The past few weeks have been quite ‘busy’ where protests are concerned. The whole country has seen people come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and this past weekend there were the counter protests from the far right who said they were about defending statues – but seemed far more interested in fighting people who don’t like racists. Now the police want an emergency ban on protests.
The Police Federation foe England and Wales, which represents officers in both countries, has called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to impose an emergency ban on protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is after the spokespeople for the MET police condemned “mindless hooliganism” and “utterly shocking” violence from the far right loonies this past weekend.
John Apter, chair of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said:
“In normal times, the principle of having the right to peaceful protests is an important one. However, we are not in normal times, we are tackling a deadly virus which is indiscriminate in who it can affect.
I urge the home secretary to be unequivocal in her terms that whilst we are under the threat of this virus, any large gathering or protest must be banned.”
Thing is, lockdown is essentially over. Shops have reopened, people are out in the streets and roads almost as normal, and the government lost all credibility for staying indoors after defending Dominic Cummings’ round trip to Durham. If people want to go out and protest, that should be fine, and insisting that become a crime is a really bad idea. But even Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, told LBC that he supported a protest ban:
“Absolutely, 100%. We’re in the middle of a pandemic still. I’ve said this before: my colleagues don’t have any choice about being there, we’re in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic. It is unlawful what is taking place under the Covid legislation. Ban them.
It’s down to the home secretary and the government to get this done. I’ve heard it publicly played out, the home secretary saying the mayor should ban it, the mayor saying it’s the home secretary’s fault … Come on, get a grip. Just sort it out.”
Sure, big gatherings of people have been illegal under COVID guidelines, but that hasn’t stopped people from getting together. At least in the case of protesting they’re getting together for a reason beyond being bored. Provided they’re not being violent, looting, or doing anything other crimes, let them do it. They know the risks.
Right to protest is actually quite an important part of freedom of speech, because you’re usually out protesting whatever the government is doing. Generally places that don’t let you criticise the government are not nice places to be. Plus ban protests once, even if it is technically allowed under the Public Order Act of 1986, and you have a precedent set for further bans when the government doesn’t like the what you’re saying.
It’s not the first time police have tried this in recent times either, since they attempted to ban Extinction Rebellion from protesting – only to fail miserably.
Ironically the best way to come back at a ban on protesting is to, in fact, protest. And if you are going out with some placards make sure to limit your potential exposure to the coronavirus. You’re no good if you’re locked inside with symptoms – or worse. [The Guardian]
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash