Protestors gathered outside Norwich City Hall at 1pm today to rally against the Police, Crime Sentencing, and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill) in an effort to protect their right to protest.
As the Bill has passed through the Commons and is now at the report stage in the House of Lords, the protestors are hoping to ‘Kill the Bill’ before it is enacted within law. Recently, 18 pages of amendments were made to the PCSC Bill, meaning protestors could face up to 51 weeks in prison for attending or organising protests. Those in attendance handed out leaflets which suggest the Bill could mean police can arrest and charge someone for causing an “annoyance”.
The first speaker was Shannon Rivers, a representative from Black Lives Matter Norwich, who highlighted that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1981 uprisings. This saw people rise and revolt against over-policing and police brutality, an important step for racialised and working-class communities which could not have been made should the PCSC Bill been in place.
An event steward read a piece from a refugee who was afraid to attend due to media coverage of the rally and possible implications upon their own livelihood. Their family came to Britain 20 years ago believing it was a shining example of democracy and were hoping to be protected as sanctuary seekers. Despite the 20 years they have spent campaigning for refugee rights and a fairer asylum system, they believe things are only getting worse. They have been met by a Bill which they describe as being “dehumanising and cruel”, saying: “one begins to wonder whether the history of the British Empire is coming back to life in the government policies we’re seeing today”.
Climate activist for Students for Global Health Amit Singh spoke on the UK authorities’ “blood-stained history of silencing the voices that they have governed”. He went onto explain that a government report had found deterrence is ineffective for crime reduction, so couldn’t understand the reasoning behind using police deterrence at peaceful protests. “There is power in numbers” he said, gesturing to the crowd, “and our numbers are worthy”.
Extinction Rebellion held a heavy presence at the protest, with many flags and signs holding their iconic hourglass logo. Their representative Amanda gave a speech on love, saying that after 50 years of avoiding politics, “it was love of life on this planet that got [her] off [her] backside and onto the streets with Extinction Rebellion”. Having been arrested five times previously, Amanda says the Bill would mean she “wouldn’t be able to do anything meaningful to protect the things that [she] loves”.
The fourth speech was delivered by Tim from Unite the Union, he highlighted the importance of unions having the right to protest, drawing upon examples where positive change have been enacted as a result of picketing.
Finally, an impromptu speech was given by LGBTQIA+ activist Fiona. As she took the microphone, she announced that she was bisexual and non-binary and was met with cheers from the crowd. After the noise subsided, she stated: “without protest, I would not have been allowed to say that”. Pointing to the few police officers stationed as a low-level presence, she shouted: “I see you over there. I see you.”, going on to clarify she had been arrested for protesting earlier this year and wanted to support the LGBTQIA+ community.
After the rally, the protestors came together to march from City Hall to the Norwich Police Station. Here, they paused to deliver a cardboard cut-out of a megaphone, inviting the police staff to speak up against the Bill they will be instructed to enforce. Demonstrators then performed a dance to ‘Staying Alive’ as part of their ‘DISCObedience’ protest.
Speaking in an interview with Concrete, Caroline Riley from Stand Up To Racism East Anglia said: “The whole issue of racism was brought to the fore by demonstrating… think of it this way, illegalising Martin Luther King’s marching would have been ridiculous”.
Concrete also spoke to Norwich Green Party City Councillor Lesley Graham, enquiring as to why she believed it was important to attend the protest: “I’m a democrat. Eroding the right to protest is not just an issue for protestors, it’s an issue for everybody who thinks the government should be held to account. Protest is not the only tool in the kit of accountability, but it’s a really important one”.