Saturday afternoon saw hundreds gather in Manchester City Centre to protest the government’s controversial ‘Police and Crime’ bill, just one of many to have taken place in 25 UK Cities.
It’s yet another weekend of action at St Peter’s Square, following on from last Saturday where it’s been reported that 18 people were arrested for their involvement in the protests.
The main message of the protests was to ‘Kill the bill’: the government’s controversial ‘police, crime, sentencing, and courts’ bill. The legislation, if passed, would see the Police have their powers bolstered enough to easily crack down on large gatherings deemed an “annoyance”, including the non-violent protests.
The organisers of the protest came from a wide variety of groups. Manchester’s ‘Stand Up to Racism’ campaigners, Extinction Rebellion, and the Socialist Workers’ Party each had an audible presence, among other individuals and collectives.
It was feared that an earlier public dispersion order from Greater Manchester Police would halt the congregation, but the organisers would quick to assure those attending that the order only applied to anti-social behaviour.
Neither some protesters nor police officers have done themselves any favours to win overwhelming support for their ‘side’ over the past few weeks. The death of Sarah Everard and increasingly questionable conduct has put faith in Britain’s Police at an alarming low. Meanwhile the violent scenes unfolding in Bristol has marred the positive, peaceful messages of the protests.
Like many of 2021’s protests and large gatherings, critics and opponents have accused the organisers and attendees of ignoring Covid-19 guidelines by congregating in such vast numbers (both with and without masks). It’s difficult to draw a line between protesting for a human right (to protest), and recognising that large gatherings could play a role in affecting the Covid-19 infection rate, which has begun to show signs of increasing over the past week. When and how will the balance between these laws and civil liberties be met?
But for the most part, the attendees in Manchester should be lauded for their efforts: with social distancing and other guidelines observed, they have been able to properly display their message without having anything detract from it. More protests are expected to follow, as St Peter’s Square continues to be the hub of Manchester’s protest movements, mere metres from GMP presence and the Town Hall.