Protests broke out on Saturday across England and Wales against a new bill that would give police the power to break up disruptive protests.
The new Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which covers a wide range of policy areas, would give police new powers to “impose conditions on protests that are noisy enough to cause ‘intimidation or harassment’ or ‘serious unease, alarm, or distress’ to bystanders,” and increase the sentence for damaging memorials to up to 10 years.
These new powers were introduced in response to several disruptive Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests last year, which caused road closures, disruption of newspaper printing, and vandalism of statues.
Saturday’s protests took place over the long Easter holiday weekend in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol, and the Welsh capital of Cardiff.
Demonstrators held placards such as “KILL THE BILL,” and “Defend Our Right to Protest,” while other posters include slogans such as “CAPITALISM IS RACIST,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “[expletive] The Patriarchy.”
Small groups of demonstrators blocked traffic, threw projectiles, and there were some clashes between police and demonstrators, but police said the protests were mostly peaceful.
Protesters in London walked past Buckingham Palace towards Parliament Square, just outside the Houses of Parliament. A ring of officers positioned themselves around the statue of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. The statue was defaced twice last year, during a Black Lives Matter protest and then during an Extinction Rebellion protest.
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd next to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square, telling people to “stand up for the right to protest.”
Commander Ade Adelekan from London’s Metropolitan police thanked “the vast majority” of the protesters for adhering to social distancing rules and cooperating with officers, while saying “a small minority did not engage despite the repeated efforts of officers on the ground.”
According to the Met Police, a total of 107 people were arrested during London’s protest over a range of offences including breach of the peace, violent disorder, assault on police, and violating COVID-19 restrictions.
“One woman was arrested on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon. Outcomes await for those arrested,” police added.
About 1,500 people attended a demonstration on Saturday in Bristol, where two weeks ago a “Kill the Bill” protest descended into widespread violence that saw police officers injured, a police station damaged, and police vehicles torched.
Police said the main event on Saturday was peaceful, and that around 100 people gathered late at night and briefly occupied both carriageways of the M32 motorway.
Simon Veazey and The Associated Press contributed to this report.