come together and show that we are not going to allow these spaces to go without a fight. Lets do all we can to make sure these spaces remain a hive of activity and community-led resistance.
A first hammer blow against corporate dominance and police harassment has been struck. Where will it land next?’