Like most people, I was devastated by the fatal police shooting of Chris Kaba. Chris was killed by armed police in my constituency of Streatham, after being followed by unmarked vehicles.
I have met his family and feel the pain and trauma within our community and completely support the protests that happened across the country after Chris’ death.
I have been on marches and protests led by bereaved families whose loved ones have died following contact with the police.
And I know how important they are in building public support, raising awareness, demanding justice, and forcing meaningful change.
This is why I’m so worried by the Government’s Public Order Bill, which threatens to silence minoritised groups and make it more dangerous for people to protest and stand up for what they believe in.
This Bill is a continuation of the Government’s assault on our right to protest, and will criminalise people who call for the changes we so desperately need.
One of the Bill’s most concerning aspects is the creation of new protest-specific stop and search powers, including the power for the police to stop and search people without suspicion.
The introduction of these powers will make it unsafe for people in already overpoliced communities to exercise their right to protest, for fear of further intimidation and arrest.
We already know that the current powers are disproportionately used against people of colour, so I wasn’t surprised to see the latest stats showing that Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people .
The experience of being stopped and searched is mentally and physically traumatising, and for some people, it is already a frequent, even daily, reality.
Instead of rolling back these policies, the Government’s expansion of them within the protest space is a direct attack on the right to protest and will further entrench racism in our criminal justice system.
It will worsen the racism that already exists in policing and make protests unsafe for people from marginalised communities. Again, it is those already locked out of the corridors of power, for whom protest is a vital tool, who will be worst impacted.
In Lambeth, the borough my constituency is in, just 39% of people trust the police to treat everyone fairly no matter who they are , the lowest level of any borough in London.
I remember very clearly the undisguised violence towards women at the Sarah Everard vigil in my constituency. Rather than safeguarding and protecting us, this Government keeps pushing through further attacks on our civil liberties.
This country has a proud history of protesting for change and action. From the Abolitionists to the Suffragettes, this rich tradition of dissent has paved the way for the rights and freedoms we all enjoy today.
In recent years we have seen millions take to the streets to draw attention to major injustices like institutional racism, attacks on our civil liberties, women’s and workers’ rights, and the climate emergency.
But instead of tackling issues like racism, inequality, low pay and climate breakdown, this Government is doubling down on polices that helped create them and cracking down on people who speak out against them.
Their Public Order Bill is an authoritarian piece of legislation that is being steamrolled through Parliament, bringing back failed measures they have tried to sneak into the Policing Act earlier this year and which were resoundingly thrown out then.
As well as ramping up police powers to restrict protest and expanding racially biased stop and search, the Bill will also introduce jail sentences and unlimited fines for demonstrating around national infrastructure like airports, railways, and printing presses.
Protest banning orders could see people who have never been convicted of a criminal offence prohibited from protesting and subjected to 24/7 GPS tracking.
This Bill would ban the kind of protests that won votes for women. Locking on, the tactic synonymous with the Suffragettes, will be effectively criminalised, with protesters facing arrest simply for linking arms with each other.
Time and time again, protest and activism have given a voice to the voiceless and forced us to confront real, vital issues as a country. This attempt to criminalise dissent is a threat to everyone’s fundamental right to stand up for what they believe in.
These measures will only serve to make protest unsafe for people from marginalised and vulnerable groups, for whom protest is often the only tool for making their voices heard.
The Public Order Bill will only exacerbate pre-existing racial bias and discrimination, brought in by a Government hell bent on ramping up policing powers and putting legislation forward that clearly infringes on the rights of minority groups and will worsen inequalities.
Instead of sowing division, clamping down on dissent and hiding from accountability, they should be safeguarding our right to protest. That is why I will be voting against the Public Order Bill, and the expansion of stop and search on all fronts, when it returns to the Commons.
This article first appeared on the Daily Mirror website on the 22nd November 2022.