This weekend should have been consecrated to vigils nationwide and reflection on how a young woman in London could be killed while making her way home. But it also became a weekend that invited serious criticism over the policing of public gatherings and concerns over plans to extend police powers through a new policing bill.
Last week the news of the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, suspectedly by a serving police officer, provoked nationwide outrage. It also led to campaigners under the banner of Reclaim These Streets to make plans to organise a vigil nationwide and highlight the scale of fears women regularly endure.
But events at a vigil on Saturday night in Clapham Common in London ended by provoking fierce debate over police powers after scenes of Metropolitan Police officers pushing and manhandling females went viral on social media.
The timing of the scenes of excess force couldn’t have been of greater significance either given that a controversial bill, called Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will be voted on in Parliament today.
The policing bill has already concerned rights activists because of the blanket nature of its new conditions designed to restrict protest activity – such as restricting them from being ‘noisy,’ or banning any that might cause ‘intimidation or serious unease’ or have an ‘impact’ on the local community.
A controversial bill, called Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will be voted on in Parliament today.
The bill would also prevent protests around Parliament, restrict solo protesting and essentially seeks to deter some of the activities notable in recent Extinction Rebellion and BLM protests, such as removing statues.
But scenes on the weekend of police officers roughly shoving women, or in one case, pinning one young, handcuffed woman to the ground, have added to a number of highly criticised incidents of recent police overreach linked to protests during the pandemic.
The bill has already concerned rights activists because of blanket nature of its new conditions designed to restrict protest activity
Last month, the front pages of many newspapers displayed images of a small pensioner being handcuffed, and reports of an NHS worker being fined £10,000 for organising a protest of criticism over the meagre one percent pay rise for nurses.
Elsewhere, a journalist was arrested while covering a protest at a controversial ‘migrant camp’ repeatedly criticised for its neglect of human rights.
And a young woman in Wales was fined for organising a protest over the death a young black man in what many suspect may be a case of police brutality followed by a cover-up.
Scenes on the weekend of police officers roughly shoving women, or in one case, pinning one young, handcuffed woman to the ground, have added to a number of criticised incidents
Prior to this weekend, the Labour party had reportedly decided that it planned to abstain from today’s vote. But over the weekend, many Labour MPs called for votes against it.
‘This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.
‘Now is the time to unite the country and put in place on long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment. And we must tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.
“Instead, the Conservatives have brought forward a Bill that is seeking to divide the country. It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman,” said Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy in a statement.
‘This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest’
While there were multiple calls for her resignation, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick sought to argue that the police’s behaviour was motivated by concerns over public safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics however, including London Mayor Sadiq Kahn, highlighted that the police handling of protestors nonetheless lacked sensitivity and was more heavy-handed than necessary. Demonstrations were held around London yesterday.
[Header image source: The Guardian]