Last weekend, the United Kingdom witnessed one of the most violent protests in recent times against a bill that critics argue would give unnecessary powers to law enforcement. On March 21, Sunday, protesters and the police clashed in southwest England’s Bristol city after some people engaged in violent disorder. According to Avon and Somerset police, seven people were arrested for causing damage to police vehicles and other properties outside Bridewell Police Station. At least 20 police officers suffered injuries after the violent clash, of which two were taken to the hospital for broken bones.
Avon and Somerset police said the protest began peacefully but later some attendees turned it into a riot. The police have launched an investigation into the violent disorder and will be gathering intelligence using CCTV footage, body cam, social media, etc. British Home Secretary Priti Patel strongly condemned the violence, saying “thuggery and disorder by a minority will never be tolerated”.
Thousands of protesters had gathered in Bristol city centre over the weekend to demonstrate against the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’. Protesters were seen holding placards and banners, which read “Kill the bill”, “The day democracy became dictatorship”, “We won’t be silenced”, among other things.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government introduced the bill in the lower house of the parliament on March 9. The government says the bill will empower the police and other emergency workers by giving them tools to tackle crime and disorder. The bill also seeks to reform courts and tribunals by updating existing court processes to provide better services to all. The bill has been approved for further scrutiny by committees before facing another vote sometime in the future. If approved, the bill will have to be signed by the upper house of the British parliament before going to the Queen to receive royal assent.
Critics of the bill argue that it will curb people’s right and freedom to protest because it gives the police powers to “stop disruptive protests”, which they fear could be used increasingly by law enforcement to decide when a protest should start or end.