by Bristol Copwatch
Hi! it’s good to catch up once again! We’ve been quiet on this blog for a good few months and hope to keep it updated a lot more regularly. It’s fair to say the past 6 months or so has been exceptionally busy for us and as a grassroots police monitoring group it’s really important to manage our capacity and develop what we do.
In the past 3 years of our existence we’ve achieved a lot and helped people in Bristol and across the county get things put right when it comes to issues with the police. A lot of our work in this area is ongoing. We’ve monitored the police ( although a little reactively )on the street and since 2021 have spent time working on developing relationships with other monitoring groups, organisations and of course with communities we support.
If 2022 was anything it was overall a very strong year for us when it came to workshops and events around the UK and of course in Bristol, focusing on stop and search know your rights and bystander intervention We loved paying Oxford a visit twice last year for community and student events and of course Bristol Transformed in the summer allowed us to help build community resilience and share knowledge and educate others on their rights in the face of police contact.
2022 concluded with 2 workshops in Vauxhall for our friends at StopWatch and the awesome RAW Festival on technology and the law and bystander intervention and it was fantastic to make new friends and allies at Black Creatives and speak at the excellent Children of Tomorrow fundraiser for the family of Chris Kaba at Trinity in December last year. As with everything we do it’s all about community DIY. Collectively we have a lot of power.
Art on display at Children of Tomorrow on the 16/12/22. The artist is Oshii. The pieces were auctioned off and profits were donated to the family of Chris Kaba. Always remember that communities fighting back against police brutality and for accountability hit harder than Tyson.
After the sudden and tragic passing of one of our core organising team Ahmed Fofanah last August we fund raised close to 6k for his family and will never be silent about the brutality, racism, harassment and injustice he faced at the hands of Avon and Somerset Police. As Ahmed himself would say we have to fight because if we don’t the police will continue to abuse their power and brutalise our communities.
Ahmed was our representative on the community engagement panel for the Co-POWeR project who we worked with since 2021 as part of work package 1 and a community engagement partner. You can find out more about Co-POWeR vital research here into the impact COVID-19 and emergency powers had on BAMEFC across the UK during the pandemic. Our founding member John Pegram in his own words stepped into shoes he could never fill and attended the Co-POWeR final conference in January 2023 in Leeds.
The findings of the project and in particular recommendations on the role of the police during a public health crisis can be found here. Although the project has since concluded we believe that the findings and research will provide a strong foundation and guidance for community resilience in the event another pandemic occurs. COVID-19 is not over and it is clear that racism was also the virus.
Which brings up to recent issues with the police. There is a distinct lack of ownership and accountability when it comes to institutional racism and other failings that are clearer than ever since the revelations of this month’s Casey report, but let’s be honest here. It’s something we’ve all known is a truth for decades. Chief Constable Sarah Crew in a disturbingly similar vein to Sir Mark Rowley refused to admit Avon and Somerset Police is institutionally racist in 2022 whilst in the same breath “committing” to anti racism work.
We at Bristol Copwatch believe “benevolent” Chief Constables and Commissioners set a dangerous precedent by refusing to take ownership of the harsh truth that is institutional racism and discrimination in the police. Being frank. there should be a thin blue line drawn in the sand when it comes to where exactly protecting an organisation begins and ends.
Locally we see a rapidly developing erosion of trust between the general pubic and the police and we are deeply concerned about the increased militarisation of the police with ARV patrols, increased compensation pay outs for serious misconduct and as always a clear eagerness to retain staff that should have never been placed into a position of power. Yesterday evening we attended the peaceful Kill The Bill 2 demonstration and march in Bristol and as John said in his speech outside Bridewell Police station
“over the past few years of our existence we have seen numerous abuses of power. We have witnessed the machinery of the state in action! We understand the damage the criminal justice system and the police can do to people’s lives.”
Which is why in 2023 we are very keen to develop more of a street presence and routinely monitor the police in our communities where we know stop and search is bad, where police harassment and targeting is commonplace and where some of the most vulnerable in our community can feel alone. We want you to know that you are never alone and that as always we see you because #WeCopWatch.
This Friday we’re discussing predictive policing in Avon and Somerset with the awesome Liberty and other civil society groups and community activists. All we know so far is that the police have risk scored 250,000 of us in this county and the IBM Offender Management predictive policing technology they use has no safe guarding to prevent profiling and discrimination, not only that but officers receive no training. What does police intervention for offenders on their localised gang matrix look like? We don’t know because Avon and Somerset Police won’t say. This is not how you build trust and heal divides.
Art by Ahmet Ogut
But being honest, we expect nothing less from Avon and Somerset Police. Our casework team has developed working relationships with the IOPC and organisations such as SARI to help support our community yet we remain fearless independent of police oversight as we will not erode trust in the communities we have supported since 2020. In 2023 we would like to see the police take ownership and acknowledge the damage and trauma they can create in people’s lives.
We would like policing which is clearly beyond reform to be reimagined for the better the role of the police to be assessed and for communities to work together to solve problems that currently rely on police intervention. These are goals we have that see beyond the current systems and structures but we work in the here and now. This year, let’s not leave anyone behind. Let’s fight for police accountability and for our rights and justice. Let’s show them what time it is.