What once might have seemed like a radical situation, far removed from our everyday reality, aligned itself with our own experiences of living through a dangerous pandemic.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 9th March 2021. The bill delivers on a number of commitments from the Tories’ 2019 manifesto to provide greater powers and ‘protections’ for the police, to increase sentences and to “tackle unauthorised encampments.” At first glance, the sheer breadth of what is covered in the bill’s 307 pages may seem almost incoherent, but there is a common thread: the bill seeks to strengthen the power of the state to commit violence against the oppressed classes, and in particular racist violence.
In order to resist this bill, we must first understand what its impact will be if passed into law, by examining its most concerning sections in detail. Next, we must gain an understanding of why the government is taking these measures at this moment — why this bill? Why now? Finally, we must look at both the organised and organic resistance that has emerged thus far, and identify a way forward grounded in the broader political context which led to this bill being produced.
It is Part 3 of the bill, introducing new Public Order legislation, which has received the loudest criticism. In effect, this section makes it possible for the police to declare any protest illegal, at any time, for any reason — whilst simultaneously increasing the penalties for organisers and protesters found to be in breach of the legislation.
To quickly summarise the legislation: the bill proposes that senior police officers be given the power to do whatever they consider necessary to prevent disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation as a result of a demonstration — including banning it outright. Particular consideration is given in the bill for noise levels, with the pigs being given carte blanche to determine whether or not they believe the noise level of a protest might risk “intimidation or harassment...unease, alarm, or distress,” and to ban that protest accordingly. These terms are intentionally vague and loosely defined, as their arbitrary application is the whole point of the legislation. As if this weren’t enough, the bill gives the Secretary of State powers to use secondary legislation to redefine what is meant by disruption of activities, with a minimum of parliamentary scrutiny. The bill also extends the “Protected Area” around the Palace of Westminster, as well as giving the police greater powers to control and restrict protest activity in the area — in particular anything which might obstruct the passage of a vehicle.
If this bill becomes law, protestors found to have breached conditions set by police at protests could face up to ten years in prison (up to one year on summary conviction, which is to say in magistrates court, where there is no jury), and £2500 in fines. This is the case whether they knew about the conditions, or merely “ought to have known.”
This part of the bill also enshrines the common law offence of “public nuisance” in statute. Under this section, a person commits an offence if they do something, or fail to do something, and their actions cause ‘serious harm’ to the public or a section of the public, or obstructs them from exercising a right, be that through intent or recklessness. Serious harm is here defined as including “serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity” — or risk of any of those things. A person found guilty of an offence under this section is liable to be sentenced to a year in prison on summary conviction (again, without a jury), or up to ten years on indictment, and/or an unlimited fine.
Finally, this section of the bill makes it punishable by up to ten years in prison to damage anything defined as a memorial — a category so broad that the bill even makes mention of commemorative bunches of flowers. Ten years for graffitiing some chrysanthemums. What the fuck is going on?
The sheer breadth and subjectivity of this legislation is designed to make it possible for the pigs to declare any protest action illegal at their own whim, and make no mistake, this is how it will be used. This legislation tramples on our most basic democratic rights to freely assemble and associate. Its absurd and disproportionate sentences are both a tactic of intimidation and a tool to facilitate longer prison sentences for activists, organisers and revolutionaries. Combined with the doubling of sentences for “assault on an emergency worker” — clearly targeted at those who fight back against police violence at protests — the aim is to intimidate or incarcerate those taking radical anti-state action.
It is correct that the organised left have been so alarmed by this section of the PCSC bill, and it is correct that we have begun organising against it. But there are other parts of the bill which are equally horrifying, and yet have been absent from too many of the discussions around resisting it. We must work to ensure these areas do not remain as blind spots.
Part 4 of the bill introduces new legislation to tackle “unauthorised encampments,” which include making trespass a criminal offence. This follows on from a government consultation on “unauthorised encampments” in November 2019. As Liberty has noted, this legislation places additional restriction on protest, making it easier for police to ban overnight sit-ins and the like. However the primary targets of this legislation are the Irish and Roma traveller communities. This bill seeks to make their way of life impossible.
A consistent decline in site provision for travellers over the past few years, as a result of Tory policies to close those sites, has forced increasing numbers of nomadic people to trespass in order to find somewhere to live. By making trespass a criminal offence (as opposed to a civil offence, as it currently stands), the bill criminalises travellers for merely existing in the only spaces they can access.
