In March 2021, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill crashed into our lives. A mammoth and draconian piece of legislation, the bill attacks protesters, criminalises the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, and entrenches racist policing strategies with measures such as Serious Violence Reduction Orders.
A mass movement was born, aided and abetted by vicious police attacks on the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common and at Kill the Bill protests in Bristol. The message was, and is, clear. The police abuse the powers they already have.
Over a year has passed, and the bill has not yet become law. So what’s happening in parliament and on the streets?
It’s a game of ping pong
In parliament, the bill is currently ping-ponging between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Yes, it sounds trivial, but it’s the official term our democracy uses to describe the process when legislation bounces between the Commons and the Lords. Our rights are reduced to a game of table tennis.
While the majority of the bill has now been accepted by both houses, the Lords are fighting over the provision to give police the power to impose conditions on protests deemed too noisy. The last reading was on 31 March in the House of Lords; it was the third time the Lords rejected the bill.
Because parliament takes more holidays than the rest of us could dream of, the House of Commons is now on its Easter break and won’t return until 19 April. So the bill is in limbo until then.
Along the way, there have been several victories. Not least getting the majority of the more draconian protest amendments chucked out in the first reading in the Lords. As these amendments originated in the Lords, the House of Commons couldn’t add them back in.
But these were minor victories. The majority of the bill is still unchanged from the original legislation proposed a year ago. And the one amendment that did get through in the Lords made things even worse – changing the penalty for highway obstruction from a fine to a six-month prison sentence. Meanwhile, neither house challenged the provision to criminalise trespass with intent to reside in a vehicle – a provision that could see homes seized from GRT people and their lives outlawed.
Credit is due to Green peer Jenny Jones, amongst others, who’ve worked tirelessly to oppose the bill in the Lords. But the fact that the Lords is now only arguing about one small part of the bill – the power to impose conditions on noisy protests – shows that we cannot rely on parliament to safeguard our rights.
On the streets and in our communities
The real resistance to this bill has come from the grassroots – on the streets and in our communities. This started with mass protests that saw thousands demonstrating in every corner of the country. As the bill has progressed through parliament, the conversation has changed to how we respond when it becomes law; how do we act in solidarity with each other, and how do we become ungovernable?
Sisters Uncut, who led the way in the original opposition, have been setting up CopWatch groups across the country to monitor the police. As the group told The Canary:
This training is vital right now because the government is planning to increase police powers. As we saw in the case of Sarah Everard (Wayne Couzens arrested Sarah using new COVID regulations), increased police powers mean increased, unaccountable police violence.
If passed, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will make all marginalised communities – Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, sex workers, Black and brown people, women and anyone protesting – less safe.
Every stop and search must be treated as a kidnapping, which in turn could become another death in custody.
We must resist together. The police are the perpetrators and we must keep each other safe. Sisters Uncut is holding training sessions on police intervention, and the launch of a nationwide network of CopWatch patrols.
It’s time to withdraw consent
Meanwhile, the coalition of groups that came together to oppose the bill is now working on what that opposition will look like once it becomes law. These are exactly the conversations we need to be having. How do we take power away from the police and the government? How do we empower our communities? Moreover, how do we withdraw consent, and what will this look like in practice? Initiatives like CopWatch are a great starting point and a practical way to do this.
The class war is raging. The cost of living crisis is biting. More and more people will be taking to the streets. We cannot continue living in a system where the rich get richer and profit from the misery the rest of us are facing. It’s no wonder the Tories want to give the police so many new powers; they know the dissent they’ll be facing.
Unfortunately for the Tories, the less people have to lose, the more risks they’ll be willing to take. It’s time for all of us to withdraw our consent before it’s too late.
Featured image via Eliza Egret
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