On March 21, Bristol was trending worldwide on Twitter; but not for reasons I’d hoped. While thousands – including myself – had gathered in the city center to fight for our right to protest during the day, in the evening, protestors and police became caught up in violent scenes that were replayed all around the world the next morning.
While that was the first “Kill The Bill” protest in my hometown, over the last three weeks, there have been six more demonstrations against the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ – a proposed legislation our government is trying to introduce to give the police more power over how we protest. The new bill would allow officers to criminalize protests they deem a “public nuisance,” as well as allow them to impose start and finish times, set noise limits, and apply measures on the routes of demonstrations – in my eyes, everything that makes a protest, a protest.
Not only would this bill be in danger of violating international human rights laws about our right to protest, but it could also easily be manipulated by the police and used as yet another control tactic to further marginalize vulnerable communities in the UK.
This bill would also increase the maximum penalty for damaging a memorial – like when protestors in Bristol toppled the statue of slave trader, Edward Colston, last year – from three months imprisonment or a £2,500 fine, to 10 years or a £10,000 fine. To put that into context, in the UK currently, the maximum sentence for common assault is just six months imprisonment, while the punishment for actual bodily harm is five years maximum; if this bill got through parliament, there would be harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman. Yeah, you read that right.
Toppled statue of English slave trader Edward Colston will be retrieved from the harbor and exhibited in a museum, says Bristol City Council https://t.co/4FA6uwa7w3 📷: Keir Gravil pic.twitter.com/pvboqmI9Ad
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 10, 2020
If this bill got through parliament, there would be harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.
To make matters worse, there is no section of the policing bill which addresses violence against women. Meanwhile, a little less than a month ago, the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard – who was killed by a serving member of the police force itself – led to thousands of women sharing their horrific experiences of being harassed and raped at the hands of men; recently, the issue of women’s safety has been on everybody’s lips, so it seems especially dangerous for this bill to keep its mouth shut on the matter.
Not to mention that the actions of the Met Police in London at the vigil for Sarah Everard last month have also caused many – including myself – to question whether giving the police more power over protests is a good idea.
Despite images and videos of officers handling female protestors roughly leading to widespread condemnation, a recent inspectorate review of that night has claimed that the Met’s controversial use of force was justified as officers feared the risk of Coronavirus spreading had increased.
That may be so, but all I know is that when I first saw this picture on Twitter, I was chilled to my bones.
Visual politics 101. Patsy Stevenson being arrested at a vigil last night for Sarah Everard, a serving Metropolitan Police Officer has been charged with her murder. This is what 'policing by consent' apparently looks like. (Photo: Jack Hill (?)) https://t.co/Lwr6dSqGv3 pic.twitter.com/20gsmjaHE2
— Lewis Bush (@Lewis__Bush) March 14, 2021
I’m proud that Bristol is known as a liberal city across the UK and one that stands up for what we believe in. We’re no strangers to demonstrations, just look at our branch of Extinction Rebellion in the city, or the toppling of the Colston statue – which I’m upset I wasn’t there to witness in person – or the multiple Black Lives Matter marches – which I’m so glad I was.
As of yet, no group has come forward to claim responsibility for organizing these demonstrations, and before I started my supermarket shift the other day, a customer told me they had stopped buses going into the city center since there was another protest planned later that evening. But the demonstrations are becoming less violent; last Tuesday, the ‘kill the bill’ protest was peaceful, with riot police on standby yet remaining largely out of sight.
Nonetheless, with the bill successfully passing its second reading in parliament and easing lockdown restrictions allowing for protests to legally take place now, it’s safe to say these demonstrations in Bristol aren’t stopping anytime soon.
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