Britain is Not Innocent

A Netpol report on the policing of Black Lives Matter protests in Britain’s towns and cities in 2020

Six months on from the killing of George Floyd by police in the US, our new report examines the policing of the subsequent large-scale protests across Britain.

Named after a rallying cry of demonstrators, ‘Britain is not innocent’: A Netpol Report on the policing of Black Lives Matter protests in Britain’s towns and cities in 2020 is informed by evidence from over 100 witnesses, including protesters, legal observers, and arrestee support volunteers.

Netpol’s research identifies significant areas of concern including:

  • Excessive use of force and the disproportionate targeting of black protesters, with baton charges, horse charges, pepper spray and violent arrests.
  • Kettling, enclosing large numbers of protestors – including children and potentially vulnerable people – in confined spaces for up to eight hours, making socially distancing impossible and with no access to toilets, food or water.
  • Neglect of Black Lives Matter protesters experiencing violence from far-right organised counter-demonstrators, with examples of a seriously injured protester being searched rather than supported and others being ignored.

Experiences and policing at the hundreds of protests across Britain varied significantly, with some examples of light-touch policing at safe and successful gatherings. However black-led protests disproportionately faced excessive interventions by police.

Without underestimating the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the report questions the motivations for the restrictive responses to many Black Lives Matter protests. Considering the evidence alongside the wider context of racism in policing, the report finds that racism affected the manner in which police enforced lockdown regulations and responded to Black Lives Matter protests. Netpol concludes that the policing of these protests was institutionally racist.

The police tactics identified are also part of a broader pattern in the policing of major protests in recent years, identified by Netpol in previous work. The pandemic and arising emergency legislation added a new dimension to this, one which is likely to continue in the months and years ahead. The report is intended as a tool for campaigners in defending their right to protest.

The police have a legal duty to facilitate the public’s right to protest. Their failure to do so has the effect of eroding the legal democratic rights enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the right to freedom of assembly and association. Netpol is calling for an alternative model in which non-police organisations are engaged in the management of future protests, rather than the police.

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The report was authored by Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper, an activist and academic in Applied Sociology at the University of Greenwich, with the support of Jack Etches (research).

There were also contributions from Black Protest Legal Support, Independent Legal Observers Network and Green and Black Cross, as well as those who shared their personal experiences.

The report was financially supported by crowdfunded donations at chuffed.org, as well as the Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust in partnership with the Article 11 Trust. Thank you to all who made this work possible.

To support Netpol’s future work, you can donate here or share our work with your networks.

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