Britain is Attempting to Criminalize Basic Protest & Assembly

Ideas and Issues
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ACORN UK, kill the bill, policing bill, UK protest
credit to acorn_notts

April 4, 2021

Pearl River     The ACORN Union in the United Kingdom is largely composed of tenants. Over the last six years, we’ve ballooned to over 6,000 dues-paying members in more than thirty chapters all over England and Wales, with another several thousand in our Scottish affiliate, where there are an additional bunch of branches. Regularly, we have to demonstrate to stop unwarranted evictions, demand basic repairs and maintenance, rally for landlord licensing, better transportation, and any demands our members feel are critical. We are a membership-based and led organization that campaigns and takes direct actions. That’s the ACORN DNA in the UK and all over the world for the last fifty years.

Talking to Nick Ballard, ACORN’s head organizer in the UK about Parliament’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, he commented that it would make almost everything our members do to defend and advance their issues, illegal. Looking at some of the features of the proposed bill, I should add not just illegal, but criminal. The police would be able to restrict protests on the most nebulous and subjective grounds, if they are noisy and have “relevant impact” or cause “serious unease” to bystanders and people anywhere nearby. Penalties could be meted out to one person as easily as one hundred. Damages to public property could mean lengthy jail time up to ten years.

The Economist reports that this crackdown on basic popular freedoms by Conservative politicians has been triggered by their antipathy to the disruptive tactics of Extinction Rebellion over climate and Black Lives Matter protests earlier this spring. Dumping a statute of a slave trader into the drink in Bristol and some statutory embellishments around the country have pushed them past the pale. Conservatives had hoped to slip all of this through Parliament in a grab bag bill, but the denial of a protest permit by the London Metropolitan Police after one of their own policemen was accused of raping and killing a young woman, and then arresting four people as part of the rally, mobilized the opposition and exposed the bill and its pernicious restrictions.

In the US, the BLM protests had wide and deep appeal from a majority of Americans in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing by police, and even though support has dropped off somewhat during the intervening months, it continues to be solid. In the UK, the pandemic problems have split the public with one poll finding 43% opposing the vigil and 40% supporting it, and worse huge majorities of conservatives opposing it with their party solidly in the majority in Parliament.

There might be some amendments, but this train has left the station, ACORN, like so many of our allies are tied to the tracks. It’s a promise that protests will not end, but we’re likely to see increasing penalties as part of the price.