The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill brings in 10 year sentences for damaging memorials. A direct response to the toppling of statues of slave traders in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the summer of 2020, this is a barely disguised way to target anti-racist protests and a dog whistle to the nationalist zealots in the culture wars. At protests yesterday police violated protocol by arresting 2 legal observers from Black Protest Legal Support – this Bill will give them even more power to suppress our right to protest and target black and brown activists especially. Feminists need to stand with anti-racist activists in opposing this ludicrous and dangerous aspect of the #PoliceCrackdownBill. Next time the police anxiously surround a statue of Churchill during a demonstration, Feminist Fightback will be reminding people that Winston was not only racist and imperialist – he also opposed women being allowed to vote.
In addition to the #PoliceCrackdownBill, the government has launched Project Vigilant in an attempt to justify its turbocharged authoritarianism in the name of protecting women. More undercover cops in nightclubs won’t make us safer – at best it’s creepy and at worst it’s a serious danger. As we know from the spy cops scandal, non-consensual sex with women is pretty much part of the undercover policeman’s job description. For women to resist sexual harassment in nightclubs we need to be able to physically defend ourselves, feel confident about asking for support from those around us, and be taken seriously by staff. Feminist Fightback is going to be keeping a close eye on Project Vigilant to make sure that police are not granted extra powers in our name.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes measures to ‘strengthen police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments’ – also know as places where Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities (GRT) live. It will also prevent them from returning to these camps within 12 months. This will result in people being imprisoned, fined and even having their homes removed from them. As feminists we have always been critical of the government’s ‘family values’ rhetoric, but these measures also show how hypocritical it is when they have no hesitancy about breaking up Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Families via this punitive legislation. #PoliceCrackdownBill
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains a number of measures to increase prison sentences, including for children. Kate Paradine of Women in Prison points out that “there is no evidence that harsher and longer prison sentences make our communities safer”. Supporters of the Bill might try to spin it as being about locking up rapists – feminists should instead be highlighting the harmful effects of the prison system. Almost two thirds of women imprisoned are survivors of domestic abuse, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are already two times more likely to be arrested than white women and 25% more likely to be sent to prison. Feminist Fightback agrees with Women in prison when they say ““Prisons are a dead end that won’t solve the poverty, domestic abuse, mental ill health and harmful substance use in our communities which underlies offending.” #PoliceCrackdownBill
Diane Johnson MP has tabled an amendment to the Bill that will further criminalise sex work. The ‘Nordic model’ will make it illegal to buy sex and close down online sites where sex workers advertise. Criminalising clients will only make it harder for sex workers to earn a living. As Decrim Now points out, it won’t get rid of the poverty and global inequality that drives trafficking, and it denies the agency of those sex workers who have chosen to sell sex. It simply allows for more police raids on brothels and more migrant women being deported. Pushing the industry underground makes it more dangerous – harder for sex workers to negotiate pay and boundaries with clients, harder for them to work in safe spaces with others. Rather than attempting to ‘reform’ the #PoliceCrackDown Bill, feminists inside and outside the Labour Party should be opposing it wholesale. Feminist Fightback refuses to allow women’s safety to be used as a smokescreen for our criminalisation and oppression by the police and the state.