By Ella Bicknell
Thousands gathered across the country, including Leeds city centre on Saturday to protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill calling it “fascist”.
The demonstrations come ahead of a crucial vote taking place next week in the House of Lords.
In Leeds, the protestors marched down Briggate, Park Row and Boar Lane, carrying signs that said “Defend our Democracy”, “Priti fascist” and “Imprisoned for doing this?”.
What’s so controversial about the PCSC Bill?
Proposed by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the PCSC bill would grant higher powers for English and Welsh police to crack down on non-violent protests.
Large scale protests have surged in recent years with the Black Lives Matter protests in Summer 2020, the feminist protests following Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder and the Insulate Britain protests ahead of the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in 2021.
The new bill would make defacing statues, such as the removal of slave trader Edward Coulston’s statue in Bristol, a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
Kill the Bill activists say this is not in proportion to the maximum penalty for more serious crimes such as rape which is five years.
Police would be given the power to shut down peaceful protests if they are too noisy or a nuisance.
It would criminalise participation or organisation of such protests with fines and jail sentences.
The Bill allows for greater stop and search powers which critics say will further harm black, asian and ethnic minorities who are disproportionally stopped by the police.
Traveller communities are also argued to be disproportionally discriminated by measures against residing on land without government authorisation.
Who’s been leading the outcry in Yorkshire?
The Leeds protest was organised by three groups: No Borders Leeds (a grassroots campaign that opposes immigration controls), Sisters Uncut Leeds (a feminist protest group) Rainbow Junktion (a local volunteer anti food waste café).
MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, who did not attend the protests said: “Our freedom to protest, our right to have a say in our nation is under attack.”
“The Policing Bill would throw protestors into prison for doing exactly the same as the suffragettes did” said the Labour MP.
Katie Jones from Bradford dressed up as a suffragette for the Leeds protest saying it emphasises the “need for us to fight for our right to protest”.
Another protestor, Chris Foren from the Green Party said he was disappointed by the lack of turnout from other political parties.
He said: “It is a dismal presence from the Labour Party, and no participation from Liberal Democrats and opposing local Conservatives.
“It is an oppressive piece of legislation so why isn’t the official opposition opposing it on the streets?”.
He said: “I think what the government is trying to do is not stop people from talking but largely stopping people from listening by shutting down opportunities to get disagreements heard.”