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Summer of discontent Hundreds rally against new UK policing bill described as threat to Irish Traveller 'way of life'

'We’re living in a society of casualised racism and it’s getting more powerful'

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Hundreds took part in the protest

Hundreds took part in the protest

Hundreds took part in the protest

Hundreds of people took part in a rally to oppose a controversial new policing bill in the UK that has been described as “the single biggest threat to the traditional way of life of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers in our lifetime”. 

A “summer of discontent” was launched by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners with the protest outside parliament on Wednesday.

Organised by the Drive 2 Survive campaign, protesters came together to voice their objections to the police and crime bill that was voted through the House of Commons last week.

One Irish Traveller, named only as Danny, told Socialist Worker he had joined the protest because the bill would mean, “our livelihood, our rights taken away.”

“We’ve got to get rid of this bill,” he said.

Willow, a Roma person, added: “Councils won’t provide us with anywhere to stop. They’ve got the money for it, but they don’t do it. If we buy land for ourselves, they kick up such a fuss and don’t let us build on it anyway.

“What are we supposed to do? It’s been our culture for hundreds of years. Why should we stop?”

Drive2Survive, a coalition of Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller activists formed this year to fight the policing bill.

While it is common for travelling communities to pitch up on land without the explicit permission of the owner, it is currently a civil rather than criminal offence.

However, section four of the new legislation will make “residing or intending to reside on land without the permission of the owner or occupier” a criminal offence.

This means that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families could be handed fines of up to £2,500, criminal records and have their vehicles seized.

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It’s just one element of the legislation which has inspired a number of Kill the Bill protests up and down the country since March.

Speakers at the rally slammed the planned laws as racist.

Marian Mahoney, from London Gypsies and Travellers, told the rally: “We’re an ethnic minority, we’re not criminals. I don’t have a criminal record, I don’t want a criminal record, and neither do our children.”

Billy Welch, who runs the Appleby Horse Fair, said the persecution of Roma by the Nazis began with laws that criminalised them for travelling.

“The beginning of the ethnic cleansing began with a law like this,” he said. “They’ve got to realise how dangerous these laws can be.

“We’re living in a society of casualised racism and it’s getting more powerful.”

The Drive 2 Survive campaign is set to continue, with a stage and PA system at the Appleby Horse Fair in August, to build support. It then plans a protest outside the Tory party conference in Manchester in October.

Jake Bowers, an organiser of Drive 2 Survive, said, “The power lies with the people, not with that sorry lot in parliament.

“Think how many caravans we’ve got, think how many horses we’ve got, think how many families we’ve got. We need to show we can mobilise that.”

He finished with a message for Tory home secretary Priti Patel, “If you come for us, if you come for our homes, if you come for our culture—we will come for you."

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