July 14th was a day that the English Defence League claimed would be a huge national demonstration against the ‘Islamification of Britain’. The EDL are a far right wing organisation who spout hate against all types of people, but they especially hate Muslims, Arabs and immigrants. The location they picked for their big rally was Bristol, a medium size port city in the south-west of England. I was there to counter protest the EDL, along with many others. This was their big rally demo and they brought just 300 people, a huge contrast to the thousands they were known to mobilise from all over the country. Antifascists were estimated to be around one thousand at the most conservative estimate. Policing cost around half a million pounds for that day, with many police being drafted in from places like Wales. The heddlu (meaning ‘police’ in Welsh) writing on their uniforms made it obvious. (This was paid for by the same council that cut the £20,000 fund for the St Pauls carnival.)
I got on a free bus from Cardiff to Bristol. It took us around 45 mins to get to Bristol, stopping on the way in Newport to pick up fellow anti fascist supporters.
We were dropped on a road named Saint Augustine in the centre of the city. Socialist Worker Party, trade union types and UAF went for a rally. They were kettled and from what I heard, spent a lot of the day kettled.
The group of people I was with were not kettled throughout the day. Like us, many other groups were wandering the streets of Bristol. This is what I did for around four hours. The town centre was on lockdown. Locals told us the police began making barriers to cut off streets since the night before. It was impossible to get anywhere. Unless you were the EDL, and then the police protected you. Most of my day and many others were spent not getting kettled and seeing what was what. People tweeted the day with the hashtag #stoptheedl to inform other protesters as to where was cut off, where/who was kettled, where the EDL were etc. While waiting on Grove Bridge, one stray EDL member was arrested for calling a policeman a ‘paki’.
At one point, antifascists were on the side of the cliff and the EDL were below. This was at around quarter to three. The EDL proceeded to hurl sticks, bottles and stones at antifascists. We were not to retaliate. We were told to move back, and despite officers below, they did not stop the EDL throwing missiles at us. A few people were injured; one looked quite seriously injured but had no access to a medic on site. The police directed her to the nearest hospital 2 miles away. The antifascists were told to step back, but not allowed to retaliate. Many EDL had their faces covered; but many antifa had their face coverings ripped from their face throughout the day. Many anti-fascists and anti-EDL demonstrators wear face coverings because of a police section called the Forward Intelligent Team. They are at demonstrations and are otherwise known as FIT, and come to film activists in order to gain intelligence. As the ‘Queen’s subjects’ they do not have to ask permission. EDL also did a few Nazi salutes, yet we saw none arrested for this act. Some EDL weren’t going home via the coaches and instead came to where we were and started hassling anti fascists with racial slurs, threats of violence, throwing stones and bottles. People were asked to step back so the EDL members could have free reign of the area and to verbally abuse people, and they tried to start fights.
Word got out that the EDL would be leaving via Portwell Place to get back to the train station from their rally at College Green. Many masked and non masked antifacists were on Portwell Place. The road was blocked by anti fascists who dragged out large business/restaurant bins and set them on fire, before then throwing them towards the police line that was protecting the EDL from the crowd. Bottles were thrown, some full, some empty. People were ready to block that road. Pavement slabs were also thrown. Police got very aggressive and began to physically push people back. This was on a roundabout in an area named Redcliffe and near a cathedral. The police were riot police with large batons. They had dogs and were on horses. We were gradually pushed down the road, but obviously not going fast enough. We ran around the corner to Victoria Street, I think it was called. This is where it got more violent. Not from our group, but the police. I remember seeing Alsatians in the crowd, many Alsatians. Those were the police dogs, so it looked like police dogs were set on the crowd. There is video evidence of this on Youtube, evidence of dogs being let of leashes by polie and going into the crowd.
I know of at least one person who was hit so hard on the head by cops they needed stitches. Wanting to clear the street to accomodate the EDL, the dogs and the horses were again set on us. Some took street furniture and dragged it to form a mini blockade from cops and their animals.People split onto a left side street, some back down the street to catch up with the EDL and some ran straight down Victoria Street.
As I was one of the last few to leave Portwell Place, I was on the tail end of being chased. I began to become one of the last as I saw a cop push over a woman with his baton and I stopped to help the woman get up and ask how she was. I lowered my face covering so it looked like a scarf around my neck when I helped the woman get up, who was very upset. I waited with her for a friend to catch up with her to make sure she was OK. We tried to get the number of the policeman who pushed her over but he then hid it and smirked. Other cops looked over and sniggered. She left.
I walked off to find friends when one of the cops who sniggered when we tried to record his badge number (which should be on show at all times, according to law, and makes it easier to report incidents like this) stopped me and accused me of having my face covered. I had lowered it and told him it was a scarf. He then held my arm and removed it over my head and told me he was going to arrest me. Other police officers looked on, one dismayed. He then took both arms and walked me over to the van. A legal observer came up behind me and told him he couldn’t arrest me, I didn’t have my face covered, and quickly took down his police number. The observer then gave me a bust card, the cop tried to stop him doing so and blocked him, but I managed to get it out of his hand. Knowing he’d been seen, I assumed, he let me go, but if he saw me again he’d ‘get me’.
And then that was the end of my day. I met with friends and on our way, a legal observer took down what we had seen on tape. The media had a huge presence there. So did plainclothes policeman in the crowd. Around 12 people were arrested, I read two for covering their face, one for a racially aggravated assault, and another one for throwing a stone. A member of the public who didn’t want to give evidence reported to police he saw him, but had no evidence that the young man threw the rock. Sounds like a cop to me. Some were held at Trinity Police Station in Easton and a noise demo followed in solidarity . I went home at around ten and scuffles broke out between anti fascists and the EDL throughout the night.