Bristol police miss opportunity to work with community filmmakers to build dialogue after riots

See below the latest street news video by the South Blessed Community Channel, as a follow-up to their anti-Tesco film, (see previous post).  Last night the local police used vans and deployed a helicopter to stop the screening of a film in a park about last week’s riots.  When the screening moved to a local house, at first the police then attempted to stop that happening too.  Surely the police need to realise that such heavy-handed strategies will only make relationships worse, and tensions rise.   The reason they gave for stopping the screening was that they feared it would stoke the flames and cause more violence.

It’s true that the screening did not have a public licence, but lots of such events have not had one in the past and they have never seen this over the top reaction to close them down.  By carrying out these actions the police could be accused by many of censorship, being paranoid, oppression of civil liberties, trying to stifle public opinion, and patronising local people with the assumption they will riot again based on a film screening. 

(If video does not embed properly – see video direct here –

See coverage of this story by the local BBC news office here.

There is no doubt film is a powerful medium that can influence audiences, but rather than seeing it as a tool that could incite violence, the police need to work with the local filmmakers and see it as a tool to engage in dialogue with communities.  I wrote about this subject over a year ago – see ‘Community Media as Third Cinema (January 2010)’.   There is a real opportunity here for the police and Bristol Council to stop acting in such a stifling top down fashion, and to organize an event with local people to have a proper debate about what happened last Thursday, and to find solutions for the future.  Last night could have been one such opportunity, but it was squandered by a misguided demonstration of visible state power. 

I’m pleased the policemen interviewed by South Blessed at least tried to engage in a conversation, even though they eventually bottled up and walked away.  It was good to see as often the police refuse to speak to cameras at all.  In this high-speed digital age, the police need to see community & social media such as this as a good place to start building local dialogue, not fight against it.  Citizen journalism will not be going away, rather it will be on the increase.  A public screening in a park should be viewed as a positive step to work with, not something to fear or stifle.

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