Hundreds expected to gather at 'Kill the Bill' protest in Milton Keynes tomorrow night
A mass women's rights protest in memory of Sarah Everard is to be held at Station Square in MK tomorrow evening.
Hundreds are expected to attend to protest about the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which objectors say is an attack on freedom of expression and the public's legal right to dissent.
It states it is in memory of Sarah Everard as well as "all victims of femicide, violence against women and police murder."
One organiser, known only as KTBMK, said: "We, the people, are opposing this Bill by uniting and demonstrating our potential to protest about female and state violence. Protests make clear that the people reject abuse of power, and that we won’t take it lying down."
She added: "It is concerning but unsurprising that it was passed in the same week we learned that a police officer murdered Sarah Everard. We feel it necessary to make our disapproval known, and unite in defiance of this undemocratic action."
Similar gatherings have taken place elsewhere in the country over the past few days and some have resulted in clashes with police officers and arrests.
Local police are urging people NOT to attend tomorrow's event in MK in view of current Covid legislation. They say officers will be in attendance, but they will "use their discretion" and take enforcement action if necessary.
Home Secretary Priti Patel also this week asked people not to attend any more Sarah Everard vigils or protests due to lockdown.
A police spokesperson told the MK Citizen: "We acknowledge and understand the strength of feeling and people’s desire to come together to mourn and show respect to Sarah Everard as well as raise the vitally important issue of women’s safety.
“Our thoughts are with the family of Sarah at this very difficult time.
“Clearly, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic where Coronavirus poses an ongoing risk and as a result government restrictions remain in place around people gathering in public places. As such we would please ask that people do not gather, and instead show their solidarity in other ways so that the risk of Coronavirus is not increased.
“If people do choose to gather, our officers will continue to engage, encourage and explain the importance of the coronavirus legislation in order for them to understand the importance . Our officers will continue to use their discretion, however if we feel there are increased risks of the spread of Coronavirus we may look to enforce, through dispersal or other enforcement.”
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passed its second reading in the Commons this week. It will give the police powers to protect the public and themselves and the public and improve the justice system,
But it is the section about public protests that has infuriated many people, who says it is an attack on freedom of expression.
The Bill means police will be able to impose conditions such as start and finish times on static protests, impose maximum noise limits, and officers will have powers to intervene when the noise is disruptive. Protestors could also be fined up to £2,500 if they do not follow police orders.
MK Council's Cabinet member for Community Safety, Bletchley Labour councillor Lauren Townsend, is herself concerned about the implications of the Bill.
She told the MK Citizen: "The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill is a bad piece of legislation, and one we should all be paying attention to and concerned about. It hands powers over our right to peaceful protest to politicians, impinges on our freedom to demand better from those in power, and provides more protection to statues of racists than it does to survivors of rape."
But Cllr Townsend added: "However, demonstrations that single out our police officers and have violent messaging that distracts from the issues that need addressing are incredibly unhelpful and short-sighted."
Organiser KTBMK said: "The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill is an attack on one of our most essential freedoms.
"Workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, the five-day work week, and the eight-hour work day were all achieved by popular protest. When we unite we can pressure the power structure to act in the people’s interests, if they do not concede, we must work together and help each other.
"The police have always been a threat to the safety of the non-dominant social classes and this won’t change unless we make it. So we must protest, we must demonstrate that we are united in rejection of this abuse of power."