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‘Kill the Bill’ Cambridge-style: Eloquence, dismay and outrage at citizens’ rights grab

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A ‘Kill the Bill’ protest on Parker’s Piece today was part of a national day of protest against the new Police, Crime, Sentencing & Court Bill, which has passed its second reading in parliament.

National day of action saw Cambridge protest on Parker’s Piece
National day of action saw Cambridge protest on Parker’s Piece

With highlights of the government’s landmark crime bill including a proposal to make defacing statues and monuments punishable by up to 10 years in jail, plus imposing start and finish times on protests – along with “maximum noise limits” – feelings are running high.

Hundreds of charities, community groups and campaign organisations have united to condemn the new policing Bill and called on MPs to block this dangerous crackdown on civil liberties.

In a letter coordinated by Liberty and Friends of the Earth and sent to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary last month, 245 organisations said the government’s proposals were cause for “profound concern”. They included Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Ramblers, the RSPB, Unite, Rights of Women, INQUEST and the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

Around 200 protesters on Cambridge’s iconic green listened to a variety of speakers on a vast range of subjects. No single group took on the role of organiser, though members of Unite, the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Romsey Labour Party, Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter attended. Speakers from the public were invited to share their views to the crowd through a megaphone, with drummers on hand to deliver musical interludes. The crowd was warmed up by a call-and-response chanting session – ‘Priti/Fascist’, ‘No justice/no peace/no racist/police’, ‘Tell me what democracy looks like/This is what democracy looks like’.

Speaker at ‘Kill the Bill’ protest on Parker’s Piece
Speaker at ‘Kill the Bill’ protest on Parker’s Piece

One of the non-organisers was the first to speak, saying that anyone could take the microphone but “if you’re a white man who likes the sound of his own voice, maybe deprioritise yourself”. The result was an abundance of female speakers sharing with the crowd what it was that most concerned them – and the list was long and egregious, and included a speaker who came to the UK to get away from the military dictatorship in Chile in the 1980s. Her warning from the history of the regime of human rights violator General Pinochet was simple: “One day they take away a little law and the next you’re in a full-blown fascist state. Priti Patel wants us to disappear. You should be worried – the right to protest is a basic human right.

“The race report published this week is disgusting. We’re being gaslighted collectively, and everyone needs to stand up for the vulnerable because we’re all vulnerable now.”

A speaker from Romsey Labour Party said: “Even in this country’s darkest hours we’ve all had the right to free speech, to protest – so next time [there’s a protest], bring your whole road.”

A younger female told the crowd: “The police defend the system just so a few people can get more and more, and they’re scared that we’ve had enough, that’s why they want to put this Bill in place. The working class is a sleeping giant, when it moves it moves mountains.”

Quirky works too
Quirky works too

She handed the sanitised microphone to another woman, who spoke for the travelling community, which objects to proposal to create a new criminal offence of ‘trespass with the intent to reside’ alongside extra police powers which would put their vehicles at risk of seizure.

“This Bill could have been ripped from the pages of the Cultural Genocide Textbook 101,” she said. “It will see people being unnecessarily thrown into prison, and children taken for ‘reeducation’. Where have we seen that before?”

“This is not business as usual, this is one of the biggest constitutional changes in our history,” said the next speaker. “There should be more people here. The Bill gives Priti Patel more power over parliament and the judiciary. It’s a step towards fascism because affects the rights and balance of the state.”

‘Kill the Bill’ protest outside Parkside police station, April 3, 2021. Picture: Mike Scialom
‘Kill the Bill’ protest outside Parkside police station, April 3, 2021. Picture: Mike Scialom

Another noted: “The abuse against women and the black power movement is becoming ever more prevalent and if we’re not careful we’re going to get more and more of this.”

The next commented to cheers: “Priti Patel, the reason you are in your job is because women protested at not having the vote.”

A man said of the clearly-peaceful vigil for murdered Londoner Sarah Everard, which resulted in four arrests: “We will fight this bill, but there is a chance that the government may succeed, especially with the spineless blancmange that passes for opposition in Westminster right now. Though if this does pass into law, I’ll leave you with the words of Thomas Jefferson, who I believe said: ‘When a law is unjust, it is not just one's right to disobey it, it is one’s duty’.”

A myriad issues on placards at Parker’s Piece
A myriad issues on placards at Parker’s Piece

The 307-page Bill unveiled on March 9 makes it offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”, which could be deployed as a way of shutting down events from one person with a placard and megaphone upwards. The result is what civil liberties campaigners have called “a staggering assault” on the fundamental right to protest.

“This Bill is because they don’t want us to speak out against them,” said the next speaker to cheers.

“I stand here today as an openly trans person,” said the next speaker to even more cheers and a drum roll, “and I have to be honest – I’m scared of coming out in today’s Britain. We must push for parliamentary reform and we must protect our right to protest.”

The Police & Crime Bill could see off a protest like this
The Police & Crime Bill could see off a protest like this

The Labour Party has voted against the Bill.

The next said: “I’m a protester and one thing you can tell is that the police do not want us to be effective and they will do all they can to sweep us under the rug, but we will not be swept under the carpet, we will not be silenced.”

More speakers came, with views from across the spectrum of concern, and the crowd supported them all. At times it seemed as if people’s real concerns are not being reflected in mainstream media, and when there is a public forum all the injustices and indignities people experience come to the fore. Topics vexing people include the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin in the US, the immediacy of climate change, the need to redefine what consent means in a sexual relationship, the UK’s “school-to-prison pipelines” (this from a teacher), the holocaust and the Roma, how people with Tourette’s syndrome could be arrested under the new legislative proposals, how to avoid buying into fear as society undergoes a huge series of transitions, the insult of the government’s report into institutional racism... let’s just say that if the government is deciding to go down a road of confrontation with its own citizens, there’s a lot of issues to keep the lid on, all at the same time – and a lot of dismay and eloquence on the streets of Cambridge.

The event took place right outside Parkside police station, and there were officers in attendance, with no reports of any criminal behaviour. Cambridgeshire Police were contacted for comment.

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