But it gets even more insidious than this. The newly introduced offences apply to anyone over the age of 18, who is residing or intends to reside on land with a vehicle, without the consent of the landowner. The legislation specifies that in order for the law to apply, significant damage, disruption or distress must be a likely consequence of their residence or conduct on the land. Included in the definition of “damage” are “excessive noise” and “smells.” Included in the definition of “distress” is using “insulting words” and “disorderly behaviour.” These stipulations, as with those in the public order section of the bill, are intentionally vague and subjective, so that they can be applied at the whim of whatever pig is on the scene.
The new legislation now makes it an offence if a person meeting the above criteria fails to comply with an order to leave private land; reenters the land within 12 months (previously 3); or “has or intends to have” a vehicle with them on the land. If someone is found guilty of an offence under this legislation, they can be subjected to 3 months in prison and/or a fine of up to £2500. The bill also gives police the right to confiscate “relevant property,” which includes both vehicles and any other property on the relevant land; this property can then be held by the pigs for 3 months without prosecution (unless written notice is received by a custody officer that the person whose property was taken is not to be prosecuted). If a prosecution commences, the pigs can hold that property until the end of proceedings. If a person is prosecuted and their property has been confiscated, the court may order the forfeiture of that property. For travelling families, that vehicle is their home. This legislation quite literally makes it possible for the pigs to make someone homeless and imprison them, for no greater reason than they intended to enter private land.
This legislation reinforces a system of racial oppression dating back to the Middle Ages. In Britain, the Egyptian Act (1530) attempted to expel Romani travellers from the country, justifying itself by accusing them of criminality. Shortly thereafter, in 1554, to enter Britain as a Romani traveller was made punishable by death, and by the 1650s Britain was forcibly enslaving Romani people and transporting them to the Caribbean and North America. To this day Romani and Irish travellers face some of the highest rates of exclusion and imprisonment of any ethnic group, as well as higher rates of suicide, and a life expectancy approximately a decade shorter than the average. Government cuts, and their intersection with the pandemic, have already reduced traveller families’ access to clean water, sanitation and other vital services. An already dire situation will be made only worse by the passage of this legislation. The socialist, communist and anti-racist left must put an end to its complacency and racist indifference to the harms facing traveller communities. This bill directly targets them, and so we must be direct, outspoken and proactive in our support for their struggles.
‘Prevent-style’ approach to serious violence
In yet another potential expansion of the British state’s carceral powers, Part 2 of the bill details a new statutory duty on various institutions to collaboratively “prevent and reduce serious violence” in their respective geographical areas. Although this also implicates bodies such as healthcare authorities, we can safely assume that this approach will be primarily, though not exclusively, utilised within schools — turning teachers into cops, and replacing the commitment to safeguard those under their care with the legal requirement to criminalise them.
In short, educational institutions and their relevant local authorities must strategise with the pigs, prisons, and “youth custody facilities” in the supposed pursuit of reducing regional violence. In practice, such agreements will look like this: creating a co-plan to “address” violence, communicating information that may ordinarily be confidential, or at least legally privileged, and forced compliance with the police if the relevant bodies refuse to participate. As Liberty explains, this shared information is likely to be used as further means of meting out Knife Crime Prevention Orders — a tool that massively curtails someone’s ability to simply live out their life. It subjects people to severe limitations on where and when they can go in public, who they can see, and their access to employment and education. Fail to adhere to these limitations? Two years in prison.
The repeated call to “prevent” violence is no coincidence: much like the devastatingly Islamophobic Prevent legislation of 2015, the bill wields the language of “duty” and its accompanying associations of care, obligation and loyalty in order to frame the criminalisation of countless children and teenagers as a noble act. This is not merely symbolic, as the proposal resembles Prevent in more than just words: it too relies on the necessarily racist and anti-Black identification of those considered “at-risk” of conducting violent acts. In effect, this will serve as a major extension of the Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Matrix (with Black people making up 72% of those listed) — a database that further cemented the pigs’ capacity to occupy and brutalise communities and neighbourhoods, and one that will doubtless be reinforced by the introduction of this bill. Although the bill does not offer clarification as to what exactly “at-risk” means, it is likely guided by the same factors as the ‘Serious Youth Violence Strategy, such as “local deprivation” – in effect, a bare-faced declaration of the bill’s targeting of working-class, non-white communities.
Consistent with the bill’s typical opacity, the specifics of what precisely constitutes “serious violence” is assessed by the following factors: “the maximum penalty which could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence, the impact of the violence on any victim, the prevalence of the violence in the area, and the impact of the violence on the community in the area.” Of course, we can be sure that this remit of violence will be largely defined by what level of danger it poses to private property, and by extension those who are overwhelmingly propertied to begin with: the white and wealthy. Needless to say, this conceptualisation of violence does not and cannot account for the myriad of devastating harms that structure the lives of colonised people. Poverty, incarceration, military violence, displacement, environmental racism: none of these things can be included, because the bourgeois state will never disavow itself or that which maintains it. It is up to us to locate violence at the correct source – at the hands of racial capitalism and imperialism — and to respond accordingly.
