On the 17th of December, Ryan Roberts was convicted of a series of disorders linked to the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests in Bristol earlier this year, and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.
The Kill the Bill campaign was a series of nationwide meetings, protests and other actions with the aim of raising public awareness of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bill has granted the police and judiciary unprecedented power, ostensibly for the purposes of public safety and crime prevention. However the true impact of this bill represents a massive assault on the right to protest, or even in some instances to simply assemble. It gives the police scope to interpret basically any public event as a threat to public safety, and the courts the ability to convict more or less any act of defiance as a criminal offence.
Roberts has been convicted of allegedly assaulting police officers, as well as inciting others to violence and setting fire to police vehicles. Weather or not he is guilty of these acts is unknown – it is certainly not beyond the capacity of the police to fabricate charges and evidence, as they regularly do.
For the sake of comparison, other people convicted to 14 years (or less) imprisonment in recent years include several serial child rapists and paedophiles, a man convicted of targetted attempted murder and several actual murderers. Roberts may well have committed the crimes he is accused of, he may not. It is clear though that the severity of his sentencing is usually reserved for far more serious crimes. A sentence of 14 years is disproportionate, to say the least. Even if Roberts were guilty of every action attributed to him, it is clear that the state is using him as an example. The ruling class is telling us; “Do not resist.”
The violent behaviour of the police during the protests far outweighed any violence directed against them. There is hours of footage of the police ‘baton charging’ static, peaceful crowds of protestors. There are videos of protestors being held down and savagely beaten by multiple officers, before simply being let go. Surely, any action that warrants a group beating by the police would also warrant arrest? Despite this there have been no convictions of police officers, or even statements of apology or recognition.
This one-sided approach to the alleged use of violence underpins just how dangerous these new state powers are. For all their enthusiasm, the professional activist scene in Bristol has proven that it does not have the capacity to challenge state power. What will beat the violence of the police and the self-serving corruption of the courts is working class power. Our communities are the front line in the fight against state oppression. It is only through organisation and working class discipline that we will beat this assault on our rights.