London, UK – Jasmine is not the new protester, but until recently she has never returned home with bruises. She has also never been bitten by a police dog.
“Even if they are [the police] allowed to hit us, it must be below the knee. Why do I have marks all over my body? “she told Al Jazeera.
The 26-year-old from Bristol, a city in southwestern England, was among thousands who participated in a series of “Kill the Bill” protests against Police, Crime, Judgment and Court Bill.
The bill, backed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was brought to Congress on 9 March.
Images of Jasmine shared with Al Jazeera show visible bruises and wounds, which she thinks was the result of being beaten with a club and shield, and bitten by a police dog.
She stated that she simply exercised her right to protest on the night of March 26 and did so peacefully.
The police and crime bill proposes sweeping reform
Nearly 300 pages long, the bill proposes increasing police powers in the protests.
This includes giving the sheriff greater authority to limit “static” protests such as assemblies or gatherings, noise levels, and start and stop times. By law, police are not required to issue warnings that protesters may be arrested.
These restrictions may also apply to demonstrations involving only one person.
Critics say the bill will restrain an individual’s right to protest peacefully.
The bill came shortly after Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old British woman, was killed and disappeared on March 3. A policeman serving in the London Metropolitan Police Force, Wayne Couzens, 48 years old , has been charged with her kidnapping and murder.
Authorities did not allow a follow-up patrol in the capital scheduled to take place on March 13, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
However, wearing masks and adhering to physical distance measures, hundreds of people – including the Duchess of Cambridge – attended.
A severe response from the police at the event led to widespread condemnation, including a backlash from opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer.
A spokesperson for the Sisters Uncut, a feminist group that attended the ceremony, told Al Jazeera: “[Couzens’] The Metropolitan Police colleagues brutalized us… The police waited until the sun went down before they actually started walking in, grabbed the women, arrested them and threw them to the floor. “
The spokesperson asked for anonymity out of fear of consequences.
“Anyone who watches a video of the police behavior and the incredible violence they perpetrated will think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want that to happen to me if I go to protest.’ , “said the spokesperson,” that’s exactly what the government wants. “
Under the bill, protesters could also face up to 10 years in prison for knocking down a statue.
This came after protesters in Bristol overthrew the statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston, last year.
Speaking about the Bristol rallies that Jasmine attended, Avon and Somerset Police told Al Jazeera that the force respected the right to protest, but believed their officers had used reasonable force to prevent Stop crime and protect people and property. The force also admitted Jasmine had complained about her treatment, but did not comment further.
Legal observer was arrested
Dozens of people were arrested during the Kill the Bill protests, including forensic observers.
Six members of the Black Demonstration Legal Aid group (BPLS) were arrested for violating COVID-19 restrictions at two separate Kill the Bill rallies in London.
Three out of four people arrested on March 16 are minorities. All of them wore coats with the words “Legal Observer” clearly marked.
The organization, led by black and brown attorneys, provides free legal assistance to protesters.
A BPLS spokesperson told Al Jazeera, while it is not unusual for legal observers to be arrested, it is becoming more common.
“The police have been encouraged by the COVID-19 regulations, and by Police, Crime and Verdict, essentially the action is not punished. And so the law observer’s arrest rate, and the reason for the arrest of law observers at the present time, is basically a way for the police to exercise power, the power is not control, ”said the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, UK-based human rights organization Liberty has threatened legal action against the Metropolitan Police, arguing that the arrest of BPLS legal observers on March 16 is illegal. the law.
At the time of publication, the Metropolitan Police did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Affect the ethnic minorities
Four out of six arrested BPLS observers were of color people of particular concern.
A BPLS spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the move could be seen as an attempt to stop police’s ability to monitor police behavior among vulnerable groups.
Law-abiding people work voluntarily. For any individual, role comes with personal risk, but for observers of color there is an additional element of race to consider.
The experience of BPLS observers, the spokesperson said, “is something completely reflected in what is happening to the protesters”.
“And we are very clear that any increase in police authority, including the passage of this new bill, will have a disproportionate and strong impact on racist protesters. And so we are now seeing that reflected in the position of legal observers. “
At the same time, the observers stated that they had witnessed a large number of Black and brown protesters were arrested at the demonstrations.
Back in her apartment in Bristol, Jasmine raised a hand to Zoom.
She winced as she touched her knuckles and explained how she got injured.
“I intervened when I saw a woman get beaten on the head and around the neck a lot, and I raised my hand,” she said.
“When I raised my hand to protect her face, the baton fell and just hit it … and my left hand, even touching it, still hurts.”
The other protester was a black woman – a detail, Jasmine said, very important.
Reflecting on the past few weeks, she said black protesters, and especially black women, were under more intense control.
She fears that the bill that is at the center of a debate will disproportionately affect people from minority communities.
“So if I go and object, even if the bill passes, I probably won’t feel as much outrage at it as others in different demographic groups,” she said. “It’s just another way to rationalize discrimination.”
According to Liberty, the bill is aimed at opening up new possibilities for stopping and searching.
People of color have been proportionately documented by the police.
A spokesperson for Sisters Uncut said: “Not only against those who speak out against injustice, at rallies, but against Blacks, because there will be more powers to prevent block and search, this is completely unprecedented.
“We know it will affect Muslims more, too. And the terms they give to the Gypsy Roma and Traveler communities, will allow police to seize their cars, i.e. their homes, are extremely racist, ”the spokesperson added, warning about an emerging “police state”.
“I think people are hesitant to use the term,” said the spokesperson. “But what else are we talking about here?”