Part 9 of the bill, which largely focuses on the plan for so-called “Secure Schools” under the broader “Youth Custody Reform Programme,” clarifies in law that 16-19 academies can provide “secure accommodation” — defined as “accommodation that is provided for the purpose of restricting liberty” — and that to operate such a school is a “charitable activity.” That this designation was made under the Ministry of Justice, rather than the Department of Education, is evidence enough that this legislation orients around carcerality and not education. The first of these institutions, also doubling up as a “Secure Children’s Home (SCH),” will open in Kent in 2022, at the site of the former Medway Secure Training Centre.
SCHs hold children between the ages of 10 and 17 who have been given custodial sentences, and Secure Schools hold those ranging from the age of 12 to 18. As CARE2Liberate explain, Secure Schools themselves are effectively Youth Offending Institutes (YOIs) under a different name, and indeed, as the bill states, “From time to time, it may be necessary to move children sentenced or remanded to custody between secure schools and Youth Offenders Institutes.” Beyond this point and in the government’s own words, the Youth Custody Service (YCS) “will decide, in accordance with policy, the circumstances in which an 18 year old will transfer from a secure school to the adult estate.”
It is worth saying this explicitly: “Secure Schools,” “Secure Children’s Homes,” “Youth Offending Institutes” and “Adult Estates” are all one thing, and one thing only: prisons. Shamelessly, and despite the telling description of children as “sentenced” and “remanded to custody,” the state has still described this as “Schools with security, not prisons with education” with a “therapeutic, trauma-informed” approach. We must not fall for such patently absurd assertions — these rhetorical sleights of hand are attempts to whitewash the deepening of already long-existing school-to-prison pipelines. They funnel working-class non-white and in particular Black children into the prison system, and it is certainly no coincidence that the first of these schools will be built in an area with a large Traveller population: Irish and Roma Traveller children experience the highest rates of exclusion of any ethnic group, as well as disproportionately high rates of youth incarceration. These pipelines manifest through mechanisms such as the ever-increasing presence of pigs in schools (with the number of full-time officers stationed in London schools having increased by 20% in four years) as well as suspensions and exclusions — all of which isolate, disappear, and criminalise those at the receiving end. Such practices are deliberately unevenly applied: in Haringey, for instance, exclusion rates for Black Caribbean students are 5.1x higher than their white peers, and as a recent report from No More Exclusions shows, almost half of excluded secondary school students are on the “Special Educational Needs” (SEN) register. This is of little surprise; racial capitalism both creates and requires racist and ableist educational institutions to uphold it. It claims that Black and Brown children are not children at all — they are criminals and terrorists in the making.
And to the tune of £20 million, we must remind ourselves of the integral incentive at play: running a prison is profitable. Multi-Academy Trust, Oasis, will be reopening the Kent site as “Oasis Restore” in due course, and is set to make a great deal of money from it. Nightmarishly, and as Abolitionist Futures explain, those incarcerated in Oasis Restore will work on the site in a number of trades and will be paid in ‘Oasis Dollars.’ The voluntary nature of such labour is uncertain, and these “dollars” will presumably be of little to no value outside of Oasis walls. Other academies are bound to follow suit, with no shortage of available funding from various state bodies.
Crucially, this long-built turn to Secure Schools rests within the wider nexus of Britain’s “Prison Estate Transformation Programme,” which intends to create 10,000 new prison places through a combination of building and redeveloping 9 megaprisons. There is no exaggerating the depraved and unconscionable reach of this bill and the many material exploitations it seeks to carry out — this is no time for complacency.
Roots in the Final Crisis
So why this? And why now? It would be too simplistic to say that the Conservative party merely has an ideological orientation towards racism and carcerality, although that is doubtless true. We must rather look to our present historical moment, and the ever-transforming economic conditions which shape it.
We are approaching the final crisis of capitalism. The fact that we are in a crisis is plain to see: the global economy is contracting, asset bubbles are expanding, debt is piling up, interest rates are crashing down, unemployment is soaring, small business revenues are sinking — we could go on and on. The fact this crisis is the final one is just as plain: capitalism has quite simply run out of options to mitigate against these symptoms. We are on the cusp of global war between the great economic powers, and the climate crisis is a tidal wave looming over us. Capitalism is an old and tired bear, backed into a corner by its own fully-grown cubs. It has no way of surviving, and yet we can be certain it will claw and bite and snarl to its end.
