For those who live outside or on the periphery of the City of Bristol, the scenes reported by the media would come as a shock, and for many would leave a bad taste in their mouth.
“Can Rioting ever be justified?” some will ask, while others will see the violence and will instantly condemn the rioters and even the community itself. However, Stokes Croft is the very example of what can be achieved with a truly strong community base.
The area has had many years of bad publicity and tough times, yet this community is now regarded as “up and coming”. Not because of large government projects, to gentrify the area and throw out the traditional incumbent community, but because the community itself and new comers alike are creating a vibrant atmosphere that people are proud of . Local bespoke businesses creating wealth that stays in the community.
On Thursday 21st April at 9:15pm the Police decided to raid Telepathic Heights, a squat in the Stokes Croft area. The time of the eviction was decided based on “intelligence” that some residents had the “ability” to make petrol bombs. To be fair it would be unlikely if any household didn’t!
Most people of sense would concur that in a community where there is some tension over squatter evictions and the newly opened Tesco store, that a more benign time could have been chosen. Maybe a quiet Sunday morning perhaps??As the MP Kerry McCarthy tweeted: “If you were going to evict squatters, why not do it in the morning? How many riots happen at 7am?”
The seeds were sown for trouble to ensue once people found out what was happening and those more inebriated showed their displeasure. It is not beyond the wit of man to see that a hot summer evening on the eve of a Bank Holiday around closing time is not the best time to evict squatters.
While I, like many, would not choose to engage in or condone violence, the stupidity of the authorities to ignore the will of the community will inevitably lead to acts of civil disobedience over time.
In Stokes Croft the greed of outsiders, corporations and politicians have stamped their fist onto localism, democracy and community. Absent landlords who allow properties to go to ruin forcing the local council to step in and pay for repairs, costing the community money while making a mockery of local democracy.
On top of this, when the run down buildings are taken over by enterprising squatters, creating a useful space for art and the community, those same landlords use the law to evict them. These landlords are the scourge on our communities and not the squatters in this scenario. These landlords run down the area and steal money from the community in order to obtain profit.
Then we have Tesco. The battle over the Stokes Croft Tesco store has been well publicised. This however, is not simply about being anti Tesco’s, but rather about local democracy and what is good for the community.
Personally, I do not have anything against Tesco or any other large supermarket. But the choice of whether a large corporation, who have a disproportional amount of power in the market place, should be able to set up a store in any particular area, is for the local community to decide.
In the case of Stokes Croft the local community are clearly against the Tesco store. However both the council and Tesco ignored the will of the people.
The local’s objections are clear, there are at least 38 Tesco’s in Bristol and 2 within walking distance of Stokes Croft itself. There are legitimate concerns for local businesses who are being put in direct competition with a company who has far too much power in the market place.
Some within the community have little sympathy with the violence believing that this will again taint the area with a bad image and cause problems for local businesses. Equally, the Police were clearly provocative and acted without any consideration to local residents. Bringing in outside forces in an overwhelming way was bound to create more problems than was needed. While the focal point of the Tesco store was going to be irresistible for some.
Anyone who believes in democracy, localism, and community should see that Stokes Croft have every right to assert it’s democratic right to protect it’s community and allow it to thrive. We should not judge Stokes Croft on the rioting, but on the spectacular way the community thrives and creates a truly interesting and vibrant part of the city of Bristol.
Stokes Croft is an individual area with a real community and a different individualistic feel about it. It has a right to have a say in how it develops and be at the forefront of that, which is why Tesco should listen to the voices of the community and reverse its decision to maintain a store in Stokes Croft.