“You could not make this up”: UK police violence brings anti-protest law into focus

Incidents of alleged police misconduct at Sarah Everard vigil go viral, prompting greater opposition to proposed anti-protest bill.

Ugly scenes of Met police officers storming mourners attending a vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common on the evening of March 13, have launched a whirlwind of fury.

Footage, images, and incidents of police officers forcefully manhandling female members of the public who had convened on the Common for a peaceful gathering to raise awareness about crimes against women, have gone viral, adding fuel to opposition of a new law that would hand police tougher powers to crack down on protesters.

Hostility growing over ‘draconian’ anti-protest bill

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being debated by MPs today and tomorrow. The legislation would give police tougher powers to crack down on protestors.

Hostility towards what’s been labelled as a “draconian” anti-protest bill is simmering, as incidents surface on social media of alleged police belligerence at the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common at the weekend.

One such incident involved a 27-year-old woman who attended the vigil. Georgina told LFF’s Josiah Mortimer she was flashed by a man next to the Common as she made her way home from the wake. She reports that she told a nearby policeman about the incident but was dismissed with the response: “No, we’ve had enough tonight with the rioters.”

This is not the first time Georgina has been flashed on Clapham Common, as a similar incident occurred around September last year.

“You shouldn’t be scared around the police – you should feel protected. That’s not what happened. That’s a shame,” Georgina said.

“I lived five minutes away – if they’d just said they’d walk me to a better lit area that would have been fine. It would be nice for the police to help,” she added.  

Georgina reported the officer’s alleged misconduct to the Metropolitan Police, who arranged a meeting with her for this Tuesday.

You could not make this up

The story went viral – and in what seems like a a consequence of this – two police officers visited Georgina on Sunday night. The officers apologised to her for the allegedly dismissive response of the male officer.

Georgina’s story – and those of other females who experienced misconduct by the police at the Sarah Everard vigil – is almost incredulous. The brutality they experienced at the hands of the police was the very thing they were protesting – and peacefully.

As one Twitter user wrote: “Woman is allegedly tragically killed by a violent male police officer. Women who hold a vigil to highlight the shocking levels of violence against women are subjected to violence from male police officers. You could not make this up.

“[It’s] appalling on so many levels.”  

Attack on fundamental rights of citizens

Meanwhile, the House of Commons is debating a 307-page police, crime and sentencing bill that would give police greater powers on protests. It would also increase penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests.

The proposed legislation has evoked backlash, with human rights groups warning ministers that giving police tougher powers to crack down on protesters would be “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens.”

Joining the outpouring of opposition towards the bill is an ‘emergency’ uniting of a number of organisations, including Black Lives Matter UK, Extinction Rebellion UK, Justice for Minorities, Freedom for All UK, Reclaim the Streets UK, and many more.  

Armed with the hashtag #KillTheBill, Extinction Rebellion UK are among those joining the fight against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court bill. XR UK, said the bill will:

“Remove the right to peaceful protest, increase prison sentences, give discretion to police to arrest people without valid reason, criminalise nomadic, gypsy and traveller communities, restrict access to the countryside and cause further hardship for the homeless.”

Labour has announced it will be voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill. In a tweet, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner wrote:

“The policing of the Sarah Everard vigil was unacceptable and wrong. This attempt to impose disproportionate controls and crack down on the right to protest is also unacceptable and wrong.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist and columnist for Left Foot Forward.

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