By Holly Beaumont, Features Investigations Editor
On Sunday 21 March a protest that was arranged to demonstrate against the new Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, descended into a riot. The protest was scheduled as a peaceful demonstration and it remained this way during its early hours.
Despite a few police scattered on the scene in the afternoon, they did not intervene in the peaceful demonstration that occurred on College green from 2pm.
First-year Social work student Ru Wormington recalled feeling ‘safe’ during the early stages of the protest.
‘It was just like this wonderful, collective of joy, but also kind of anger, just all together in solidarity’, she said.
‘We did actually go to the police station, and people were chanting outside, but I saw about three police officers outside, all of them in normal police officer gear, no riot gear or anything’, she said.
‘They seemed very respectful’, she added.
Once the demonstration reached New Bridewell Police station, a peaceful sit-in began outside the station.
Soon after, members of the police force emerged in riot gear with batons and a small group of demonstrators began to act with heightened hostility.
Bristol resident, Joseph Symonds-Smith, was present for both the peaceful and later stages of the demonstration.
He told Epigram: ‘my bag got lost in the crowd with my phone in, as it became a riot.’
He also spoke of the bruises he acquired over his body from being pushed by police and trodden on by a police horse.
Regarding the violence of protestor’s, he recalled, ‘we had nothing; we had no weapons. The cops had extensive combat training and horses and full body armor and batons. And what did we have? Our cardboard placards that we’ve been holding up before’.
He conceded that ‘on the one hand, it’s not helpful because now there’s more fuel for the bill to go through’.
Though, he followed up with, ‘on the other, if everyone acted like me, and wasn't violent, then nothing would have happened.’
‘My bag got lost in the crowd with my phone as it became a riot’
‘It needed people who were angry, and it also needed people who were pacifists, just sitting there. Because I wasn’t the only one, there were lots of people doing that,’ Joseph continued.
It appears that a small minority of protestors that were responsible for the shift from peaceful protest to violence, with Priti Patel calling their behaviour ‘unacceptable’ on Twitter.
Third-year History student, Guy Taylor, arrived at the scene at 10:30pm and recalled seeing ‘a dustbin set on fire’.
From his perspective, he said, ‘from the videos I have seen, there were people shaking a police van right at the beginning’.
‘It didn’t seem like they brought in riot police and then it turned violent, it seemed like they brought it in as a response’, he continued.
Joseph Symonds-Smith also dwelled on the ‘array of people in the crowd’, who were displaying different methods of protest.
‘My whole plan throughout the night was just, “stand in front of the police, don't do anything to them, don’t raise your hand, but don't move back”,’ he said.
‘I decided “I’m not going to be violent, but I’m not going to move back,’ he continued, affirming that the violent behavior was not exhibited by all in attendance.
Ru left the protest before it became violent and recalled ‘watching it on live for 3 hours’.
‘I’m not going to be violent, but I'm not going to move back’
From experiencing the protest in its peaceful state and describing it as ‘a really joyful atmosphere’, Ru was shocked by the turn taken after she left.
‘It was ridiculous to see the difference between this joyful, collective energy to what happened later on’, she said.
Amidst the violence, 20 police officers have sustained injuries and 7 demonstrators have been arrested.
Featured Image: Epigram / Filiz Gurer
Did you attend Sunday’s protest?