Over eighty protestors have been arrested, at least 35 charged, and at least nine have been sentenced to jail in connection with the first Kill The Bill protest in Bristol. The now-famous 21 March demonstration developed into clashes with police, with pepper spraying, dogs, and horses being met with chanting and resistance, escalating among some to throwing objects and burning a police van.
Police and prosecutors have been relentlessly pursuing protestors. After retracting initial lies about police officers injured, and performing no arrests on the day, police have since used footage to identify and arrest suspects.
One protestor was sentenced to four months and seven days in prison today for allegedly stealing a police hat; another to five months in prison for “outraging public decency” after purportedly urinating on a police officer’s shoes. Arrestees include a 16 year old.
Many of those imprisoned were convicted for “riot”, an offence with a considerably higher bar and a longer prison sentence than the more conventionally used “violent disorder” (maximum ten years as against five). One individual, who pleaded guilty to riot, has received five years. Of the nine sentenced to jail as of 23 September, the mean time was over three years. According to the newspaper Freedom, the sentences are the highest seen for protests in the UK for decades.
Meanwhile, the government is not only ploughing ahead with the planned Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill, but fleshing it out to target protests using the recent tactics of the environmental group “Insulate Britain” — against whom they have already been seeking an injunction. The amendment to the bill would expand police stop and search powers to searching for “lock on” equipment, and create new “Criminal Disruption Prevention Orders” to prevent activists from travelling to protests if police suspect them of planning disruptive tactics.
The labour movement must step up a fight to stop the Police Bill, to release and drop cases against the accused over Kill The Bill protests, and for police powers to be shrunk instead of expanded.
At Labour Party conference (25-29 September) prominent Labour right-wingers launched “Labour Friends of the Police”.
This initiative has met a lot of hostility online. The Labour left and trade unionists should aim to whip up the hostility into a gale — but to do that it needs a coherent line on the police. Labour Friends of the Police aside, there was almost no debate about the police at Labour conference. Despite the Black Lives Matter protests last year, this is not really an issue most of the left raises. Much of the left went along with Jeremy Corbyn’s line of advocating 20,000 more police.
One constituency party, Camberwell and Peckham, submitted a left-wing motion (p.181 of the motions document) on police and criminal justice reform. Momentum Internationalists promoted a motion on the issues too, but we lacked the reach to get that submitted as well as our other priority motions. Beyond opposing the Police Bill, and the persecution of those opposing it, we need a serious discussion about how the labour movement can campaign to cut down police powers, as part of cutting down and winning democratic checks on policing.