“Say her name!”: On how Lancaster is reacting to Sarah Everard’s death

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A chorus could be heard every night last week from Dalton Square.

Kill the bill! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!

Although small in comparison to the groups gathered in London, Bristol, and Manchester, people of Lancaster came each night to stand in solidarity with the vigils for recently murdered Sarah Everard, which have been met with police violence. The people of Lancaster also gathered to resist the recent Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The bill would allow the police more power to deal with protestors and bring in harsh sentences for protestors who are ‘causing a serious annoyance’, and comes into parliament coincidentally soon after the Sarah Everard protests.

Protests have occurred across the country this last week with outrage at the lack of government empathy for women’s safety and the brutality displayed at the Clapham vigil.

It was not until a police van was set alight by Bristol protestors on Sunday that it was broadcast on National news.

It has been said that the demonstration began peacefully but as protestors sat in front of the police station they were met with violence by police who came out in riot gear and used police dogs to make demonstrators move. Violence then broke out as protestors refused to be silenced, and retaliated.

The Home Secretary has deemed the scenes “unacceptable” and Avon and Somerset Police have said that there will be severe consequences for those identified. But people are arguing that taking away the public’s rights to protest peacefully would result in such scenes.

Scenes were not so dramatic in Lancaster on Saturday night. Members were socially distanced and wearing masks, as requested by the posters. Although the demonstration was not organised, some participants stood up to speak. One member started with a quote from Labour MP David Lammy:

“Instead of tackling gender-based violence, the government has prioritised giving police the power to prohibit the fundamental freedom to protest that the British public holds so dear.

“By giving the police discretion to use these powers some of the time it takes away our freedom all of the time.”

This bill won’t just take away the British public’s rights to protest, but will also target marginalised groups.

The bill brings in hostile laws for the Gypsy Traveller community, criminalising them under the guise of trespassing laws, and wants to bring in more rights for police to stop and search which research has shown targets Black people nine times more than any other group.

It also brings in laws to put undercover police in bars and nightclubs. The speaker deemed this a “cruel joke” as many are still outraged by Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a police officer, alongside the trail of accusations against police officers, including a reported incident in the West Midlands where an off-duty police officer attacked a woman on her walk home. PC Oliver Banfield used techniques from police training to grab her by the neck and tackle her to the ground. The victim managed to escape and Banfield has since resigned, but he was spared a prison sentence.

This has only fueled the flames of protests.

Courtesy of Vaz JL

The Lancaster speaker went on: “Time and time again we watch the Conservative party cut funding, protect the rich, tell countless lies and leave the majority of us vulnerable. This lack of support has left us angry and exhausted but we must speak up. We can’t allow a hoarding of power by Priti Patel or the police as it brings us one step closer to an authoritarian society.”

They gave a message of solidarity and a hope for change before the demonstrators took to the pavement with placards and began chanting. The congregation travelled to protest outside the police station chanting, “No justice, no peace. Fuck the Police. Whose streets? Our streets.”

‘Kill the Bill’ protests have continued throughout this week with police continuing to use brute force to break up peaceful social-distanced demonstrations. We saw scenes from the Black Lives Matter protests in America where citizens resisted police brutality; at the time, the UK was vocal in our relief that our police force would never behave in such a way, but now it is happening on our doorsteps.

We’re seeing police in riot gear use force against protestors attempting to assert their right to peacefully protest. Violence has been met with violence.

Footage has circulated on social media of a police officer threatening and pushing a journalist from Bristol Cable. Adam Cantwell-Corn and Alon Aviram attended the demonstration on Tuesday 23rd and shared the clip of the confrontation on Twitter. Cantwell-Corn informed the officer that they were reporters but the officer denied them access and ordered them to disperse, telling them, “just because you study journalism doesn’t make you a journalist.” The pair presented their press passes but the officer continued to deny them. Avon and Somerset Police have apologized.

We want our streets to be safe for everyone but allowing police more power is not the solution.

From the scenes we have seen in Bristol and London alongside increasing reports of sexual assault from members of the police force, it is clear that relations between the force and the public are at an all-time low. The lack of trust is evident. The government’s attempt at damage control and securing sympathy for the police is quickly marred with ever-increasing footage being circulated every day. How can we amend this? Is it possible for the police to restore faith?

Amongst the chaos, positive conversations centered around community and mutual aid. Would funding be put to better use in reforming local projects, education programmes and youth centres? Would our country be better having specialised, community-based forces to deal with certain issues rather than spreading the police so thin?

Whatever the solution, it is clear that a different course of action must be reviewed before the public, before women and minorities, can ever trust the police again.

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