Hundreds of protesters marched on Brighton police station on Saturday evening in a second local protest defying the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The demonstration was laced with anti-police sentiments a day after footage of a Sussex police office “manhandling” a student on Falmer campus circulated on social media.
The demonstration was one of many protesting the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including “violent” exchanges between protesters and police in Bristol, and another Brighton-based protest which took place on the 20 March, which is also covered by The Badger in this article.
The latest protest began at the Level at 5pm before a march of hundreds of people began around 5.30pm. Protesters tracked down towards Valley Gardens before turning up Edward Street to finally descend on Brighton Police Station.
Police Officers took a largely hands-off approach towards protesters, instead opting eventually to form a barrier outside of the station as protesters booed at their presence. Police were seen dragging one person into the station just after 7pm.
Chants alluding to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill such as ‘protest: it is our right’ were heard, but anti-police sentiments were also rife with chants such as ‘all cops are bastards’ and ‘who do you protect’ heard to the timing of drums and shakers.
One protester standing on the railing outside the station was seen repeatedly flipping the bird to two police officers as she told them to quit their jobs, and later on another woman and a police officer were seen entering into a peaceful but heated exchange.
The event followed a social media post circulated encouraging people to attend, instructions including for protesters to ‘refrain from being rude or confrontational.’
The Badger contacted Sussex Police for a statement on Saturday’s events:
“A protest involving a gathering of around 1,800 people gathered at The Level in Brighton on Saturday (27 March) from around 4.30pm.”
“At approximately 5pm the crowd began marching towards the city centre and a significant number of protesters congregated outside Brighton Police Station in John Street in front of a police cordon. A smaller group of protesters moved around the city, causing some minor travel disruption, until dispersing at around 9.30pm.”
“Detective Superintendent Juliet Parker, leading the operation, said: “This was initially a large gathering and the vast majority of people acted responsibly and engaged in peaceful demonstration. A smaller group of protesters remained in the city for several hours, congregating at times outside Brighton Police Station, and causing some traffic disruption.”
“All of the officers policing the incident were specially trained and the event concluded without incident. We appreciate there was some disruption in the city and thank the local community for their patience and understanding.””
Tensions rise: Kill the Bill 20 March
On Saturday 20 March, approximately 1000 people attended a protest in Brighton against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Protesters gathered on The Level park and listened to speakers before commencing a march which concluded at Hove Lawns after 6pm.
The peaceful protest was one of many national demonstrations against the large and controversial new piece of legislation proposing major changes to crime and justice in England and Wales. It has reached its second stage in parliament. The legislation addresses many areas of crime and justice in England and Wales but the area addressing protests is specifically causing controversy.
Under the proposals, police would be able to impose start and finishing times on protests, set noise limits, in rules that would apply to a demonstration of just one person. Refusing police directions could result in a fine of up to £2,500. One measure states that damage to memorials could result in up to 10 years in prison. Another proposal includes making “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” an offence.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the legislation, telling the House of Commons on the 15 March:
“This bill will give police the powers to take a more proactive approach in tackling dangerous and disruptive protest.”
“The right to protest peacefully is a cornerstone of democracy and one this Government will always defend. But there is a balance to be struck between the rights of the protester and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives.”
“Last year we saw XR (Extinction Rebellion) block the passage of an ambulance on emergency calls, gluing themselves to trains during rush hour, blocking airport runways, preventing hundreds of hard-working people from going to work.”
The Badger followed the demonstration against the legislation on 20 March, which continued over four hours from 2pm. This demonstration came a week after Sussex Police were seen actively dispersing attendees of a vigil at Valley Gardens for Sarah Everard, whose disappearance recently sparked national outcry. The vigil ended in 1 arrest and 8 fixed charged penalty notices were handed out after police began asking people to leave, filming attendees and dispersing crowds after approximately 40 minutes. Police were not seen taking similar approaches at the 20 March protest and have not confirmed that any arrests or penalty charges took place.
One protester at the Level said:
“I was at a second [Sarah everard vigil following that of the 13 March]. The police were a lot less intense at the second one. I think because of the amount of shit that they got the first time around they kind of cut down a bit.”
“I disagree with the fact that protests could be made illegal. We very much need them in our country, in every country. The fact that this bill says that statues are worth more than women’s lives after sexual assault. I just find it all very dystopian – it’s almost like we’re in a film. I get it – because covid – but that’s about it.”
At around 2.40 pm, the crowd began a march in the direction of the seafront and headed past Valley Gardens where some people were seen visiting the memorial for Sarah Everard There, The Badger spoke to a protester who said:
“I think what the police have been doing to women – and everyone really – but right now women is what we’re really focusing on. It’s just horrible. And we need the right to protest.”
The head of the crowd reached Churchill Square where The Badger spoke to a young woman holding a sign saying ‘facism is not a vintage trend. Leave it in the 40s.’ She said:
“I came here to protest because giving more power to the police is always the first step to a fascist government.”
As the filed on past shut down retail stores, protesters chanted ‘Priti Patel is a fascist’ as people looked down from their balconies. One man explained his decision to protest
“The Tories have taken all of our unionisation power, now they’re trying to criminalise protesting which is one of the few democratic rights in this bloody country. It really is important that we protect our rights because at the end of the day the state will just take them if they feel like they’re too much of a nuisance.”
Amidst cries of ‘Kill the Bill’, The Badger spoke to one attendee at Hove Lawns:
“I was part of the team that organised [the Sarah Everard vigil]*, which was a good turnout, but Sussex police were not anywhere near as lenient as they are today and that’s interesting to note, I think. Sussex police were so heavy handed then, and they’re literally standing doing nothing here.”
Asked why she thought that was, she responded,
“I think it’s because it was a group of organised women that came to protest for something, personally, and I think we represented something that they were very sensitive about.”
“Under this new bill someone could get 10 years for protesting, and those kinds of legislation don’t get handed out for the really bad shit that happens.”
“This is the bill to stand up for, really, this fucking really scary what’s happening.”
Police did not appear to intervene with attendees, and police intervention has not been reported by local newspapers, or Sussex Police itself. This is despite facing local criticism for actions taken against attendees of a vigil for Sarah Everard a week earlier on the 13 March, citing COVID-19 regulations. This coincided with national level criticism towards policing approaches at a larger vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham, London, with ministers, MPs and social media users expressing their disturbance.
The Badger contacted Sussex police for a statement on the events of 20 March:
“Police officers attended a protest at The Level, Brighton, on Saturday (20 March) and us [sic] the 4Es approach to engage with those present in relation to the government’s coronavirus regulations.”
“When the protest moved into a march, officers continued to engage throughout while ensuring the safety of those present and keeping disruption to the city centre to a minimum. Those attending dispersed after it finished at Hove Lawns.”
“Chief Superintendent Howard Hodges said: “We had limited information about the protest beforehand and no prior engagement with the organisers. However we maintained a presence throughout the protest and continued to engage with those present to mitigate any risks posed to public health.”
“We still remain in a global pandemic and there are rules and regulations in place to protect our communities and help prevent the spread of the virus.”
* the original organisers of the Sarah Everard vigil officially cancelled the event, but people opted to attend the event despite this.