Britain: Kill the Bill protests take on police powers

May 6, 2021

Thousands of people mobilised in 50 locations around England on May 1 against the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which activists say will erode the right to protest.

If passed, the five legislative proposals will: widen the range of conditions that the police can impose on protests and the circumstances in which they can impose them; make it easier for police to charge participants with offences relating to breach of conditions at a protest; introduce a statutory offence of public nuisance; and create new stop, search and seizure powers for police.

Justifying the bill, the British government claims that as a result of Extinction Rebellion’s 2019 protests “some of London’s busiest areas were brought to a standstill for several days” and cost the police £37 million. It also cites the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, claiming “172 Metropolitan Police Service officers were assaulted by a violent minority”.

The Kill the Bill Coalition was launched at the end of March, and released a statement saying the bill “is a dangerous and unnecessary piece of legislation that endangers the rights and safety of every single one of us … We stand united and reject attempts to divide our movement into “good” and “bad” protestors.”

The coalition argues that the proposed bill “intensifies police brutality against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and criminalises their way of life". The bill will give police power to criminalise protests for being ‘noisy’, disruptive or ‘annoying', and uses "‘protecting’ women as a cover to expand police powers and increase custodial sentences."

It will also expand stop and search powers which, the coalition notes are "regularly used to harass and terrorise young black people." Finally, the coalition explains the bill "will silence the calls for justice by families of those whose loved ones have died at the hands of the police … [and] makes those at the sharpest edge of state violence even more unsafe — including migrants, sex workers, disabled people, and racialised communities.”

More than 90 diverse groups have signed on to the statement.

Following the May protests, Anti-Capitalist Resistance activist Neil Faulkner wrote: “With thousands out in Central London, hundreds in major cities and towns like Brighton, Bristol, Manchester, and Newcastle, and smaller protests in around 50 places altogether, the Kill the Bill Coalition has emerged as a major new campaigning force.

“The protests everywhere were young, diverse, and vibrant. They brought together the widest range of organisations, from local trades councils and union branches to radical activist groups like Sisters Uncut, Black Lives Matter, and Extinction Rebellion.

“In Central London, participants included Kurdish, Iranian, and Palestinian activists, the IWGB [Independent Workers of Great Britain] union of precarious workers, the London Renters Union, various women’s groups like Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Rape, as well as more mainstream labour movement organisations like local Labour parties, Momentum groups, and UNISON [Public Service Union] and RMT [National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers] branches.”

Faulkner believes the campaign can win, but says activists are up against powerful forces: “We cannot afford to underestimate the threat that this right-wing programme of police power and fascist-type politics represents.

“This corrupt, reactionary, vicious regime will not easily be defeated. The system faces a deepening ecological and social crisis, and that means pro-system regimes like the [Boris] Johnson government face crises of legitimacy in the face of growing popular resistance. The drive towards fascism and a police state is – as we explain in System Crash – a direct consequence of the systemic crisis of world capitalism. The stakes are therefore very high.

“To win, we must reach out and turn the campaign we have launched from a movement of thousands into a movement of hundreds of thousands.”

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