On 27 March, a protester at Bristol’s Kill the Bill demo was seemingly defended by a police dog. The canny hound turned on a police officer and bit him; this appeared to set the man free.
The incident immediately evoked the spirit of Greek ‘riot dog’ Loukanikos and Chilean icon perro ‘Matapacos‘ both famed for their presence on the frontlines of anti-austerity protests.
Dog bites cop
Videos emerged following police violence at protests in Bristol. These appeared to show a police dog helping to free a protester:
Police dog sees cop acting aggressively, bites the cop and frees the protester. pic.twitter.com/mC6bj93m7k
— Chad Loder (@chadloder) March 27, 2021
Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS) explains that, since 21 March, demonstrations in Bristol have:
seen police charging crowds with horses, releasing attack dogs on protesters, pepper-spraying people indiscriminately and physically attacking journalists.
BDS is currently fundraising to support people arrested who’ll likely “face harsh charges as the state seeks to make an example of them”.
Matapacos rose to prominence during the historic protests of 2011. Students took to the streets across the South American nation’s largest cities, demanding free and inclusive education. Similarly to protests in 2019, Sebastian Piñera led the presidency and ordered the fierce repression that led to 900 people being arrested in one swoop. Matapacos not only regularly attended the protests but also fearlessly confronted Chile’s heavily armed carabinero police. This made him a legendary revolutionary symbol of combative resistance in Chile.
Although Matapacos passed away in 2017 (from natural causes) his image resurfaced during 2019 anti-neoliberal protests in Chile. His image was sprayed across murals, on protest placards and worn on T-shirts and bandanas. The spirit of Matapacos was at every protest, and when a mosaic of him was defaced, there was a public outcry.
Greek anti-austerity protesters also had their riot dog Loukanikos, who became legendary in 2008 thanks to his fearlessness. It’s rumoured he did not miss a single protest, often leading street battles against heavily armed police with his newfound anarchist friends.
When protests broke out in New York in 2019-2020 in response to aggressive policing on the subway in which Black and Brown people were being ‘systematically’ targeted, protesters staged mass fare evasions similar to the one in Santiago in the same year, that kicked off the estallido social (social insurrection). The image of Matapacos appeared on stickers, banner and on social media calls-to-action, across New York.
“I see Negro Matapacos’ legacy as providing a dramatic contrast to the use of dogs to suppress dissent. In my view, as someone who takes animal agency seriously, he joined the front lines voluntarily to defend the protesters against the police.” wrote Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond for The Conversation during the time of the New York Subway unrest.
Every protest movement needs symbols of hope and solidarity. Matapacos and the anonymous Bristolian dog that defied its brief to free a protester may be just what we need to keep our spirits high during these combative times.
Image Flickr – Nando