By Amber Turner-Brightman
On May 1st, thousands took to the streets in a series of organised protests all over the country. May Day – a day internationally recognised as a celebration of labourers, workers, and the working class – was chosen deliberately by coordinators of Kill the Bill for its history of demonstration.
Kill the Bill was organised in response to the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, sponsored by Home Secretary Priti Patel and endorsed by Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick. If this bill passes, police would effectively be able to ban peaceful protests from taking place. Whilst currently they must prove a demonstration poses “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community” to shut it down, under the bill they would have the capability to criminalise any public assembly they deem a “public nuisance”. They will be able to impose start and finish times, noise limits, and even charge protesters for failing follow restrictions they “ought to have known about”. These measures can be enforced on as little as a single person. This not only contradicts the supposed democratic nature of our country, but also goes against our human rights entirely.
Whilst the main campaign has focused on these anti-democratic implications, there are also several communities who will be affected disproportionately if this bill passes. Proposed powers that would allow the seizure of vehicles in cases of “unauthorised encampments” pose a great risk to many members of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, who have the potential to become homeless should their property be apprehended. In addition, a suggested expansion of stop-and-search powers would affect non-white communities disproportionately, given that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped than white people, and other ethnic minorities are four times more likely.
Protests against the bill come in a wider context of public distrust in the police. Following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the murder of George Floyd, the institutional racism which plagues the policing industry has become apparent to many. Patel and Dick have also been criticised for their objection to Extinction Rebellion, in spite of its important message about climate change. More recently, the murder of Sarah Everard and the police’s use of excessive force at a peaceful vigil held in her memory sparked widespread conversations about violence against women, with many concluding that the police are not useful when it comes to women’s safety. The bill was criticised for doing nothing to address this issue. In fact, many were shocked to find it offers more protection to statues than women. The proposed maximum sentence for damaging memorials currently stands at ten years, when over 98% of accused rapists do not serve any time in prison.
So, why should you care? In short, the right to protest builds the foundation of any democratic society. Without the ability to voice dissatisfaction or concern, there is no way for us to bring about positive political and societal change. Most cities are holding Kill the Bill protests should you choose to become involved. No matter how interested you are in politics, it’s important to outwardly oppose this bill while we still can- to protect not only our democratic rights but also the lives of marginalised members of our society.
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