Content warning: this article contains descriptions of police violence that some readers may find distressing
You may already know that the police are likely to get sweeping new powers to arrest protesters when the Police Bill is passed. But these potential new powers seem to have already given police across the country new confidence. We’re seeing more and more reports of people being attacked by police while on demonstrations, while legal observers monitoring the situation are being increasingly targeted. It seems that the promise of the new bill is all that the police need to give them the green light to increase their violence against demonstrators.
Reports of police assaults across the country
Bristol, Manchester, London, and Cambridge have all seen scenes of police violence at protests since March.
Of course, it was Bristol that made mainstream news headlines when police vans were set on fire by demonstrators during the city’s first Kill The Bill demonstration. But as The Canary reported, it was the police who provoked people by charging at the crowd with batons and dogs. Avon and Somerset police continued to attack Bristol protesters at subsequent demonstrations. More than 60 people reported injuries, including at least 44 incidents of people being attacked by either shields or batons. Indeed, footage showed police officers repeatedly bringing the edges of their shields down onto sitting protesters’ heads.
In Manchester, footage from one Kill the Bill demonstration on 3 April shows police officers slamming a woman’s head into a police van and then folding her body in half to restrain her as she shouted for help. The woman reported:
my head was smashed into the van wing-mirror with such force that it was folded back against the van, and I saw bits of black plastic coming off it. I later heard that were was glass on the floor below me. I briefly blacked out at this point, my legs gave way, and I wet myself. I had been pushed and pulled between officers who were mostly male and a lot larger than me.
Meanwhile, the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) reported that another woman was attacked:
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Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham has…demanded an explanation from the police after officers dragged a young woman through the city centre with her underwear exposed while arresting her. There have been accusations that the Manchester Tactical Aid Unit is out of control after officers kicked and hit protesters sitting on the floor at another Kill The Bill protest.
Reports of choking
Also in Manchester, the city’s riot police are being investigated after choking a young student in what Netpol called a “shocking unprovoked assault”. The student reportedly almost lost consciousness in the attack. He had been leaving a demonstration and shook his head at the police just before he was assaulted.
And in Cambridge, the Coalition for Vaccine Justice reported that a 17-year-old boy was also choked by police while demonstrating outside AstraZeneca’s offices. The boy had joined a number of protesters to call for the drug company to waiver its patent on its coronavirus vaccine. A witness said:
I know the look of adrenaline-fuelled anger, and it was all across the face of the police officer just before he lunged at the young man’s throat.
Targeting legal observers
Meanwhile, police across the country are targeting legal observers on protests. In Manchester, three legal observers have lodged complaints against the police. According to Netpol:
[there is] one allegation of sexual assault after a male officer grabbed a female legal observer’s chest.
In London, four more legal observers were also targeted and arrested at a Kill The Bill demonstration. The legal observers were sent by Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS), an organisation led by Black and Brown lawyers to monitor the policing of protests. Liberty is taking action against the police on behalf of those arrested. BPLS said:
We are deeply concerned by the Met’s impunity at protests and the sharp impact this has on racialised communities. From Mangrove in 1970, to Black Lives Matter last year, to the police’s harassment of Black activists in recent weeks – the arrests subject to challenge, of predominantly BBRG Legal Observers, are but another example of decades’ worth of racialised policing at protests.
More power will make them more violent
When the Police Bill passes through parliament, the police are likely to act with greater violence at demonstrations, safe in the knowledge that the law will protect them. We need to fight right to the end to prevent this Bill from going ahead. Kill The Bill.
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