Protesters in Kingston turned out to oppose the Police Bill as part of a number of demonstrations that took place around the country over the weekend, reports Sandra Keen
The leafy suburbs of Surrey aren’t well known for resistance but following on from a successful BLM gathering last summer the organisers of BLM Kingston and activists from the local Labour Party organised what was promoted as a Kill the Bill protest and vigil for Sarah Everard, calling for people to join and protest against the Police and Crime Bill and gender-based violence. It was made very clear that this was to be a peaceful protest and that social distancing and Covid rules were to be observed.
Nevertheless, on Friday evening the local police attempted to dissuade people from attending the protests saying,
“A policing operation will be in place throughout the day to engage with people who are in breach of the regulations. Those gathering will be encouraged to return home, if they do not, they face necessary and proportionate enforcement action. This could be a fixed penalty notice, or arrest.”
This did have an impact on the number of people who attended, but there was still a good turnout. Two groups gathered around 1pm, one in the local park and one in Kingston town centre. I arrived at the park and there were two police vans and a number of police observing us and circling the park. Everyone was wearing a mask and we all sat down, observing social distancing. Around 1.30pm the group that had started the protest in the town centre, made up of members of BLM, XR and other attendees, predominantly aged under 25, marched through the town to join us.
Social distancing in the park, Kingston, March 2021. Photo: Sandra Keen
I estimate there were about 100-120 people who attended, including young children and dogs but there were also around 25-30 police who were very prominent and stood around in groups or walked round the protestors in pairs. There were also half a dozen police officers in blue tabards and they were identified as Liaison Officers; they went amongst the people, got down on the floor and explained that they were making us aware that by gathering together we were increasing the chance of the spread of Covid. I overheard some officers telling others that it was unlawful for us to be there.
There was a public address system. One of the organisers asked everyone to observe social distancing and then spoke about why the protest had been arranged, the impact the bill would have on people’s rights, and so on. There was real passion and strength of feeling among the crowd.
The event was fluid. Everyone was invited to speak and many young women, who chose to speak spontaneously, spoke about how vulnerable and frightened they feel as women. Many gave accounts of how they had been abused or attacked and had either not reported it because they have no faith in the police or did report it and received no support. It seemed quite cathartic for some of them and was very moving.
Many others spoke about the bill, about the rights and liberties that have been secured through protest. One speaker pointed out that 20,000 plus police officers attended UK demonstrations in 2012 to oppose police reforms, pay and budget cuts.
Another speaker, who identified herself as a 55 year old middle class white woman, stated that she had never spoken in front of people or used a mic before but felt compelled to speak for two reasons. Firstly, she has an 18 year old daughter and cannot believe that she still feels the same fear when her daughter is out alone as she did when she was a young woman and insisted that things must change. Secondly, she questioned why the police were present at all, as she pointed out there were more people packed tightly together in Poundland than there were at the protest but there was no police presence there.
Around 4pm it was announced that the police had instructed the organisers that the public address system had to be taken down and packed away, which ultimately ended the protest and a vast majority of those gathered disbanded.
It was a peaceful protest which was disproportionately policed and although I personally did not feel intimidated, it’s clear that some of the protesters were and they were vocal about it. Nonetheless, it was good to see so many people there who were prepared to ignore the police’s direction and stand up for their right to protest.
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