Over the last few weeks protests against the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill have hit the headlines, particularly protests in Bristol, where police have acted violently and lied about the extent of injuries inflicted upon them by the protesters.
Online the hashtag #KillTheBill has been used extensively, leading to a debate about the ambiguous language. I've seen people pleading with protesters not to use such a phrase because it could be misunderstood as referring to the police.
I've seen people delighting in the ambiguity. I've seen police officers in high positions lamenting the fact that police officers they know have died in the course of their 'duties' and appealing for a different use of language. One high up officer described being a police officer as a difficult job, as if being part of the oppressive state is actually work. It isn't a job; it's a role. It comes with dangers because oppression will naturally pit you against the people.
Of course, the British like a good pun. We also have a rich history of dark humour. The fact that people are protesting about a Bill going through parliament and 'bill' is slang for cops is a rich opportunity for punnage, irony and dark humour. Dark humour invites people to judge the joke and either choose to laugh or be offended. Choose wisely as there is a flip side to this coin. Your choice will be noted by those around you and in turn you will be judged for your sense of humour.
The first protest I attended was in London, at the back end of 1994. The Criminal Justice Bill sought stricter rules around raves, even restricting the number of beats per minute a track of music could go up to before a party was shut down. The establishment were worried about the impact on young minds, particularly as people seemed to attend these events and then consume drugs. Imagine. The Conservative government couldn't tolerate the fun being had. So they legislated to stop the right to party.
In 1994, the Bill going through parliament would also curtail trespass rights, just like the current one. I remember the placards on the protest I attended. "Kill The Bill" was the phrase most commonly used. There was also disorder. A large London protest saw people attempt to scale the gates at Downing Street. The protest I attended was not allowed to go past the Prime minister's residence. I remember getting close and seeing for the first time in my life a row of riot police at the ready.
So, let's be clear. Everyone using the hashtag is aware of the connotations. A minority of hardcore protesters might even take it literally and delight in the killing of cops. Most though are using it to highlight the problems with the police and the problems of the bill passing through parliament. They are linked and the slogan works to link them. It's dark humour, get over it.
I don't see any valid limit to protest. While we are not totally free, all protest is legitimate. I do not advocate all forms of protest, however. It really depends on circumstance and it's not my decision; protests sway democratically in their tactics. What form a protest will take is for those present to decide, but often it is dictated by the policing of the event. When the police turn up for violence, the protest ends inevitably with violence. Any legislation restricting protest is wrong in principle. The police have enough powers already. They not should be given more. #KillTheBill ■
Jon Bigger, Anarchist Writer.
Originally hosted on Jon's Journal.