The press has dubbed disturbances in Bristol on Thursday of last week the “Tesco riots”—but the explosion of anger I witnessed went far beyond that.
Time and again, scores of heavily equipped riot police were forced to retreat under a hail of objects thrown by protesters whose numbers had swelled to hundreds.
The enraged crowd refused to disperse, even after police drove their vans at speed into their ranks.
The whole scene was reminiscent of the St Pauls riots that ignited in Bristol almost exactly 31 years ago.
Last week’s fighting was triggered by a police raid on a squat in the deprived Stokes Croft area of the city that was supposed to net them just four arrests.
As over 160 riot cops from three different forces descended on Cheltenham Road, people from Stokes Croft and surrounding areas started to gather at each end of the police cordon.
An initially friendly atmosphere began to turn hostile as police tried to push people back, striking them with their shields and batons.
At the southern end of the cordon they managed to divide the crowd of around 300, pushing many into St Pauls.
Undeterred, many people built improvised barricades—from bins, road signs and rubbish. Cops soon found themselves showered with bottles and other missiles.
Residents came out of their houses to see what was happening. Young locals quickly joined the crowd battling with the police.
Many who live here, particularly young black people, are no strangers to police aggression. But the explosion of pent up anger still took some by surprise.
“I had no idea of the level of hate for the police and for the gentrification of the area that the council is pushing,” said Matt, a student who witnessed the anger first hand.
“But the speed with which the local kids took to the streets alongside activists and radicals to fight the police has suddenly made it very clear to me,” he added.
As numbers battling cops in side streets swelled, police continued to baton, kick and jab with riot shields.
A crowd on City Road chanted defiantly while holding up chain-link fencing. Three police vans rammed them.
With cops now pressing them from behind, the rioters marched north, back through Stokes Croft, towards the now re-occupied squat.
Police kettled them there, almost exactly where the riot began—but their lines couldn’t hold.
South Wales police withdrew at 2am, leaving behind them hundreds of bruised, injured and angry residents.
At this point the crowd turned on the new Tesco store and a police 4x4 parked outside.
The car was smashed and Tesco looted as people chanted anti-police and anti‑Tory slogans.
Local Labour MP Kerry McCarthy was on the scene. She said, “It was an anti-establishment protest—against capitalism and corporations, similar to what we saw in the march against the cuts in London where Starbucks and banks were targeted.”
The opening of this new store has been the subject of several peaceful demonstrations.
Since it opened campaigners have picketed it—and the residential squat facing it had played music in support of the protesters.
This has led to speculation that it may have been Tesco managers that phoned the police to demand action against the squat.
It is impossible to tell how many residents the cops injured over the whole six hours. However, many have already stepped forward with complaints.
One thing is already clear, this was not simply a riot about Tesco or the squats, but an expression of working class anger.
For far too long we have been harassed by the cops, ignored by the council, and cut by the government.
Now people have had enough and almost anything can be the spark for further explosions.
Stokes Croft has just sent Britain’s rich and powerful a warning.