What Are the Protests in Britain to Kill the Bill About?
The police and crime bill in the United Kingdom has sparked a wave of protests around the world. So, what is the new law, and why is it being opposed?
“Kill the bill!” exclaims the narrator.
That has been the theme on the streets of Britain in recent weeks as demonstrators call for a rethink of a sweeping crime bill that would give the police more power to deal with peaceful protests.
A series of topics have sparked mass protests across Europe in recent months: Black Lives Matter marches in cities last summer, anti-security laws protests across France last fall, and anti-lockdown rallies seemingly everywhere.
How the police can manage these large-scale protests has sparked heated debate, particularly after officers have been accused of overreacting in some cases. Coronavirus controls have contributed to the debate about how to strike the best balance between the rule of law and civil liberties security.
In the United Kingdom, the focus has shifted to the proposed police bill.
Following the murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman who was murdered in London after walking home from a friend's house late at night, and a subsequent vigil to commemorate her that was broken up by the police, the new law has been heavily criticized.
Here's what you need to read about the latest police bill in England and Wales, as well as the demonstrations calling for it to be put on hold.
What exactly does the police bill entail?
In its nearly 300 pages, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Court Bill is a massive piece of proposed legislation that covers a wide variety of issues. The bill, which applies to England and Wales, increases the severity of punishments for violent offences, eliminates an early release program for certain prisoners, and prohibits illegal encampments, among other things.
It also gives police forces broad authority when it comes to addressing demonstrations, which has proven to be a flashpoint.
Before imposing limits, the police must first decide that a demonstration could cause serious public disorder, property harm, or serious disruption to the community's existence.
The proposed bill, on the other hand, would give cops even more authority. It would leave a lot up to them, including the ability to criminalize demonstrations they consider a "public nuisance."
Protesters who do not adhere to restrictions they "have" to be aware of, even though they have not received a clear order from an officer, could face litigation.
The bill also allows for up to ten years in jail for those that do harm to memorials. Last year, a monument commemorating a slave trader, Edward Colston, was toppled in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter rally, prompting this amendment.
There had always been some opposition.
The bill, according to the government, would improve policing and community safety. The home secretary, Priti Patel, said last week that "a balance must be struck between the rights of protesters and the rights of individuals to go about their everyday lives."
“We have seen a dramatic shift in protest strategies in recent years, with demonstrators using legal loopholes that have resulted in disproportionate levels of disruption,” Ms. Patel said in front of Parliament last week. Extinction Rebellion climate change demonstrators used tactics including blocking trains and shutting down towns, she said.
Opposition politicians and civil liberties organizations have slammed what they see as a bid to grant police too large and potentially dangerous powers. Many people say they need some time to think about the consequences.
Certain aspects of the bill, especially those dealing with public demonstrations, “warrant more formal consultation,” according to the Local Government Association, a bipartisan group. A hurried schedule for voting on the bill "left little time to scrutinize the bill in adequate depth," according to the party.
In a briefing, the Good Law Project, a British governance watchdog, said the bill "represents a significant challenge to the right to protest," and demanded that the sections of the bill dealing with demonstrations be removed.
What is it that has caused people to take to the streets now?
Although civil rights organizations have long expressed concerns about the police bill and its possible effect on what they consider to be an integral democratic method of dissent, the law was thrown into the national spotlight after Ms. Everard's murder.
On March 3, the 33-year-old went missing from a London street, and her body was later discovered in a wooded forest. Her death was blamed on a police officer.
The assassination sparked a national uproar about violence against women. Then there was the night of the vigil.
The March 12 case, which was deemed illegal due to coronavirus restrictions, was widely panned by officers. Images soon circulated of police moving in to stop speeches and arrest a group of women who were protesting brutality.
An official investigation into the police's actions has been announced, and the uproar has prompted concerns about the demonstration ban imposed during the pandemic.
More generally, the police's harsh reaction to the vigil sparked opposition to the policing bill, refocusing the discussion on police overreach. The vigil took place just days before Parliament was due to discuss the crime bill.
The problem with the law, according to opponents, isn't just that it gives police more authority to suppress protests. The bill makes no mention of violence against women; in fact, it contains more terminology about how to criminalize defacing a law than it does about misogynistic crimes against human beings.
Since Ms. Everard's vigil in London, a number of demonstrations against the bill have taken place around the country. Hundreds of people protested outside government buildings last week, with crowds parading from Parliament Square to police headquarters in mostly peaceful protests. Last weekend, there were a number of other protests across the country.
One of them became riotous in Bristol on Sunday, when a small group set fire to police cars, smashed store windows, and fought with policemen. According to the police, at least 20 officers were injured, two of whom were seriously injured, and seven arrests were made.
So, what's next?
Facing concerns about civil liberties, the bill has already crossed one hurdle in Parliament, as it was voted through during its second reading last week amid heated debate.
It now goes to committee, where it will be thoroughly examined and experts and interest groups will be able to comment. After that, the committee will present its recommendations — as well as potential changes — to the House of Commons, where it will be discussed once more.
This operation, however, has been postponed until later this year.
The government has attempted to capitalize on the outpouring of emotion sparked by Ms. Everard's death in order to pass the police bill. Officials say that the sweeping new policing powers it contains would make women safer.
Many others, however, believe the bill misses the mark. They claim that the bill fails to counter the systemic sexism at the root of violence against women and undermines women's right to protest.
As the debate heats up, some legislators are reconsidering the bill.
The Labour Party had intended to abstain from voting on the bill at first, but changed its mind last week and decided to vote against it. The regulation, according to David Lammy, a Labour senator and the opposition party's justice spokesman, is "a mess."
Mr. Lammy said, "The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national call for action to combat violence against women." “This is not the time to rush through ill-considered legislation that imposes undue limits on free speech and the freedom to protest.”