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Opinion

Sisters Uncut: Government’s policing bill won’t keep women safe

Grassroots activists Sisters Uncut led the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard. Writing in The Big Issue, the group calls on us all to take a stand against gendered violence

In the wake of the horrifying murder of Sarah Everard, women across the UK have defied Covid regulations to collectively mourn her death and to commemorate hundreds of others who have been victims of state violence.

We have gathered at vigils to grieve together, only to find ourselves brutalised by colleagues of the man charged with Sarah’s murder: a Metropolitan Police force drunk on power. Many have called this response shocking, but this comes as no shock to those of us who have repeatedly encountered the brutality and violence of the state against women, nonbinary people and trans people. We know that the police has never been there to protect us.

As millions mourn, Parliament is debating a new policing bill that promises not to reduce the violence, but to enable and exacerbate it. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill aims to strengthen police and the state further while criminalising resistance. The bill would decimate our rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, handing power to the state to decide when, where and how we gather in dissent.

It would impose arbitrary restrictions on crowd size and noise at public demonstrations and would increase penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests. Even more, it would criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities by ramping up anti-trespass laws to target their homes.

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It would also impose a new statutory duty on local authorities to collaborate in the prevention of violent crime, in a measure inspired by all-encompassing PREVENT surveillance, which spans public sector institutions from schools and universities to the health service. Bolstering legislation that already disproportionately targets Muslim and racialised communities in the UK, the bill threatens an all-out assault on our democratic rights to resist our repression—as individuals and collectively—and to hold powerful institutions accountable.

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This policing bill promises a police state.

But we at Sisters Uncut – along with allies from Community Action on Prison Expansion, Women’s Strike Assembly, Haringey Anti-Raids, Jewdas, Jewish Solidarity Action, and London Renters Union – are fighting back. Joining a global movement led by women that has burgeoned over the last year against gendered violence and state repression.

From Women’s Strikes and the Black Lives Matter movement, to protests against femicides and for reproductive rights in Latin America, to demonstrations against the Islamophobic Citizenship Amendment Act in India, we have seen three consecutive days of protest against the Policing Bill. As crowds have gathered in their thousands, standing with each other through pain, anger and grief, chants have resounded against the system that is killing us, and in recognition of the fact that it is in our numbers that we can reclaim our dignity and freedom.

While the Labour Party demands that the bill address domestic violence through imposing longer prison sentences and increased criminalisation, we reject these measures, which would not keep women safe. We have seen time and again that the criminal justice system can provide neither safety nor justice.

It is only through community support and fully funded public services for survivors that we can reduce gendered violence, and it is through coming together in solidarity, defiance and protest that we can realise our demands, ushering in a better world for us all.

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