#stokescroft

Since the events at Stokes Croft and the surrounding area on Thursday night, I’ve been following the coverage and debate in the mainstream media and, more pertinently, on blogs and sites like Bindymedia. I’ve had a few emails and tweets objecting to my comments in the mainstream media about the police tactics being a bit heavy-handed, and others welcoming the fact I went down to the scene on Thursday night to see for myself, and telling me stories about how they or their friends were caught up in the disturbances. Predictably some of the media outlets have been selective in what they’ve quoted – I was, for example, very clear in my condemnation of the rioters lobbing chunks of concrete at the police, but criticism of the police,  no matter how measured, makes a better headline!

Anyway – I just want to put a few things on the record:

– I accept the police had a very difficult job to do that night, and have great sympathy for those who were on the streets till the early hours, having rocks and bottles thrown at them, and having to deal with drunks or agitators who were trying to provoke a confrontation. I don’t however accept that the police should be above criticism or scrutiny in the way they carry out their work. They are public servants, and it would be wrong of me as an elected representative not to raise concerns about policing when I have seen things that disturb me, or when people contact me with their complaints. I don’t think this is in anyway undermining the police. I had a good chat with Chief Superintendent Colin Port when I returned to Stokes Croft the next day, and I’m sure I will be talking to him or other senior officers again.

– I also have a great deal of sympathy for the poor staff at Tesco’s, who I gather were trapped in the building when the trouble first started, and were eventually led to safety out the back. Obviously if the police had intelligence that there was going to be a petrol bomb attack on the store then that’s something the police had to act upon, to protect the building, the staff and the 24-hour security living above the store. But I think it’s legitimate to question whether the police response to the intelligence they received was appropriate in the circumstances. (Some people are saying 160 police officers and 10 riot vans to arrest four people is disproportionate; I’m not clear whether that police presence was there from the start or was brought in as reinforcements. Those are the sort of Qs I will be asking… Of course some will say it’s  not my place to tell the police how to do their job, and of course it isn’t, and I’m not doing so. But the police should be publicly accountable and I think it’s right that journalists are now posing these questions).

– I don’t think there’s any justification at all for chucking rocks and bottles at the police, wrecking police vehicles, or trashing Tesco’s (and creating a dangerous situation for lots of innocent bystanders too). Of course I condemn this. There was a lot of filming and photography going on Thursday night, and if there’s footage of people hacking up pavements and lobbing lumps of concrete at police vans or officers behind riot shields, then of course that should be used to prosecute them.

– I supported the campaign against a Tesco’s in Stokes Croft, although wasn’t too involved because it’s not in my constituency. I think people are entitled to protest when they feel their voices have not been heard, but not to resort to violence or criminal acts. Are protestors sitting down in the middle of the road – a road which was already closed to their traffic – with their bicyles at 2am being a bit of a pain? Well, yes. Do they have the right to do so? (Even if they are hippies and squatters and trustafarians and people with lampshades on their head?) Well, yes… Or are the police entitled to say, our task is to clear the street, move the crowds and therefore we can use dogs and riot shields and truncheons to do so if people won’t co-operate?

– What concerns me most is that there are so many people out there angry and frustrated in one way or another about the impact of Government action (or inaction) on their lives, but who feel that peaceful protest will not be listened to. (Let me mention the march against the war in Iraq before anyone else does – point duly noted). People may come to feel that protests do not gain any attention or legitimacy unless it all kicks off and becomes a running battle between the police and protestors. (By legitimacy, I mean, people won’t be seen as upset and angry and frustrated enough if all they do is march…) And then there will be plenty of others all too keen to ‘get their riot badge’ and contribute to a situation turning violent without any real political affiliation to the cause. I don’t want to see a summer of riots. I want to see a summer of mass political protest, like we saw with the campaign against the privatisation of the forests and we’re now seeing with the campaign against the so-called ‘reforms’ to the NHS, which result in Government u-turns. On May 11th the “Hardest Hit” campaign – against the cuts to benefits and services to people with disabilities – will be turning out in force in Westminster. They don’t need rocks and bottles and fires in wheelie bins to make a powerful case against the brutality of what this Government is doing.

– Is Tesco’s worth rioting over? No, of course not… what’s needed is a genuine form of localism that really does allow local people a say over how they want their communities to develop, and which curbs the powers of the big chains to dominate the planning process. The Government pays lip service to this, but in the Budget last month George Osborne announced plans to make it quicker and easier for developers to get things through the planning system, as a way of promoting the Government’s agenda of private-sector led growth. I’m actually in favour of speeding up the planning system for big developments, which in Bristol is painfully slow, but that doesn’t mean riding roughshod over local opinion.

