Hundreds of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to protest against the government’s controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and violence against women late Saturday afternoon.
Protest placards showed anger and dismay towards the bill — dubbed the Police Crackdown Bill — and violence against women. The protest was sparked by the murder of Sarah Everard for which a police officer has been charged, and the way the Metropolitan Police handled a vigil for Sarah at Clapham Common last weekend.
Chants of “Our Streets”, “Kill The Bill” and “Tories out” rang throughout the square by the Central Library, aptly lit in suffragist purple and only metres away from the Emmeline Pankhurst statue.
The protest, organised by the Manchester branch of Sisters Uncut, a feminist group taking direct action for domestic and sexual violence services, also marched along Deansgate, through Albert Square and back to St Peter’s Square just after 6pm, where speakers continued to rally the crowds.
Anna, 36, said she came to protest domestic and state violence against women. “I came to protest because I am angry at the current situation about gendered violence experienced by women, in particular women of colour, and it is important to remember that. I also wanted to pay my respects to what has happened to Sarah Everard, and all the other women murdered either by partners or the state.”
“The Bill will not affect whether I go out to protest. I would be more wary and make sure that I knew my rights before I went. I feel like I am quite privileged — I am white and able-bodied and I feel like I would not be the first target, so I feel it is important to continue to protest.”
Protestors, congregating on the historic site of the Peterloo Massacre 202 years ago, said the Bill’s passing would not stop them protesting.
Elizabeth, 25, attended the protest with friends. She told The Meteor: “The Bill doesn’t seem like a UK measure. The Conservatives now talk so much about British politics and the scandals with Labour around ‘we need to appear more British’ and appeal to nationalism which is going on.
“I think they are mistaken about what it means to be British. Actually, it means getting out to protest and that is very European culture. They are just mistaken about what people want as a society.”
Liam, 28, agreed. “It is really important that we continue to protest for our rights because not only does protest win you rights but it also keeps you your rights, so people have come out to protect our freedom to protest,” he said. “But they can’t arrest all of us!”
A number of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officers were present to monitor multiple protests taking place in the city centre on Saturday. Police vans, including tactital aid unit, were seen stationed behind Piccadilly Gardens pavement, on Portland Street and Mount Street and officers lined St.Peter’s Square.
The Manchester Evening News reported that police did not harass protestors. However, The Meteor understands from the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) that 15 people called GBC Manchester to report they had been issued Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs). The majority of these related to attendance, but at least one person has been threatened with a £10,000 fine for being an organiser of the protest, according to Netpol.
Police forces across the country face renewed public scrutiny over their tactics, with the pushing, manhandling and straining of a crowd of women present at the Sarah Everard vigil last weekend saw calls for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign.
A string of speakers took to the makeshift podium and had stark reminders about what the Bill could mean for racialised and marginalised communities like Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities.
Beth Redmond, a housing activist at Greater Manchester Tenants Union who spoke at the event, said: “We know more state powers will not bring justice. These strategies are not designed for us to thrive. These strategies are designed to extend state violence.
“It will give police sweeping new powers to enact Stop and Search, overwhelmingly targeting Black people and people of colour. It will give police more power to criminalise Roma and Gypsy communities. And it will give the police more power to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest against institutional and systemic violence.
“After the death of Sarah Everard, after the violence the police dole out again and again against Black and brown people, against the working classes, against disabled people, against trans people, against sex workers, the government wants to give the police more incentive to do so — and take the right to resist away from us.”
John, 53, expressed deep concern at the government’s encroaching authoritarianism which the Bill represented. “It puts a lot of power into the hands of the Home Secretary [Priti Patel MP], so when a protest that she doesn’t like happens like Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion she will be able to stop it, whereas before when the police tried to stop them the courts would quite often stop them from doing it. I will still be going to protest — I am prepared to be arrested for it if necessary.”
Anyone who decides to challenge these fines can expect help and should contact GBC Manchester.
Feature image: Nick Prescott