Why we’re marching on Mayday
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
On Saturday 1 May, tens of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets in 40 different locations across the UK. Why? To stop the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge, 300-page piece of proposed law that seeks to increase police powers in terrifying ways.
If this police powers bill becomes law, we will see even more police violence – against people who speak up against injustice, and specifically against Black, Muslim and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
What is in the bill that’s sparked all of these protests?
This proposed laws will give police unprecedented powers to use against the public. Police are already drunk on the powers that they have – if they are given more, it will only lead to more violence.
Here are the specific parts of the bill we are most concerned by:
Protest (the right to assemble) is a human right
You never know when you might need to take to the streets to speak up against injustice, but you have a right to do it. The police powers bill will try to shut down our ability to do that, police will have the power to seriously restrict and criminalise protest by:
- Imposing a start and finish time
- Setting noise limits
- Applying rules of a demonstration by just one person
- If someone fails to follow police directions, they could be fined up to £2,500.
- Police will be able to arrest people at protests without warning. Right now, police need to prove to protesters that they knew they had been told to move on before they can make arrests. The bill gives the police the right to arrest someone where they “ought to have known” a condition existed.
- The proposed law includes an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” – and language in the bill suggests that if someone ‘annoys’ a police officer, they could be charged. The language and the scope of powers given to senior officers and to the Home Secretary through this Bill are open for abuse.
- The bill will seek to lock up protest organisers for longer sentences – increasing the maximum sentence from 3 months to 11 months imprisonment. These changes risk plunging people further into the criminal justice system, simply for exercising their democratic right.
- Trespass is currently a civil law offence and police have no powers to arrest offenders. The police powers bill makes it a criminal law and would empower police to arrest any person and seize any vehicles or property. This impacts the right to protest overnight or set up protest camps. This also has a huge impact on Gypsa, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities – even the police don’t want this.
The police already abuse the powers they have – and shouldn’t be given more. The violent policing of the Sarah Everard vigil, the reckless brutality of police against protestors in Bristol and London (including police pretending to be postmen to gain entry to a protestor’s house, handcuffing her while half-naked), the use of mobile fingerprinting technology at protests to harvest public biometric data, and the £10,000 fine given to a nurse protesting the 1% NHS pay rise are very recent examples of this.
If the police are handed more powers, we’re about to see more terrifying violence against people who are courageous enough to speak out against injustice.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) rights
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities are among the most persecuted and marginalised in the UK. The police powers bill wants to criminalise their existence. This will be done by criminalising ‘unauthorised encampments’ and established trespass – effectively criminalising GRT communities’ way of life. The proposals in the Bill are extremely discriminatory:
- The Bill will create a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”. It is undoubtable that these powers will be used to target GRT communities – whose vehicles include homes, and who may end up homeless. It’s vital to recognise this in the context of a country that has a huge shortage of sites for GRT communities to reside on.
- If a person or family is removed from an area, they are banned from returning for 12 months. A person who returns will face harsh criminal punishments, including up to 3 months in jail or a fine of up to £2,500.
GRT communities anticipate even more violent evictions than they already face if this police powers bill goes through. As GRT socialists have said: “this bill has rubber stamped the treatment we receive, such as being racially stereotyped, segregated from public spaces and businesses and economically excluded”.
Stop and Search
The proposal to create a new civil order, the Serious Violence Reduction Order (SVRO), will hand police an extraordinary power to stop and search a person who has previously been convicted of a weapons offence at any time, in any place, completely free of suspicion. This will hand the police a highly oppressive tool, unlike anything seen before, which will disproportionately impact Black men. Already, Black people are 8.9 times more likely to be subject to a stop and search than white people, and non-Black people of colour 4.1 times more likely.
- Stop and search is already a discriminatory and invasive police practice, but right now, a stop and search can only be lawfully exercised during a set timed period and over a defined geographic location. Previous convictions have never been used as a grounds to stop and search someone. The current time period for suspicionless stop and search is 24 hours. SVROs will be implemented for up to 24 months at a time – and can be renewed indefinitely.
- SVROs can be handed to someone who has never handled a weapon, but “ought to have known” another person they were with at the time, did.
- This means police will be given extraordinary powers to stop and search someone anywhere, at any time, despite no evidence of a person ever handling a weapon before.
- If someone resists an SVRO – for example, by failing to do anything required, or obstructing a police officer in the exercise of it – they could be put in prison for up to two years, or receive a fine. Human Rights organisation Liberty is concerned that “this could be interpreted broadly, to criminalise people requesting that police provide the legal authority for subjecting them to a stop and search or failing to provide an answer to a question put by a police officer”. Liberty also say that “making a refusal to co-operate a criminal offence may lead to people being fined or criminalised in circumstances where they do not understand the instructions given by a police officer and therefore fail to comply. This may also detrimentally impact disabled people or people with mental health needs, some of whom may find it difficult to follow directions.”
Other provisions in the Bill will see invasive surveillance of young people and children, similar to the widely-condemned PREVENT strategy, and a mandate for controversial children’s prisons (known euphemistically as ‘secure schools’) to be run for charitable benefit.
The Bill has also opened the gateway for retrogressive policies like Diane Johnson MP’s tabled amendments on sex work, which will push sex workers into dangerous working conditions by.
What does Kill The Bill mean?
We believe that the police powers bill should be scrapped entirely. It is authoritarian in tone and in nature, and will lead to more abuse of police powers. All of the above affects all of us, and it will take a mass movement to force it to be thrown out of parliament.