OK, that’s about all for now… Off to do some door-knocking. And here’s a blog post I wrote earlier for Louder than War, because Mr Robb asked nicely.

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Comments

  • Thoades  On April 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    There’s already a Tesco’s near me, which has put in plans to expand and be converted into a much larger store.

    There is a lot of opposition as this will result in the site being built over an old bronze age settlement, which Tesco seem to think is of no value.

    Here’s an article on my blog explaining the background

    http://www.visitscunthorpe.com/Scunthorpe-News.asp?Headline=Opposition+to+Tesco%27s+Brigg+Grows&Article=442

    While I do agree with Kerry in this blog that throwing things at police is not the answer, I am very aware of the sheer contempt shown by the Tories for the 350,000 plus people march peacefully in London on the 26th.

    I am very concerned that changes to the planning laws will see the undermining of historical rural market economies by big corporations, and that any sense of localism and history will inevitably be buried under the tarmac of a chain store.

    Sadly, Tesco’s fills a need and is there 24 hours which fits in with busy modern life styles. To may local residents who live on the town’s many new housing estates, the protection of a 2,000 year old site is not only irrelevant to them, but an inconvenience too.

  • Guriben  On April 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I agree with much of what you say, but if there was a threat of firebombs beforehand why wete there no fire engines on hand? I wonder if it was the bailiffs who decided that there was such a threat?

  • Leroy  On April 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Very interesting points. What is quite amusing/subversive though is that Tesco cannot stand people using an apostrophe in their name. My friend works closely with supermarket marketing and he says it really gets their goat up!

    • kerrymccarthy  On April 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      So it should just be Tesco (as opposed to Tesco’s or Tescos?) I think we’ll ignore them on that one!

      • Leroy  On April 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm

        Yeah, it’s just Tesco. Unlike Sainsbury’s, Tesco isn’t a person! I use the apostrophe just because it’s a bit naughty.

      • kerrymccarthy  On April 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm

        Everyone calls it Tesco’s! I suppose it should be the Tesco, like the Co-op. But going down the Tesco sounds like the sort of thing only a Yorkshireman would say.

  • thebristolblogger  On April 25, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Interesting post. But I’m a bit concerned about this:

    I had a good chat with Chief Superintendent Colin Port when I returned to Stokes Croft the next day, and I’m sure I will be talking to him or other senior officers again.

    After an operational policing disaster on this scale it is not good enough for the city’s politicians, great ‘n’ good and self-styled community leaders to have a few private chats with the Chief Constable and brush this under the carpet.

    Port and the senior officer responsible for the events – Supt Ian Wylie – need to be properly and publicly accountable.

    This was not a riot about Tesco. The chants that evening at the police were “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!”. This was a police riot. A direct response to operational policing decisions. Particularly the decision to place a large mercenary semi-military force on the streets of our city and push ordinary people around. (The fact many of the cops were from Wales hardly helped did it?)

    It backfired spectacularly. The Tesco the police have spent tens of thousands of our money protecting was trashed and eight of Port’s men injured. Those responsible need to be properly accountable and action taken against them if necessary.

    We all know – no doubt even Port in his less arrogant moments – that all policing is by consent. There was no consent for Thursday night’s operation. What made Port think there would be?

    Can we have this discussion in public please. Not behind closed doors or through brief chats?

    • kerrymccarthy  On April 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Well officially, as Richard says on here, it’s Stephen Williams job to push for police explanations and public accountability…. I will do my bit, but I think if Stephen could help facilitate a public meeting with the police that would be a good thing (and I’m not saying that to put him in a tight spot, it’s what I’d do if it was in my patch).

      • thebristolblogger  On April 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

        The only comment I’ve come across from Stephen Williams appears on Penny Red’s article on the riot in the New Statesman:

        Stephen Williams MP
        22 April 2011 at 20:09

        what an irresponsible article. The first sentence is hyperbole. Bristol was not “on fire” last night. A few bins were burnt. There are legitimate concerns about supermarkets but last night’s events were more to do with anarchist or hard left anti-capitalist drop outs who were determined to have a violent confrontation. The vast majority of people in my constituency will be sickened and dismayed by what happened and will not thank various commentators who are trying to stir things up again.

        http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2011/04/stokes-croft-police-tesco

        He’s obviously entitled to his view but to blame it on “anarchist or hard left anti-capitalist drop outs” is dangerously wide of the mark and suggests he doesn’t know much about his constituency and the young people in it.

