We spoke to Bristol Uni students who have been at the Kill The Bill protests
‘I’ve seen how badly they can abuse their own power, we have to protest it’
In the past fortnight, Bristol has become the epicentre of opposition towards the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Following the violence that erupted outside New Bridewell police station after the first protest on 21st March, tensions have remained high in the city with a further four protests in opposition to the new Bill.
The most recent protest on Saturday, as part of a national “weekend of action” against the legislation, went ahead peacefully until late in the evening when some violence broke out between a handful of protesters who defied police dispersal orders.
The Bill is set to give the police far greater powers to respond to protests, including the ability to stop protests due to noise levels and disruption to the public. The government believe this Bill is necessary as the current legislation, Public Order Act 1986, is not suited for “the highly disruptive protests we experience today”.
The Bristol Tab spoke to three Bristol Uni students who attended the protests to gain their perspective on the dramatic events that have unfolded.
Jake, a second year Philosophy student, explained: “I went to the protests to protect the right to protest in the future”.
The new Bill, which lets the police set a start and finish time as well as set noise limits to protests “allows for censorship and suppression of protest because the police can just refuse them”.
Second year History student, Kaiya told us the police handling of the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common was the “spark” that made her attend: “It happened at such a similar time, I think this issue at the same time the government are trying to pass this legislation has sent a message that the government don’t feel like women need protection as much as we do.”
Jake, who attended the third protest on Friday 26th March, believes the police did not handle the situation well. He said: “they decided to clear it out violently and they did that before offering a clear warning, they didn’t make a point to say ‘right we’re going to start clearing things out in ten minutes, leave now’, rather they came in violently with the riot shields before anyone was expecting it, I don’t think it was justified”.
Luke, a second year Biochemistry student, agreed with Jake but conceded “it isn’t the police’s fault that such a controversial bill was dropped at a time you’re not allowed to protest, they were put in a horrific position.”
‘The police lying about their own injuries just added fuel to the fire that didn’t need any help being lit’
Kaiya also spoke about the anger she felt towards the police after they initially reported two officers suffered broken bones and another a punctured lung after the first protest. Chief Superintendent of Avon and Somerset Police, Mark Runacres, admitted that this false claim was “hugely regrettable” and that “the clarification came later than we could have done. I understand the issue has created mistrust for some”.
Opinions were split over whether the violence from the first protest, which saw a police van set on fire, fireworks thrown, and windows smashed, had helped or hindered the movement. Luke fears “it’s allowed the media to pick apart the movement and focus on the negatives of the protest. It took the focus away from the message that was being preached”.
Jake concluded “the violence did more good than bad”.
‘The violence is what made it headline news and as unfortunate as it is, peaceful protests don’t get as much recognition’
Jake went on to say, “I do think there was a lot of unnecessary violence – for good or for bad, the violence is what made people notice and in that sense it’s made the cause stronger because it’s made more people aware of the Bill.
Having passed a second reading in the House of Commons, the bill now moves to the upper house. Bills are very rarely rejected by the House of Lords. Despite that, all three students agreed they would continue to demonstrate against the Bill.
“Although it’s disheartening to see that even with a series of protests it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made, it’s definitely still worth protesting against and I’ll keep doing so” Jake said.
Luke agreed: “If there is another protest I will be there. If anything, what I saw from the police made me more passionate than I ever was previously. I’ve seen how badly they can abuse their own power, we have to protest it”.