You Can Face 51 Weeks in Prison for Protesting; Democracy in the UK is Failing

CW: mentions of discrimination

You can face 51 weeks in prison for protesting; democracy in the UK is failing.

Yes, you read that right. This is one of the key elements of the new law: Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill introduced by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. 

The bill is composed of clauses that would give significant power to the police. The police can act against people who make noise or obstruct major transportation works. They can treat single or lone protestors with the same restrictions as mass demonstrators. The police would be allowed to ‘stop and search’ people at will, or search vehicles if they suspect its driver is carrying any items that would be used in ‘prohibited demonstrations’.

Those who resist these new powers of the police will be imprisoned for 51 weeks.

Moreover, these Protest Powers are filled with proposals that are ‘hidden’ in a substantial multi-sectioned Bill. The hidden clause includes the very vague criteria of a protest’s ‘impact’ as a reason for curtailing protests or acting against protestors.

Does this sound like a police state? Yes, that’s the aim of the bill. It’s draconian and authoritarian. And it allows the police to have unnecessarily powers that will more than likely be used against people of colour (POC). Thus, this bill will further accelerate the racial injustices intrinsic to the UK’s criminal system.  

The bill also seems to come at a convenient time, with an increasing number of climate change activists and organisations who use obstruction as a way of protesting and highlighting their cause. By putting this bill into law, Patel is aiming to successfully prevent another protest against road and airport expansion. Therefore, this bill is not only detrimental to environmental organisations, especially with the continuing climate change crisis, but also to any activist organisation (such as BLM) which continues to use protest as a way of fighting racial injustices.  

What is also worth noting is that Patel’s attempt to target environmental activism also affects POC. Climate change and pollution disproportionally affect POC. In the UK, 20% of pollution is concentrated in the poorest neighbourhoods of England, and in areas with a greater proportion of black people. Just look at where London’s City Airport is located. In Newham, the poorest borough in London, with an extremely ethnically diverse population. Thus, racism and environmental injustice are interlinked. By having this bill, we will effectively contribute to the continuation of both these injustices.

What is even more disturbing is how little people know about the bill, and that it seems like very few people are taking a decisive opposition against the bill. Both the Labour Party and the House of Lords seem to be awfully quiet about the proposed changes.

The right to protest is an essential part of a true democracy. The bill takes that away. It should be opposed from every political spectrum. If we did not have a right to protest, how would we achieve anything?

How are we supposed to change anything if we are not allowed to demonstrate our views without the fears of being imprisoned? Let us not forget how mass activism and protest has contributed to producing new policy in the past and today, e.g., woman’s suffrage.  

This is not normal. It most definitely does not sound like the freedom and liberty that the democratic system is supposed to offer us.

We are definitely not living in a problem-free world and our rights are constantly becoming endangered, now more than ever due to the rise of populist political rhetoric and the impending climate change crisis.  People of colour, immigrants, and ethnic minorities still face discrimination and inhumane situations in this country. By having this bill as a part of the law, we are not only allowing the government to have an unprecedented amount of power, but we are also continuing to be complicit in further entrenchment of the system that represents the interests of the very few.  

Image courtesy of Corey Young

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