Demonstrators take to the streets in Manchester against anti-protest bill

  • Hundreds assemble against anti-protest bill in Manchester
  • Speakers from across communities joined together to express opposition
  • Organisers believe that protest was necessary: "What we did today would be illegal".
  • Another protest expected to held next week

Hundreds gathered in Manchester yesterday afternoon (March 20) to demonstrate against a bill that would restrict the freedom of assembly in the UK.

Protesters assembled in St. Peter’s Square to show opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently being debated by MPs.

The bill would dramatically reform the powers that police forces would have regarding the guarding of protests, including the ability fine lone demonstrators up to £2,500.

Speakers from a range of communities and associations addressed socially distanced protestors.

Karen Reissmann, a mental health support worker shared her experience, where she was fined £10,000 for organising a COVID-safe protest in Manchester. The protest was in opposition to a 1% raise in pay for NHS workers.

She said: “We are not grateful for 1% – we are furious.

“The COVID pandemic has been completely and utterly traumatising for both health workers and families alike. Working in the health industry has become so tiring year after year with no respite.”

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Karen Reissmann, who was fined £10,000 for protesting, speaking to demonstrators. (Credit: George Crafer)

Ms Reissmann organised a crowdfunding campaign to pay back the fine.

As of March 21, over £17,000 has been raised, with the money being donated a mental health charity once the fine is overturned.

Organisers also called on other social movements such as Black Lives Matter, in conjunction with the UN’s World Against Racism Day.

Protesters took the knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in tribute to George Floyd who was killed by police in May 2020.

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Demonstrators took the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Credit: Rory Gannon)

Representatives from student organisations also spoke to the crowd, documenting their experiences with the University of Manchester.

Laura, co-chair of 9KFORWHAT – responsible for a mass-strike in Owens Park accommodation – said: “Charging £9k to attend university is a barrier and is directly related to why BAME students are underrepresented.”

Sabina, a student involved with Cops Off Campus also said: “The university doesn’t know or doesn’t care about black students.

“The police don’t want to protect us; they want an ego boost. It’s why slavery never ended – it just rebranded.”

Following speeches, demonstrators made their way to Stephenson Square to take the knee in front of the George Floyd memorial.

Police presence at the protest was minimal; however, official evidence gatherers recorded the demonstrations to document any breaking of social distancing rules.

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Police evidence gatherers filming the demonstration on Mosley Street. (Credit: Paolo Granelli)

Speaking to the Northern Quota, organiser Nayla Ashraf said that the protest was necessary.

She said: “If that bill was passed, what we did today would have been illegal.

“The fact it’s going to stop you from having a demonstration because you could be seen as disruptive – surely that’s what demonstrations are all about.”

A montage of the events of the protest is available above. (Credit: Connie Enzler)

Another protest is expected to be held in St. Peter’s Square next week.