By Fiorenza Dell’Anna, Opinion Editor
Like many other students and British citizens last night watching the scenes of the Kill the Bill protest unfold, I was mortified and couldn’t help but think about how Bristol was going to, yet again, make national headlines as a result of an inability to conduct a peaceful protest.
‘There’s power in the streets’ Zarah Sultana wrote in a tweet, just a few days ago. This is perhaps true, but unfortunately we saw a very ugly side of that statement last night. Which, in turn, may have led some to question whether this ‘power’ should perhaps be reined in a bit, since many protesters are making it increasingly apparent that they lack the common sense to conduct a peaceful protest.
As has become painfully predictable in the past year, the events at the protest yesterday evening, escalated to the point of vandalism, arson and assault of police officers.
I suppose this is just what some protesters took the banner's statement ‘defend your human right to protest’ to mean. But if this is the extent of those protester’s interpretational skills, there is indeed a very urgent need for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to go through.
A Bill, which at no point says that people are not allowed to protest. It simply aims to alter the way in which people are allowed to legally protest, which given recent events may not be such a bad thing.
Now, before I am burned at the stake for 'not supporting human rights', allow me to be clear that I do believe in people’s right to peacefully protest, but if this is what peacefully protesting has come to mean, I make no bones of saying I do not support it, and nor should anyone.
Despite everyone being stuck indoors for the better part of a year now, I have never had to discuss the topic of protests as much as I have in the past year, where I have ironically seen more protests, and protests that go wrong, than in the entirety of my life put together.
My refusal to participate in, endorse or promote protests, is something that has cost me friendships and has led me, along with many others, to reflect on the slippery slope our generation is headed down. But I must say that after having seen the events of yesterday evening, I have never been more certain of my position.
This is for the simple fact that you never know what will happen when you go to a protest - although, lately the one thing that appears to happen without fail is that they go horrifically wrong. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that protests can escalate very quickly when mob mentality overrides common sense.
More importantly however, when you go to a protest you are both a representative of and represented by the crowd around you. If you are still present when things take an unexpected turn, through no fault of your own, your presence makes you equally responsible for the outcome.
However, I am not neglecting to account for both sides who participate in a protest (the protesters or those policing them) when I say that things can go wrong. In the space of a week, we have had examples of both sides overstepping.
Last night, we saw it with the protesters in what can only be described as shameful vandalism, that if anything proved the necessity for the very Bill they were protesting; whereas, last week we saw the excessive policing of women at the Sarah Everard vigil.
Both sides overstep the mark, but the one statement that appears to reverberate before, during, and after these protests, as we saw graffitied on the front of a police car last night, is: ‘defund the police’.
Which is all well and good while these people feel caught up in the moment, vandalising the walls of a police station with the charming and insightful statement ‘f**k the pol’, as the ‘pol’ watches them bewildered.
But I am curious to know who these protesters would call if their windows were being smashed and their cars set alight. Because I very much doubt it would be the people vandalising and burning Bristol alongside them.
Featured Image: Epigram / Filiz Gurer
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