England Gave Police Temporary Power During COVID-19 To Shut Down Protests. Now British Cops Want to Keep It.
British officials used 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns as an excuse to essentially legally ban protests. After a recent spate of mass arrests, Parliament is considering a new crime bill that would permanently grant police greater authority to restrict and shut down protests entirely.
The protests are a response to the death of Sarah Everard in March. A week after she disappeared in South London, Everard’s body was found and London Police Constable Wayne Couzens was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering her.
Everard’s death prompted public vigils that turned violent because police attempted to shut them down. The police said the protests violated COVID-19 lockdown rules Parliament passed a year ago. When Parliament was considering the “temporary” law (scare quotes because it actually lasts for two years before sunsetting), civil rights organization Big Brother Watch warned, “It contains sweeping powers to shut down even political assemblies, which could thwart the possibility of public protest against this power grab in the months ahead.”
The group was proven right when British police used COVID-19 as an excuse to shut down a vigil to memorialize a woman whose death has been attributed to a police officer. A subsequent anti-lockdown protest in London this past weekend led to even more arrests.
The proposed policing and sentencing bill would, in part, grant police greater authority to shut down protests. They can do so now if they believe a protest will cause property harm or serious disruption to people’s lives. The new law would empower police to intervene when a protest is noisy enough to cause “intimidation or harassment” or “serious unease, alarm, or distress” to bystanders. Call it the Pearlclutcher’s Veto.
Current law allows police to arrest only those who knowingly commit an offense. The new law would allow police to arrest people that “ought to hav
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