  • Richard  On April 25, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Kerry,
    In fairness you shouldn’t have attended this event wearing your hat as an MP. Hillfields, Speedwell and other areas need improving.
    For example if Tesco Express in Lodge Causeway closed then lots of local people will struggle and this could be the death of Lodge Causeway which also has a Fred Baker Cycle’s as a neighbour.
    If anything we would like Tesco to expand in Lodge Causeway so you shouldn’t be supporting another areas councerns when there’s so much work to do here.
    Kind regards
    Richard

    • kerrymccarthy  On April 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      I’ve spent all the past few weeks, while Parliament has been on recess, in east Bristol including Speedwell and Hillfields, and will be back there on Thursday. I am, for example, attending the event at Harry Croft’s on Friday (and to be honest there wasn’t much going on in those areas at 1am-3am Thursday night/ Friday morning which required my attention!) I think policing and civil unrest is an issue that is city-wide. I have for example been contacted by constituents who were kettled after the local demonstration against tuition fees, and a couple who were out socialising in Stokes Croft on Thursday night. As I say in my blog, this is an issue about localism, and giving local people real power over what happens in their communities. If people want the Lodge Causeway Tesco then that’s absolutely fine – I don’t at any point suggest that an area shouldn’t have a Tesco if it wants one.

  • Steven J. Oram  On April 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I doff my figurative cap to these sentiments, & to the effort made to witness & experience events first-hand.

    I’m a resident of St. George, but I love the bohemian atmosphere, idealism & creativity that prevails in Stokes Croft and Montpelier. I did my bit to assist the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, & was in the council chamber when Tesco were effectively given the go-ahead, despite the very considerable opposition & compelling arguments proffered against its opening. I’m not sure the counsellors ‘got it’, or if they did, chose to bury their heads in the sand: for me, this raises the issue of the calibre of persons who overwhelmingly seem to end up making critical legislative decisions on our behalf, under the guise of legitimate democratic representation. But what I witnessed that day did not seem democratic, moral, or even intelligent. ‘Got it’ means understanding and *respecting* the obvious strength of feeling against Tesco opening on Stokes Croft, & gleaning a substantive sense of the importance and relevance of the aspirations of people in that community, and its many supporters. What kind of democracy is this when money talks, and is listened to, but the aspirations of local communities and the alternatives they wish to explore and implement, are ignored? The hegemonic neoliberal agenda in politics – which New Labour nourished – privileges the interests of corporate capitalism, and is intrinsically undemocratic, dehumanising and exploitative; sustainability, environmental and ecological issues are necessarily decentred. People in & associated with the Stokes Croft community are seeking real alternatives, & Tesco represents the antithesis of what they are striving for.

    Regarding the media, here again we encounter the problem of the profit imperative, which, especially when combined with lax regulatory procedures, tends to encourage corruption of news values and ipso facto sensationalistic distorted representations of people & events – because the object has become selling the product, rather than reporting events responsibly and accurately. Thankfully, there are enough intelligent & sane people out there for there to be a market in quality news coverage. Nonetheless, blogs & internet based alternative news sources have become indispensable for ‘filling in the gaps’ left out in mainstream news.

    Finally, it interests me why the police employ the language they do. Apparently, they raided the squat acting on intelligence over a ‘very real threat to the local community’ (Evening Post; April 23). Chief Constable Colin Port constructs a narrative defining the police as the custodians of the community’s welfare, his language implying an understanding of & empathy with the community’s aspirations: “This is a lovely area. It’s a bohemian society & the local businesses should be celebrated & supported.” I’m thinking Orwellian Newspeak. Real threats to the community, if one cares to listen to the people at its heart, are the presence of the Tesco outlet, & the arbitrary & uneven enforcement of the law by the police and judiciary, betraying, I would suggest, an ideologically informed interpretation of who & what should legitimately count as ‘community’. I know two individuals, well-known in the Croft community, who, despite their obvious good character, were/are nonetheless targeted by the police and judicial system; their court cases have been reported upon in the local press. What it comes down to is this: intelligent, creative responses to the lived are too often perceived as deviant and punished as threats to an ‘inviolable’ status quo.

    • woodsy  On May 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm

      Chief Constable Colin Port constructs a narrative defining the police as the custodians of the community’s welfare, his language implying an understanding of & empathy with the community’s aspirations…

      There was a time when the police actually lived in the communities they policed and could have been said to have understood them. This is no longer the case; most plods are estranged from the communities they allegedly serve. However, this does not mean I look back on the old days with fond nostalgia; the cops could be just as contrary and vicious then as they are today.

  • Vince  On April 27, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Video of the event that took place on Stokes Croft Bristol

  • PETER DUNN  On May 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Hello Kerry I’ve just come across this page..off subject a litle but very much on Localism.Our area Lawrence Hill,among others has been the target of BCC in their plans to privayise C

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