So what does this have to do with the bill? Capitalist crisis comes about due to a shrinking rate of profit: the ratio of profitable returns capitalists receive, relative to their investments. In responding to crisis, therefore, capital will seek to maximise the exploitation of labour. This produces two imperatives, which are met in this legislation.
The first imperative is to strengthen and reinforce the social categories through which capital structures labour exploitation: race and gender. It is through these categories that class divisions are realised. ‘Domestic labour,’ or reproductive labour — the vital work of maintaining the working class in a condition in which they can work (e.g. childcare, cooking, etc) — we are told is the natural role of women, and hence they should do it gladly and unpaid. Black people and other people of colour are channelled into the lowest-paid and most exploited working conditions, through exclusions, incarceration, employment discrimination and numerous other mechanisms — historically and presently justified through lies about the scientific reality of ‘races’ and hierarchies of ability amongst them. Increasingly these same arguments are dressed up as ‘cultural differences,’ in order to sell them to a modern liberal audience, but they fulfill the same political function as race-science. Capital in crisis leans ever more heavily on these means of deepening exploitation whilst preventing revolution, buying the loyalty of sections of the working class with the poison chalices of whiteness and patriarchy.
This bill strengthens racial categories in a number of ways, firstly in its targeting of Irish and Roma travellers and the criminalising of their way of life. The criminalisation of behaviours associated with an oppressed racial group has historically been a core tool of racist state oppression, as it creates opportunities to incarcerate members of that group at higher rates — and incarceration is profitable. Further criminalisation of the traveller way of life is both a reification of capitalist private property and, crucially, a lumpenising measure, further increasing the precarity of traveller groups and thus their vulnerability to incarceration and economic exploitation. The death throes of capital are punctuated by such moves to increase the vulnerability of certain groups to exploitation, and thus increase capital’s opportunities for value extraction. The supposed reasons for the government’s concern with traveller encampments — the difficulty in accessing sanitation, waste disposal and clean water experienced on some traveller sites — would best be dealt with by the state providing sanitation, waste disposal and clean water to those sites. This seems obvious enough, but the white supremacist state will always prioritise profitability and the reification of whiteness over concrete solutions to problems experienced by racially oppressed people.
Additionally, we must recognise that the strengthening of ‘law and order’ in racial capitalist societies is always the strengthening of whiteness. The old colonial tropes of savagery, brutality, and chaos in the colonies are repurposed in thinly-veiled racist propaganda about “knife crime and thuggery in the inner cities,” “grooming gangs,” and “the threat of terrorism.” The introduction of neoliberalism, as the corollary in the core for neo-colonialism in the global south, was awash with this kind of rhetoric. See how Nixon used tough-on-crime “law and order” messaging as a key part of his “Southern Strategy,” winning over white former-Democrats in the South to the Republican party. It is clear how this worked: in the southern United States, the police force grew directly out of slave patrols, immediately after the formal abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War. With the legal system itself being a material continuation of the slave system, any conception of “criminality” must be structured around race. To be tough on crime was to protect whiteness. This strategy was so effective that it was copied by Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and Trump, all of whom leaned heavily on this same rhetoric at election time. This was a direct appeal to white voters, against the supposed dangers of the crack user, the “super-predator,” the gang member — all bare-faced dog whistles for “the Black man.” In Britain, the police and prison system have from their inception been colonial entities. The same connection therefore holds true here. Both the discourses and the material consequences of carceral legislation in this country are structured by race. To be tough on crime is to launch violent assaults against colonised people. The PCSC bill strengthens the carceral mechanisms of the state, and in turn strengthens the allegiance of the white working class to their whiteness, as the relative freedoms it brings are increased, even as their actual freedoms are taken away.
The second imperative of the final crisis to which the bill responds is that of heightened oppression. The final crisis demands a deepening of labour exploitation and of resource extraction, and therefore a simultaneous slashing of workers’ rights, intensification of various social oppressions and worsening of the climate crisis. This will inevitably produce ruptures in civil society; working and oppressed people will not stand idly by as their lives are torn apart. There will be rage and there will be fire. The state knows this. They are preparing. This bill is designed to make it easier to fine and imprison organisers, activists and revolutionaries. In strengthening the powers of the police, the bill increases the tools available for the state to maintain control in the face of inevitable social unrest. The XR and BLM demonstrations over the last few years gave them the faintest taste of what is to come, and now they are preemptively cracking down on further resistance. As the final crisis intensifies, so too will this repression.
