THE ST PAULS RIOTS
As we saw in the Bristol Bus Boycott section, 1965 and 1968 were the years that the race relation acts were implemented. In addition to this, 1968 introduced the first of many laws that were aimed and restricting entry into the UK from the Caribbean. This was a reflection of the feelings of hatred and animosity that had been rising as a result of the influx of Caribbean people settling in the country. This was perhaps expressed best in Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech which he delivered at a general meeting of Conservative Party members in the same year of 1968. The sentiments of Powell’s speech emphasised how the country was changing and how in the next 10 years “the black man would have the whip hand over the white man”.
The 70s and 80s was the coming of age for many of the children of the Windrush generation, and Bristol was one of the more "booming" cities despite the neglect it had suffered during the post-war era at the hands of city officials. St Pauls was home to many of these young British Born Caribbean children.
It is undeniable that there was racism that affected the Caribbean communities not only overtly, but also systemically, particularly through employment, housing, education, and policing. The misuse of “sus” laws that was disproportionately used on Black people during this time also led to further frustration within the younger Caribbean born generation that had witnessed their parents hardship and were not happy with how they were now being treated.
Bertram Wilks was a Local Bristol entrepreneur from Jamaica who opened the Black and White Cafe in 1971. The Black and White cafe became one of the most raided premises in the country. Below is some information on what happened in 1980, an event that lives on forever in the hearts and minds of our community.
The Riots - What Went Down?
On April 2nd 1980, the police raided the Black and White Cafe. There are different narrations as to what led to the raid turning into a riot, but two things are clear,
1) The police confiscated some of the alcohol on the premises as it was suspected that it did not have the correct licensing. Everyone in the cafe was searched and there were a few ounces of personal use marijuana found. This process continued over the period of hours, in which time only two arrests were made, one of which was the landlord owner Mr Wilkes and a customer who was consuming the alcohol. News had travelled about the raid and locals began to gather to see
what was happening.
2) During the search, an item of clothing of a civilian got damaged, it was argued that had the officers not been so excessive with force, this would not have happened. This was not a once off occurrence either, but a regular occurrence that typified the treatment of the community of St Pauls. In the context of a raid this encounter was an accelerant for an already heated situation. As the police began to move the drinks and other items between the cafe and police vehicles the occasional stone was launched towards the police. One officer shouted a racial slur, and that led to more volatile interactions. It got to the point where the police retreated into the Black and White cafe and requested for all available units to support where things were now at riot level. More police officers from neighbouring counties came to aid the officers who were already there. Though there were 200 officers within the area, they were still stretched and it became clear that they had no choice but to withdraw altogether.
During the withdrawal process, there were scurries between the young people of St Paul’s and the police. One such scurry led to police officers abandoning their vehicles, and one of the three abandoned vehicles was set on fire. Meanwhile, older local residents formed groups to protect the local shops from both the younger residents but also the growing number of white young people not from the area who saw this as an opportunity to cause criminality and have some fun. Although the police officers withdrew from the immediate area, they set up a perimeter around the Stoke Croft area and the M32. Eventually, Mr Wilks was released from police custody and this saw the crowd settle down. By midnight the scene had settled down.
How do you think the Police handed this incident?
Do you think that things would be handled different today?
How does it feel knowing that a location so precious to the community was involved in such an important event in not only Bristol's history, but Britain's as well?
Do you know of anyone who was involved in the riots? What was there interpretation of events?
Despite the bad press that St Pauls got and particularly it’s Caribbean residents, the police genuinely never expected for the day to unfold in the way that it did. This was the first time in the history of Britain that riot shields were used in the mainland on civilians. Though the St Paul's riot was not the first of its kind it was iconic for young Caribbean people and young people generally around the country. This started an era of retaliation to over-policing which eventually forced politicians to rethink its practices including its overuse of sus laws. More recently The St Pauls Riots become known as The St Pauls Uprising, acknowledging in the tradition of people globally who retaliate against repressive homegrown regimes.
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Has this section peaked your interest?
Here are some further race related riots that took place in the UK around this time that you may wish to research.
Brixton Riots (London)
Toxeth Riots (Liverpool)
Hansworth Riots (Birmingham)
Chapeltown Riots (Leeds)
Moss Side Riots (Manchester)
"Operation Delivery" (1986)
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