Protesters in Oxford on Saturday April 3rd voiced their opposition against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently being debated by MPs. This bill includes a number of proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales, including changes to protest laws.
The protesters gathered at Bonn Square at 2pm and stood there for an hour before marching through the city centre towards the police station and crown court. Protesters were seen chanting slogans like “Kill the bill” and “No justice, no peace”. They held signs condemning fascism, racism, and political figures such as Priti Patel while supporting the right to protest.
Speeches were also delivered by local organisers and community leaders. Dr Sheikh Ramzy, director at the Oxford Islamic Information Centre, spoke to the crowd at Bonn Square saying, “This is the most democratic country in the world and we are talking about people having the right to protest taken away from them. The freedom to protest is important and we should not neglect it.”
Lexie Turner, an undergraduate student told Cherwell, “I went because this bill has the potential to be extremely damaging and harmful to everyone, especially the marginalised communities who are already under threat from the police. When I was there, I found the speakers really inspiring and hope that we can continue to build on this momentum and spark real change.”
Petr Vesnovskii, a Russian student from the University of Oxford who also attended the protest commented further, “One can get this sense of deja vu, with this bill the UK is following the Russian steps in flouting civil rights. Attempts to extend the rights of the security services and make it harder to hold them to account, which we are now seeing in the UK, once led to Russia being plunged into securocracy. It is concerning to see how Western democracies have been adopting these ‘best practices’. Just look at the recent innovations in the French Republic. Fortunately, in the case of the UK, there remains hope for civil society, which is now being tested on the strength and resilience of its beliefs. With the regrettable examples before us of what the loss of control of the security forces has led to, one wants to believe that the Brits will stand up for their rights and freedoms.”
The event, spearheaded by Oxford Anti-Fascists, was co-hosted by 17 other groups around Oxford, including Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion (XR), Oxford Youth Strike and Oxford Marxists. They all “oppose the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which criminalises the right to protest and other basic rights and will be used selectively against marginalised groups such as travellers and people of colour. [They also] deplore the police violence against protesters in Bristol and will stand up to defend [their] right to protest.”
There was also a presence of the Socialist Workers Party and Stand Up to Racism. These groups were not official organisers of the event and their presence was condemned by Oxford Youth Strike, who said that “inserting themselves into the press coverage of an event they had no involvement in is actively damaging to the movement as it silences the voices of queer people, people of colour, and travellers who had already provided quotes to the press and who worked to make the event happen.”
A spokesperson for Oxford Stand Up To Racism told Cherwell: “Oxford Stand Up To Racism have been involved in organising many protests across the city – including demonstrations against Donald Trump, against racist attacks and in solidarity with refugees. We’ve also organised transport to London for demonstrations on UN anti-racism day and to oppose the far-right and fascists when they have mobilised. The Tories’ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a major threat to the right to protest.”
“But more than that – the bill seeks to increase police powers to harass and jail Black and Asian people and to further criminalise Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities. So, of course Oxford Stand Up To Racism was involved in promoting, publicising and calling on supporters and activists to join Saturday’s Kill the Bill protest. And when asked by the press, we’ll condemn the Bill in the strongest possible terms. It was fantastic to see so many people and so many different organisations represented on the protest on Saturday – it’s that kind of unity that can finish off this bill.”
Ian McKendrick, on behalf of Oxford and Thames Valley Socialist Workers Party, told Cherwell: “The SWP believes the Crime, Police, Sentencing and Courts bill is a threat to everyone’s right to protest, and that to defeat it we will need the broadest unity possible. We must not let the campaign be divided by poor reporting, or attempts to set groups against each other. The SWP was involved in building the demonstrations around the UK last weekend, using its local and national online resources, national newspaper, and street stalls to build the biggest unified mobilisations possible against the bill. This included sending the details of the protest to over 1000 contacts in Oxford, and sharing it on our social media platforms, and urging our own members to join the protests.
“The decision by the Oxford Mail to seek out and quote the SWP and not use quotes provided by other groups was not a decision taken by the SWP, but by the editors of the Oxford Mail. The SWP has a long tradition of mobilising in defence of the right to protest and speaking out against all forms of oppression, including LGBT+ oppressions and racism, and this is widely recognised across the labour movement.”
The protest in Oxford was part of a network of over 25 demonstrations across the country including in Aberystwyth, Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Cardiff, Derby, Exeter, Folkestone, Kendal, Lancaster, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Plymouth and Portsmouth.
The Oxford Mail has been contacted for comment.
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