Am I Angry? Why the new policing bill should make everyone angry

Anger is an emotion that has defined most of the past year for me. It presents itself in many forms: pure rage, frustration, powerlessness, a strong sense of injustice; but also anxiety, exhaustion, irritability, hopelessness, fear, and sometimes complete shutdown. It gets so overwhelming at the moment; it feels like I’m just not equipped to be thinking about all the things that are going on. And as soon as I reach my absolute limit, something else happens to pile on more anger and more of all the things that come with it.

CW: mention of police brutality, gender based violence and harassment

I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that the Tory MPs have voted through. This, for me, is the thing that wraps all my other anger up cleanly and tightly into a high-pressure little ball of emotions that feels so unstable that it might (likely will) explode at the tiniest provocation. I’ll explain to you why that is – why we should all be angry, and why that anger in itself is the best response we can have right now.

The bill is huge, and covers lots of areas: it discusses sentencing for those who are violent to children, those who are in positions of trust and use that to abuse vulnerable people, and community sentencing for lower-level crimes. The area that has received the most scrutiny, however, is that which discusses changes to police powers relating to static protests. What new powers does the bill propose? It enables police to:

  • Impose a start and finish time for any protest
  • Set noise limits on protests
  • Apply their rules to demonstrations of as little as one person
  • Charge exorbitant fines for anyone not following police directions
  • Make arrests based on people not following directions they ‘ought’ to have known, even if they have not received police instruction directly

It also criminalises acts of “public nuisance”, making it illegal to carry out protest tactics such as gluing or locking on, or any form of occupation of public space. The bill highlights that damage to memorials can now be punished with up to ten years in prison

Why is this problematic? It hugely limits our rights and freedoms when it comes to protests. And if passed, it’ll mean that in a protest situation, police have an even higher advantage over protestors. Although the legislation states that “new measures won’t undermine freedom of expression”, from where I stand, it simply looks like the government giving more power to police officers, and extra legal protection for them when they choose to abuse that power. Personally, I would love to see some evidence that they can be trusted with any power, let alone what’s being dished out to them by this bill; historically I’ve seen the opposite. Additionally, on a fundamental level, are protests not carried out to disrupt, disturb, get in the way, and be as annoying as possible? With the aim of getting attention and being listened to? If it’s now a criminal offence to be a nuisance, how on earth are we meant to really express our discontent? How are we supposed to bring about change when the establishment that we want to protest against is suppressing any voice that speaks out against them? 

Am I angry that my government is trying to take away my right to express my anger?

When 97% of women have been harassed in their lifetime. When a police officer can murder a woman and so little is done to bring about legal protections from gender-based violence. When women and trans people being abused and assaulted is so normalised in society that it’s rarely even talked about. When only 16% of victims of sexual violence report it to the police, and 90% of those who experience sexual assault know the perpetrator. When conviction rates for sexual violence are only 3.5%, and that’s of the known cases. When gendered and sexual violence is so common that I am never surprised when someone talks about it happening to them.

Am I angry that my government is trying to silence my anger about these issues?

When we are at such a crucial moment in the future of our planet. When the climate crisis is underlying all my thoughts and decisions. When fossil fuel investment takes precedence over truly sustainable policies, and growth is prioritised over anything else. When activists like Extinction Rebellion are brushed off as ‘nuisance groups’, despite the fact that if humans continue to use fossil fuels and economies grow at the current rate, by 2100 the Earth will reach over 4°C – a near unliveable temperature. When we are already seeing displacement and climate refugees, with numbers growing at an alarming rate.

Am I angry that my government is trying to silence my anger about these issues?

When people of colour still experience institutional racism in this country, but the government still denies it. When black people are killed by police officers, discriminated against by our healthcare system, and are massively overrepresented in crime statistics. When hate crimes against Asians are on the rise, strong anti-immigration legislation and rhetoric is in place and encouraged by the UK government, and the criminalisation of asylum seekers is leading to the dehumanisation of and harm to entire groups of displaced people.

Am I angry that my government is trying to silence my anger about these issues?

When disregard for the welfare of non-human animals is so blatant and accepted. When the wealthy and upper-class can bypass laws and rampage around the UK countryside tearing foxes to shreds. When the system of animal exploitation that so many industries rely on systematically carries out such atrocities to animals that most people have to turn a blind eye. When the meat and dairy industries are responsible for 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of all freshwater is used for global agriculture. When 60% of all mammals left on this planet are livestock with only 4% remaining wild, and the actions of humans are slashing biodiversity and causing species extinction at an irreparable rate.

Am I angry that my government is trying to silence my anger about these issues?

When a virus causes over 125,000 deaths in the UK alone, and that figure is portrayed as a success. When millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is passed to government pals through cronyism, money laundering and questionable contracts. When government officials are seemingly above the law, and receive greater bonuses than NHS workers who can barely afford to scrape a living despite carrying the health of the entire country through this pandemic.

Am I angry that my government is trying to silence my anger about these issues?

Yes, I’m furious. Why should I suppress that anger? Why should I not be out on the streets, yelling as loud as I can about all the injustices being carried out or overlooked by the people that are supposed to protect? Anger, despite something that I am socialised not to feel, not to sit with and not to use, is a very productive emotion. And I want everyone to know that it’s how I, and countless others, feel right now.

It can feel so uncomfortable, I know. In fact, writing this article has left me feeling raw, exposed, almost shameful for feeling so passionate and angry. My instincts say to tone it down and cut it all back, be more agreeable, try to stay a bit more neutral. But that’s not what any of this is about – right now I’m focusing on giving myself unrestricted permission to feel what I need to feel. To show to other people that we likely feel the same, and that it’s definitely not a bad thing.

So this month I want you to learn to nurture your anger. Let it grow, let it flourish, let yourself acknowledge every little thing that sparks it. Know that it’s justified, know that it’s powerful – and know that’s exactly why it’s as important as ever to express it, in whatever way feels right to you (and doesn’t harm anyone else, of course). Learn to tune in to it, and recognise it in all its forms, because right now that is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. And when you find something that makes you so angry you can’t sit still, use what rights and powers you have and make as much noise as possible; take up the space that your anger is taking up inside you. Whether that means marching, writing an article, signing a petition, or simply letting yourself rest and take a break and enjoy yourself when you need it – these are all as brilliant and important as each other.

Meg Reynolds, Environmental Editor