Thousands of people marched through central London to protest the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Saturday. Under the new legislation, the British government wants to increase police powers to stop non-violent protests.
The legislation would target actions by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion, who fight to save the planet and animals. Police in the United Kingdom (UK) would have more power to use excessive force against non-violent protestors and charge them with a crime.
“I am really scared by the fact that they want to make protesting an arrestable offense,” 30-year-old therapist Jade Rea told Reuters during the “Kill the Bill” protest. “I think that trying to silence people…it’s undemocratic, it’s inhumane, and it’s actually violent.”
The government said the new bill would protect the public from non-violent protests that have a “significant disruptive effect”. But to that, Rea said: “I don’t think there’s any justification for it because the idea of a protest is to disrupt and really bring to people’s attention that something urgent is going on.”
Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion never use violence with their action, but instead, they block bridges or roads to create public awareness about the environment and animal rights.
Many protesters on Saturday said they did not trust police to protect them and that the new laws would give authorities too much power to shut down politically awkward protests such as those by Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.
In March, London police faced a lot of criticism from the public and politicians for using excessive force at a vigil in memory of a murdered woman, Sarah Everard, whose suspected killer was a serving police officer.
“So, police are really, really violent with protesters, and I think this bill enforces that. I think that protesting is a human right. I think it’s really important for us to be here,” 24-year-old Jennifer Ammann said.
Protest is part of a democracy
Former UK home secretary David Blunkett told the Guardian that the proposed bill would make the UK “more like Putin’s Russia“.
“By giving police forces sweeping discretion about how they deal with protesters, this law would drive a wedge between them and the public,” Blunkett said. “Tolerating dissent and protest is a British value, and it’s central to our democracy,” he added.
Rebellion of One
Saturday morning, Extention Rebellion organized a Rebellion of One event in which 200 people in different cities participated by sitting in the middle of a road holding a sign reminding people of the current climate emergency.
“In multiple courageous acts of non-violent civil disobedience, people are sitting alone in the face of oncoming traffic in towns and cities around the UK,” they said in a Facebook post.
“This vulnerable act of peaceful civil disobedience by people across the UK shows the fear and frustration felt by many at the failure of the UK Government to take the climate and ecological crisis seriously,” they added.