By Sabby Dhalu, Stand up to Racism Co-convenor
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill recently passed its second reading in the House of Commons. Measures in the bill undermine the right to protest â a fundamental cornerstone of a free and democratic society. One aspect of it is making it an offence to be âintentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance.â
This vague wording could apply to any trade union strike actions, demonstrations and mass movements that have captured the public imagination in recent years, including the recent Sarah Everard demonstrations, Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion and climate strikes, anti-Trump, anti-fascist and student protests against last yearâs botched A Level and GCSE algorithm which forced a government u-turn.
Virtually every right we now take for granted was hard won through measures that this bill could criminalise.
The bill specifies that damage to memorials could lead to up to 10 years in prison â this is an explicit attack on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the toppling of the Edward Colston statue. The bill also proposes a new trespass offence that criminalises traveller communities and has implications for the right to protest, public access to the countryside and homeless people.
BLM forced British society to confront the history of imperialism, colonialism and racism and the fact that much of the wealth that fuelled the industrial revolution came from the barbaric enslavement of African people. This protest movement did more to educate people on these issues than years of formal education, leading to calls to âdecolonise education.â
After the abolition of slavery in 1833, the British government paid ÂŁ20 million to those responsible for enslavement, a staggering 40 per cent of the governmentâs annual income. That is the equivalent of ÂŁ300 billion pounds today and the government only finished paying off this debt in 2015. Meanwhile those enslaved received nothing.
The vast majority of people do not want to see those responsible for the enslavement of black people memorialised in statues. Hence following the protesters removal of Edward Colstonâs statue, many such as the Museum of London and Bank of England took the decision to remove similar statues.
Both the BLM movement and the Sarah Everard protests were in response to killings at the hands of the police. Yet the protests are considered by some as more of a threat than the horrific killings that ignited them.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described BLM protests as âdreadfulâ and undermined the heroic stance taken by many professional footballers and rugby players âtaking the kneeâ before matches on LBC radio last month. Meanwhile despite Covid19 shining a spotlight on structural racism leading to the virus disproportionately impacting on black people, no action has been taken by the government to address institutional racism in policing, the NHS and other sectors.
In fact, the government has been whipping up racism. Patel will announce soon details of an offshore detention centre for asylum seekers. This follows the Home Secretaryâs inflammatory attacks on âdo-gooderâ and âlefty lawyersâ assisting refugees, which led to an armed man attacking a law firm.
Racism by politicians leads to racist attacks on the ground as sharply illustrated by yesterdayâs shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, where six out of eight women killed were of East Asian descent. The âChinese virusâ racism stirred up by Donald Trump has unfortunately not disappeared with his removal from office. Such hatred is not confined to the US. The violent attack on Southampton University lecturer Dr Peng Wang underlines the importance of opposing sinophobia here in Britain.
Furthermore in the period Boris Johnson became Prime Minister police stops and searches have increased. From 2017-18 to 2018-19 stops and searches increased from 1,836 to 9,599 in the Metropolitan Police Force as a result of the Home Secretary lifting section 60 emergency stop and search restrictions.
The killing of Mohammed Hassan in police custody in Cardiff earlier this year, shows not very much has changed since last yearâs Black Lives Matter Movement. The outcome of the trial of the police officer Derek Chauvin charged with third degree and second degree murder of George Floyd remains to be seen. However in Britain no police officer has ever been charged with the killing of any black person in police custody. This needs to change.
It is utterly outrageous that we are having to campaign for the very people who are supposed to be protecting and keeping us safe to stop killing us and demand justice for this. BLM protests will continue because the issues raised by the movement are not being addressed by the government.
Instead it is carefully timing this new legislation to coincide with the lifting of lockdown restrictions to suppress any potential protests expressing outrage at the governmentâs disgraceful handling of the coronavirus. One of the worst death tolls in the world and worst performing economy of any major country, with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities facing the brunt, have not gone unnoticed.
Numerous research shows that BAME communities are around three times more likely to die of Covid than their white counterparts. Office of National Statistics research also shows that unemployment for black, minority ethnic (BME) communities increased from 5.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent, an increase of nearly two thirds, between the final quarters of 2019 and 2020. The unemployment disparity rises to a staggering 13.8 per cent â more than three times the rate of white unemployment â for African and Caribbean workers. Unemployment is also higher for BME women at 10 per cent and is likely to worsen.
The insulting one per cent pay increase for NHS staff effectively amounts to a real terms pay cut and disproportionately impacts on women and BME communities. Women are a huge 77 per cent of NHS staff, meanwhile BME communities form 22 per cent of NHS staff.
Defending the right to protest and opposing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will be central to this Saturdayâs World Against Racism â Fighting Racism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Fascism â day of action marking UN Anti-Racism Day. Events will be taking place around the world. In Britain many buildings will be lit up in purple to mark the day. Activists around the country will be âtaking the kneeâ at 1pm.
This article originally appeared on Labour Outlook