March last year saw a proposed bill emerge that would trample over our freedom to protest and hold government to account, whilst targeting the most marginalised communities in the UK.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill would effectively terminate the Traveller culture by allowing the seizure of trailers and caravans if found on unauthorised land, criminalise aspects of protests through measures such as noise restrictions, and grant police officers further powers of control.
However, after almost a year of campaigning, the PCSC bill was passed and became an Act of Parliament on 28 April 2022. These restrictions on our rights are tyrannical and biased, and human rights organisations like Amnesty International describe the move as ‘deeply authoritarian’. Even this week we saw attempts of further legal crackdowns as Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a new Public Order Bill to target groups that use direct action and extend police stop and search powers.
The government has laid out its intentions clearly: you cannot affect us and you will not protest against us.
We speak to activists Chantelle Lunt, Zara Manoehoetoe and Ruby Smith in the aftermath of this damaging bill being passed.
Chantelle Lunt, 34, Liverpool
Activist with Black Lives Matter, Kill the Bill and Operation Withdraw Consent
I’m a former police officer, so I have a specific eye on the widening of police powers and the failures of the police to protect the black community.
The PCSC bill was absolutely a response to BLM, but it was also a response to Extinction Rebellion. I think they were very worried about the numbers we were mobilising on the street. But rather than address the issues we were protesting, like human rights and the climate crisis, they problematised us as protestors, criminalising our actions even though we were acting within the law.
“Rather than address the issues we’re protesting, they criminalise our actions”
The concerning thing with the bill – and this was one of the reasons why BLM made sure that our events and protests were always family friendly – is that a criminal record for black and minority communities is completely different to a criminal record for white and middle-class people, so a lot of people will be put off protesting. But protest is one of the most accessible ways for diverse and marginalised groups to have their voices heard and to participate in democracy.
The Tories have also pushed through a voter registration bill, so soon you will need ID to be able to vote, which a lot of black people and people from minority communities don’t have. So when we talk about access to democracy, the government is essentially closing a door for minority groups to have a voice – and we will reach a boiling point.
This bill hasn’t made protests illegal – though they’d like us to think it has. Protesting is more difficult, but as minority groups we’ve overcome a lot more with many more laws against us. Don’t be disheartened, still continue doing what you’re doing, but just be aware of how the laws change. Look at platforms like Kill The Bill to keep yourself updated.
Our voices have not gone away. Our working-class resistance has not gone away. Our resistance as black people has not gone away, and the systems that oppress and suppress us have not gone away. We’re not going anywhere, and if you don’t give us justice, we won’t give you peace. That’s not just a chant, that’s exactly what will happen.
Zara Manoehoetoe, 30, Manchester
Youth worker and activist with Kill the Bill
The country is institutionally racist – it’s why they’ve been able to create a policy like the Policing Bill. The foundations have been laid for generations. We have already seen police in schools and now we are seeing secure schools and violence reduction orders, but these will be made worse.
There will be more targeting of the black community, young people, harsher sentencing, and bigger demonstrations of power over communities [the government] hold no value for. For example, police officers will have the power to hand out Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) without due cause, essentially meaning stop and searches can be conducted without necessary suspicion or evidence. In Manchester specifically, we’ve seen high levels of deaths following police pursuits, mostly in racialised communities. We’ve had young black boys, Gypsy, Roma, Traveller men who’ve been killed in police pursuits. I recognise now that the police vehicle is a weapon.
“When legality replaces morality, being ungovernable is the only option”
We knew the PCSC bill was going to pass the parliamentary processes, but we’re not going to accept that. From the get-go the motive was to work toward ungovernability and to understand that resistance and community organising is a long-term thing.
We’ve been building mechanisms on a community basis to counteract this harm, from anti-eviction groups to anti-immigration raid groups. CopWatch was born out of Kill The Bill to build relationships with people who are united in counteracting the damage police cause in our community. It’s about actively intervening in police violence and knowing that our power lies in working together. When legality replaces morality, being ungovernable is the only option.
Ruby Smith, 19, Liverpool
Activist with Drive2Survive
I have been an activist for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community since I was 13 and have spoken at Parliament and at demonstrations in London. The Policing Bill is an abhorrent piece of legislation, parts of which are blatantly racist. It is a step towards genocide of our culture, and goes against several of our human rights.
The amount of ways in which it will affect the GRT community is endless; those with mental health problems will struggle if they are threatened with losing their homes and their way of life. Being fined thousands of pounds for travelling and then fines on top of that to get your home back will lead to desperation and criminalisation, pushing our community even further. It is a human instinct to survive – Gypsies, Roma and Travellers know this better than many.
“Activism is about to get a whole lot more difficult and risky”
Bearing in mind the bill has made protesting virtually ineffective and illegal in some circumstances, (based on police issuing start/stop times, determining appropriate noise volume, blocking protests near businesses), it will make the future of activism very murky. People will be less likely to know where they stand, and it will be very easy for campaigners and activists to overstep the legal line without even intending to.
Activism is about to get a whole lot more difficult and risky. Now that the bill has passed Royal Assent and is being put into law, the only thing left to do is to oppose it and fight against it every single step of the way. Make it unenforceable.
Drive2survive and other organisations will continue to raise awareness and we’ll be on the ground supporting communities and recording how it is enforced. We weren’t put on the Earth to be stagnant, but rather to keep evolving. Those who are disheartened by this bill need to rise up against it and say their piece. That is the only way it will ever be recalled.
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