Resistance to the Bill
With all this said, the bill has not been met quietly. The murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer saw a mass vigil and protest on 13th March, led by Sisters Uncut in the face of a last-minute withdrawal from Reclaim These Streets (the latter being a small group of middle class liberal white women who had initially called for the event to take place). The pigs — recognised by Sisters Uncut as the protectors of patriarchal racial capitalism and thereby violently misogynistic by design — were unconscionably brutal that night, assaulting those who had attended in rage and in mourning. It was in the context of this repression of protest that opposition to the bill began in earnest. Many further demonstrations have since followed, across countless cities, with one constant across all: intense police aggression and repression on behalf of the state.
We remain indebted to Sisters Uncut for their clarity of purpose and analysis in helping to shape public understanding of the bill. Sarah Everard’s death could have so easily been framed as an aberration, the pig in question simply another bad apple in an orchard of rotting fruit — nothing systemic, nothing integral to the very institution of policing and its origins. In a similar vein, we could have been left only with Reclaim These Street’s calls for carceral ‘solutions’ to gendered violence, such as new hate crime legislation, as if they are something other than a repackaging of already existing unfreedoms. There is no liberation to be found in the judicial systems that work to calcify patriarchy to begin with. It cannot be said enough: the police, and the prisons, are antithetical to the safety of working and oppressed people. They will never protect us. We must be unrepentant and steadfast in our commitment to a communist, abolitionist feminism. Anything less is not only a compromise we cannot afford, but an act of collaboration with the same racist and patriarchal capitalist state we wish to resist.
Unsurprisingly, given their many years of exceptional community organising, Sisters Uncut did not capitulate to reformism. Instead, they drew vital connections between the murder of Sarah Everard by a pig, the state violence against protestors at her vigil, and the strengthening of police powers which came with the bill. The old refrain to ‘Kill the Bill’ was soon being shouted in the streets, and a public meeting was organised only 5 days after the initial vigil, with participants from the many groups and communities the bill seeks to further criminalise. Unions with predominantly migrant and precarious workers, such as the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW) have since also voiced their support and active involvement with these efforts — a reminder of the force that overtly politicised trade union mobilisation can level against the capitalist state and their interests. May 1st will see a mass coordinated series of protests against the bill, with countless bound to join. We too will be attending, and we eagerly await meeting present and future comrades in their spades.
The Kill the Bill Coalition ultimately operates on the following principle: it is not simply a matter of standing in solidarity with one another, but the active recognition that the freedom of one is only possible with the freedom of us all.
What is to be done?
This bill is but one iteration of a process with many prongs. Globally, we are at an historical tipping point, and the economic imperatives of our moment are driving the capitalist states towards heightened levels of violence and oppression. This bill is only the beginning. If we allow these floodgates to open, the tirade of repressive measures unleashed by the government might submerge our entire movement. It is necessary to fight, right now.
This bill will likely pass. Parliamentary politicians have no concern for the true democratic power of the people. We must treat the protests to come not as an end-goal in themselves, but as an opportunity for movement-building. We must build relationships with one another, on the basis of the widest possible unity of oppressed people. We must form a mass-base movement, which draws together all sections of the working class and has us working in unison. That means collaborating, forming coalitions, proactively working to unite the left into a movement which can make this bill unenforceable, and ultimately turn the final crisis of capitalism into the historical emancipation of humanity. That is how we can win.
Such unity will only become more necessary in the fight to come. The left is fragmented, and as a sieve can’t hold water, a disunited revolutionary movement cannot harness the revolutionary power of the working class. Our fight is too urgent for petty sectarian squabbles. Our planet is on fire, and racial capitalism is nothing short of life- and world-destroying. Our only choice is principled unity, based on an unrelenting commitment to liberation for all.
In forming these coalitions, we must ensure we go beyond the typical circles of activists. We must go beyond city centre demonstrations which gather thousands of middle-class politically-minded kids in one space for a few hours before they disperse, immediately returning to the atomised lives they live across the city and surrounding towns. Our resistance must be located in workplaces and communities. We must work within unions, tenants’ associations, faith and community groups, youth and sports clubs, to root the resistance to this bill in the daily lives of working and oppressed people. Parliament Square is home to the pigs, Peckham and Preston and Pelham are homes to the people. It is to the people that power belongs, and it is with the people that we must protest.
Join your local Kill The Bill demo for tomorrow’s Mayday of Action. But don’t stop there.
[Disability Rights UK analysis](https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2021/march/fears-over-right-protest-under-pcsc-bill)
[Friends Family and Travellers briefing](https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Briefing-on-new-police-powers-PCSCBill-and-CJPOA-002.pdf)
[KillTheBill timeline summary](https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/priti-patels-war-on-britains-last-nomads/)