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‘In Our Millions’: Policing of protests in Britain against Israeli genocide in Palestine

A Netpol report into the policing of protests following the public uproar in the face of Israeli oppression in Palestine has found that police forces, the Metropolitan police in particular, have been heavily influenced by ‘an increasingly coordinated campaign of public pressure by the media, government ministers and pro-Israeli opponents of Palestine solidarity’ and their confrontational approach is consistent with their response to the Black Lives Matter and ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrations of previous years.

The majority of these demonstrations include significant participation from members of racialized communities and Netpol report that there has been a pattern of racial profiling including not only Palestinian or Arabic speaking protestors, but also black and brown children and young people.

Key findings:

Key Findings Analysis of the Metropolitan Police’s data on “Operation Brocks” published in May 2024 reveals that there have been 305 arrests, however at least 89 of these were far-right demonstrators, arrested at a single event in November 2023. Data shows that police had little evidence to turn arrests into criminal charges. Of the 305 arrested, no further action was taken in 44% (136) of cases.

Of these 305 arrests:

  • 45 were for racially/religiously aggravated offences, but only 11 people were immediately charged. Almost half were released without charge
  • 15 were for terrorism offences
  • Despite calls for new powers to tackle mask wearing at protests, the Met’s data states that only 8 people have been arrested for allegedly refusing to remove a face mask; only two of which were charged.

Netpol’s report reveals numerous concerning trends in the police response, which include:

  • A climate since October 2023 where political speech and protest criticising the state of Israel is policed as a potential ‘hate crime’, based on a strict adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by the government and by the College of Policing.
  • This has included numerous reports of intense harassment, threats of arrest, and protesters detained for chants associated with Palestinian solidarity protests.
  • A rigid adoption of restrictions on marches and demonstrations, through advance imposition of section 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 that is wholly disproportionate to any realistic prospect of serious public disorder, serious damage to property or “serious disruption to the life of the community”.
  • An unjustified use of Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which gives powers to the police to disperse protesters where there is a likelihood of disorder or anti-social behaviour (harassment, alarm or distress) arising from a gathering.
  • The widespread misuse of powers to compel people to remove face coverings under Section 60aa of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Netpol research shows that although many people faced police harassment for wearing face coverings, particularly people from racialised communities, the number of actual arrests was low and almost none resulted in charges.
  • The use of anti-terrorism measures to target expressions of solidarity with Palestine as markers of radicalisation, particularly targeting racially minoritised protesters. This has included a very broad interpretation of what constitutes “glorifying” proscribed ‘terrorist’ organisations, often resulting from little more than wearing particular colours or styles of clothing or displaying writing in Arabic.
  • Individual police officers given extensive individual discretion to determine whether images or messages amounted to a racially aggravated public order offence, which led to arbitrary decision-making by police during protests.
  • Numerous and alarming cases of aggressive and violent policing both during and after protests. This has included multiple instances of police violence against children and young people.

Find Netpol’s full report here.

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