As the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill passes its third parliament reading, protesters and experts discuss how we can continue to resist
“We have always known that this bill will be defeated in the streets,” says artist and community organiser Liv Wynter, “and we have always known that the government doesn’t give the people power – it is down to the people to organise together for their rights, freedom, and justice.”
Wynter is discussing the UK’s Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill, which passed its third reading in parliament on Monday (July 5). The government voted in favour of proposed changes to the legislation, which will increase police powers, restrict our right to protest, and threaten Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller (GRT) communities’ ways of life. Under the new bill, opposing the state in many ways will become a criminal offence – dystopian as it may seem, causing “serious annoyance” could get you up to ten years in prison.
“After intense public pressure, the government used delay tactics to avoid scrutiny on this bill,” Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, tells Dazed. “This week, Tory MPs finally voted in favour of an unprecedented attack on civil liberties in this country. It’s grotesque hypocrisy to proclaim the UK’s ‘Freedom Day’ (from COVID restrictions) just before passing a bill that is an affront to human rights, to the rights of GRT communities, and to the right to protest.”
As the bill returned to parliament on Monday, the Kill the Bill demonstrators who oppose it returned to the streets – led by the Black Music Movement, All Black Lives UK, and Sisters Uncut – to fight against legislation that will infringe on our human rights. Photographer Bex Wade, who went to capture the action for Dazed, says that “although the emergency demo wasn’t the biggest or loudest, what it lacked in size, it made up for in poignancy”. They continue: “A mere few hours before the bill was read out in the building behind, the crowd listened to passionate words and testimonies from the people who this bill will directly affect: minorities, the already-oppressed, and those fearful of yet more police powers and draconian measures.”
Protests have been taking place across the UK since the bill was first debated in parliament in March. Many have led to violent clashes between the police and protesters, most notably during week-long demonstrations in Bristol, and at the London vigil for Sarah Everard, who was murdered at the hands of a serving Metropolitan Police officer.
At the vigil – which the Met attempted to ban – male police officers were criticised for manhandling women and violently arresting them as they attempted to mourn. Last week (July 1), a government inquiry confirmed that officers at the vigil breached fundamental rights, misinterpreted coronavirus laws, antagonised protesters, and used excessive force – all instances of police brutality that may be bolstered under the new bill.
“As harrowing as it may be that the Tory government has voted in the ‘police powers’ bill, we shouldn’t be surprised,” continues Wynter. “At the vigil for Sarah Everard – a woman raped and murdered by a police officer – we witnessed police officers drunk on power abusing our community when we wanted to be left to mourn. These officers and this government believe they are untouchable, so it is down to us to remind them that real power lies with the community, with direct action and protest.”
Oliver Feeley-Sprague, the military, security, and policing director at Amnesty International UK, says he’s “disappointed that there were no MPs on the government side willing to take more seriously the threat to basic civil liberties. The right to protest is a cornerstone principle of international human rights law; if the bill goes through, we’re likely to see a ‘chilling effect’, where people are left fearful of exercising their right to protest”.
Feeley-Sprague adds that “some areas of the bill – for example those directed towards travelling communities – are also likely to lead to excessive and discriminatory policing”. He continues: “We already have serious issues of institutionalised racism in UK policing, with Black people much more likely to be stopped and searched, tasered, or even to die in police custody. This bill is set to make matters worse.”
Today (July 7), GRT grassroots organisation Drive2Survive is leading a protest in London against the eradication of nomadic life in Britain. “Now really is the time to join together in your communities and find out what unites you with your neighbours against this bill,” says Sisters Uncut, the direct action feminist group who organised previous Kill the Bill protests. “Today, we stand alongside our Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller comrades as they fight for their right to survive.”
“These officers and this government believe they are untouchable, so it is down to us to remind them that real power lies with the community, with direct action and protest” – Liv Wynter, artist and community organiser
In an opinion piece for Dazed last year, writer and editor of Travellers’ Times Lisa Smith described the proposed criminalisation of unauthorised GRT encampments as “legislative cleansing”. She said: “Nothing is being done to deal with the root cause of unauthorised encampments for Gypsies and Travellers, and instead, what we are seeing is the result of years of neglect. There is a lack of political will to address the chronic shortage of site provision across the country and this can partly be explained by widespread anti-Gypsyism and prejudice.”
Sisters Uncut says that just because the bill has made it through its last stage of parliament – it will now head to the House of Lords for final amendments – it doesn’t mean the fight is over. “We have always said from the beginning that defeating the bill was about bringing our communities together in resistance and solidarity, to show Priti (Patel, home secretary) and everyone else in power that whether it passes or not, we will make it unenforceable on the streets,” the group tells Dazed. “We won’t let them assault us or our siblings with state-sanctioned police brutality and racism.”
Wynter expresses a similar sentiment: “This isn’t about lobbying or about convincing the Tories to take our side when we know they never will, it’s time for us all to make a commitment to a summer of dissent! We must become ungovernable! No one should be scared to leave their house for fear of violence, and until our communities are safe, we must commit to organising.”