UK privacy group says police are abusing stop and search powers to harass protesters

from but-of-course-they-are department

Most protest activity targets government entities. So it’s really no surprise that government entities prefer to target protesters. While most “free” nations won’t go so far as to introduce life sentences for protesting and/or firing a majority of local officials and replacing them with hand-picked loyalists, the interpretation general is that protests aimed at government entities are part of the natural state of affairs and, as such, should be widely tolerated if not protected.

But this is almost never the case. Protests across the United States that have erupted over the killing of George Floyd by a cop in Minneapolis — land of the free and home of the First Amendment — have been met with violence, possibly illegal surveillance, and protests. assaults on journalists and legal observers by protest targets: US law enforcement.

The UK is no exception to the rule. Data obtained by Big Brother Watch shows that British police appear to regularly abuse stop and search powers during protests.

Stops and searches in central London increase by more than a fifth at weekends when protests take place, according to civil liberties campaigners who say police are abusing the tactic to deliberately target protesters.

While it may make sense that more police interactions will occur during protests when more officers are deployed to certain areas to keep the peace, UK law places limits on stops and UK officers regularly seem to ignore these limits. .

Except in special circumstances, stop and search can only be used for a handful of specific reasons, mainly covering stolen drugs, weapons and property, suggesting, campaigners say, that police are pushing the limits of their powers. powers.

Protesting is not a crime, no matter how many politicians and government entities want it. There is nothing about engaging in a protest that should lead a police officer to conclude that someone might be engaging in further criminal activity. But it appears officers are ignoring those boundaries to harass, intimidate and otherwise violate the rights of protesters.

Unfortunately, the UK government may be moving towards codifying this type of abuse.

The civil liberties group’s investigation into stop and search data comes as Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, proposes a significant expansion of the grounds for a search. A new Public Order Bill currently before MPs would allow police to search almost anyone near a protest deemed to be causing ‘annoyance’.

The sole purpose of this extension of the law is to deter protests. And, as noted at the start of the article, governments will always look for ways to reduce the criticism leveled at them. This appears to be Patel’s solution: criminalize being near a protest. And since proximity is in the eye of the (cop) beholder, the stop and search abuses observed by Big Brother Watch will immediately become legitimate police activity.

Worse still, the proposal would make stop and searches an at-will option by removing almost any legal pretext to force a UK resident to submit to interaction/questioning/search by police officers.

It will also grant police a new power of stop and search without suspicion, allowing any officer with the rank of inspector or above to issue an order authorizing officers to search anyone in a specified area for a period of time. determined when event-related offenses may be committed. .

If this passes, the UK should simply rename itself Her Majesty’s Police State and eliminate the incredible pretense that it does not give a damn about the rights of its citizens. Protests against governments are an essential part of free and healthy societies. Removing this option gives governments all the power, leaving the governed subject to the whims and largesse of officials who are supposed to represent their constituents and defend their best interests, rather than working tirelessly to undermine the rights of the people they serve. serve.

Filed Under: london underground police, protests, enforcement, surveillance, uk