On Monday, the police powers bill that has been the topic of a summer of protest under the #KillTheBill movement re enters parliament. Here’s why this bill affects all of us.
This summer, we have experienced relentless protests touching on a wide variety of themes. From Palestine Solidarity to Trans Pride to striking Deliveroo workers, this has truly been a summer of wide spread organising and dissent with one of the most notable movements being the birth (or the rebirth) of #KillTheBill. A large part of this summer was, and continues to be, defined by people in the UK demanding more for themselves and rising up against an authoritarian state and a police force drunk on power. During COVID19 it was so clearly demonstrated to even the most politically unaware that our government and police force doesn’t care about us, and this empowered many people to take to the streets, many for the first time.
In March 2021, it became front page news that Sarah Everard had been brutally raped and murdered. Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer, has pleaded guilty to her kidnap and rape, and has accepted responsibility for her killing. Both in mourning and in a reclamation of being a woman able to move through space without experiencing violence, a group called Reclaim These Streets called a demo. Unfortunately, RTS almost immediately took back their call to arms asking people to stay home and realistically contributing to the risk of the mourners who wished to attend the vigil.
It was at this point that prolific feminist and abolitionist direct action group Sisters Uncut stepped up to the plate. They encouraged everyone to attend the demo and led rallying speeches about our rights to be out late at night wether we are drinking, partying, sex working, undocumented, gender nonconforming, black, brown, queer and beyond. It is no secret that at this demo, the exact same state and gendered violence that killed Sarah Everard was in force. Police were violently attacking women and vigil attendees – they were visibly drunk on power and relishing in their ability to enact violence without any repercussions.
Over the next 5 days, Sisters Uncut led relentless action surrounding new legislation being brought in to parliament – the police powers bill. This eventually led to a coalition of radical groups fighting against all oppressions – from domestic violence to racial injustice to workers unions to climate change to gypsy roma traveller rights and beyond – all coming together to take a stand. This is because this bill is an attempt to make protest illegal. The powers that be have never handed us our liberation, and everything we have today that is good and kind is due to protest and revolution. Without protest we wouldn’t have what we have today, and what we have today is by no means enough! This bill will enable the police to have even more power and less accountability. More police powers will always lead to more police violence for all of our communities, particularly those who are the most marginalised, but let’s think about why #KillTheBill is a mental health issue.
It will not be news to anyone that whenever the police are involved with people in a mental health crisis, it almost always leads to violence, fear, and non consensual detention. Often this can lead to being sectioned, or imprisoned. In the most harrowing situations, it can lead to death. The threat from the state to our community is potent and real. The new bill will allow police officers to harass basically anyone they don’t like the look of. Let’s look at some of the reasons the police can arrest someone under the new bill –
So, if the bill passes, it will be a crime to ‘do an act’ or cause ‘serious annoyance’. What do these statements mean? These vague and loose terms rip down the walls of what defines a crime to the police. Is it annoying to be talking to yourself in public? What about to be crying? Or mourning? Am I ‘doing an act’ when I find myself alone or in crisis? Mental health should not be a crime, and yet we see our communities relentlessly criminalised.
As the #KillTheBill movement grows, so does our awareness of who it will directly affect. We already know that black people experience stop and search 9 times more than white people in the UK, and that this will increase even further under these new laws. We already know that this bill will enable police to harass The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community in unprecedented ways. We already know that the UK police are unfathomably violent and abusive against anyone and everyone, but especially women and people from marginalised communities. We know that if this law passes, our community – particularly those with visible mental health difficulties – will be targeted and experience a vast increase in violence and abuse at the hands of the police.
But hope is not lost. Our liberation is ours to demand and ours to take, and this police powers bill WILL be defeated in the streets. If it isn’t prevented by protest, it will be met with relentless dissent across the UK. If you want to find out more follow Sisters Uncut online, or track the hashtag #KillTheBill, and if you want to organise in your area a few simple starting points might be emailing your local MP to encourage them to vote against it, and calling local radio stations to let them know your thoughts about it.
Liv Wynter is a community organiser, playwright, intentional peer support worker, and general agitator living in South East London. They are currently writing ‘Rise of the Refrain’, which you can get tickets for here! https://stanleyarts.org/event/rise-of-the-refrain/all/