Violent scenes erupted in Bristol on Sunday night as protesters took to the street in opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The ‘Kill the Bill’ movement has formed in recent days in light of the clash between police and the public at the Sarah Everard vigil last weekend in Clapham Common.
Protestors marched from College Green to the New Bridewell police station where the protest escalated later in the evening. Videos on social media showed a police van on fire, windows being smashed with skateboards and fireworks being aimed at the police. Multiple officers have been hospitalised with injures, including broken ribs and bones after they were attacked by the rioters.
This anger is a result of a highly contentious bill, The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that has been written by the Home Office. The new bill is expected to pass the Houses of Parliament when it comes to the floor for final approval in the coming weeks. The bill includes provisions to give police significantly more powers over ‘static’ protests, including the right to impose timings and set noise limits with fines to ensure compliance. Furthermore, this bill aims to increase sentences to a maximum of 10 years for the destruction of statues and other acts of violent vandalism. Kier Starmer has said that this bill does too much to curb the right to protest whilst not doing enough to increase punishment for sexual violence crimes against women. However, the government has defended the bill by highlighting the provisions on increased punishment for child murderers and its strong counter-terrorism measures
Any bill that swipes at the fundamentals of liberal democracy, the right to protest, should be questioned. Yet it is confusing why the movement has decided to attack the police. Whilst they will be given more power, they are not the orchestrators of the bill, merely the recipients of its consequences. The Home Office should be challenged, it is counterproductive and polarising to attack police vans and officers. Footage of officers being ‘burnt’ and having ‘broken bones’ will not amass the much-needed support for a movement whose aims are most likely fairly popular. It is now easy for the Home Office to dismiss the protests as ‘far-left’ and ‘vigilantes’ rather than tangible efforts to protect essential components of liberal democracy. Those who have taken part in the fires and assault against officers have likely just destroyed any credibility the Kill the Bill movement had and have given the Government a get out of jail free card.
The ‘Kill the Bill’ movement has the ability to escalate further and cause more disruption in the coming weeks as the bill is discussed and debated in Parliament. Will Johnson manage to stave off the mounting pressure and pass his highly controversial bill? It is highly unlikely that this will be the case but in a very unpredictable time and with the government’s history of sharp U-turns, the rioting may force Johnson to tweak the most controversial parts of the bill.
Photo Credits: Xavier Morais