Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Of course, police brutality is not a new thing. But what does this mean today? A woman is murdered by a policeman. A group of women peacefully hold a vigil in the memory of this woman. The police come and violently break up the protest. And yet, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passes through Parliament without a hitch; a bill allowing the police greater powers to break up protests. Police brutality has become a normalised and encouraged phenomenon, and yet, we are no longer surprised at their bullishness.
What has inspired the legislation? XR and BLM – socially progressive movements that push towards the greater longevity and freedom of our society. The government appears to be saying: you may not protest against climate destruction, structural racism, or the Royal Family hiding their wealth – and especially, you may not protest against being murdered by the police. I do not need to tell you that there is something extremely domineering and hostile about this legislation; legislation showing as plain as day that the government does not want to hear the voice of the public, and remains actively desirous of silencing those who disagree with their policies. This should be obvious, yet there must be plenty who agree with this bill, for, after all, we get what we vote for.
Firstly, though, a brief run down of the bill: the police will be able to impose specific routes for protests; impose a start-finish time for those protests; apply these protest rules to just one person; it will become a crime to fail to follow protest restrictions that protestors ‘ought’ to have known about; and it will be an offence wherein one is ‘intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance’. This means it is conceivable that the future of protests will be little more than one person with a placard standing nowhere near the object of protest – such as Parliament, for example – supposedly following restrictions that they ‘ought’ to know about.
Yet this is not the kernel of the issue. The real question is: does the public actually care? As I see it, the answer lies in the word ‘nuisance’. A protest is indeed a nuisance. Nobody want to protest – why would they? Life is so much easier if you don’t have to take to the street. But the word ‘nuisance’ sums up the entire British ethos towards activism. The public do not like protestors; they are disturbing, they make noise and they are annoying. It does not matter what they are protesting against, because all that counts is that they are in the way. Getting to and from work, people do not want to be held up; on a drive to the shops, people do not want to be diverted; in a cafe, people do not want to hear chanting. I point towards the noticeable emphasis placed on noise in the bill to demonstrate my point. The public seemingly do not care, for as long as it does not disturb them personally, then to all intents and purposes, it has nothing to do with them.
There is little else to be said here. Will the public continue to vote for its own abolition from the public sphere? It has already accepted little encroachments – nobody remembers the Investigatory Powers Act from 2016 – so, why should it not accept more? The complete silence around the bill entails our tacit consent. And it is unclear whether the national attitude towards the police will change, even right up to the point when they bring out bigger guns.