Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) grassroots campaigners are coming together to resist the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The Drive 2 Survive campaign, co-chaired by Jake Bowers and Sherrie Smith, will kick-off their ‘Summer of Discontent’ against Home Secretary Priti Patel’s Bill by gathering in Parliament Square next Wednesday, 7 July.
Smith said: “The Police Bill is the single biggest threat to the traditional way of life of Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers in our lifetime.
“If passed it will entirely eradicate nomadic life in the UK, give police the power to seize Gypsy and Traveller homes, fine Gypsies and Travellers up to £2,500 and imprison those needing to follow a nomadic way of life because of a lack of safe, legal stopping places.
“We will not stand for our culture being targeted in this way.”
Drive 2 Survive campaigners also accuse the Home Secretary of attempting to culturally cleanse ancient cultures from the UK landscape.
Irish Traveller activist Chris McDonagh said: “We have been part of society for generations and for somebody to decide we no longer fit is absolutely disgraceful.
“We all live in a country that is supposedly proud of its acceptance and equality for all ethnicities and minorities, but we now see this is a lie.”
Drive 2 Survive’s first goal is to put a stop to Part Four of the Bill, which would increase police powers over anyone residing on land that they do not have consent to be on.
Roma activist Virgil Bitu said: “Nomadic Gypsies and Travellers represent the most vulnerable part of the 600,000 strong GRT community that simply cannot find any sites to live on.
“Strengthening eviction powers won’t make them disappear but just brutalise and marginalise them further.”
The campaigners say the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 should be repealed, not strengthened, as it locks nomadic GRT communities into a relentless cycle of trespass and eviction.
Bowers said: “Priti Patel cannot ignore the fact that police powers are already excessive.
“It’s not just Gypsies and Travellers that are resisting these new powers, but representatives from the National Police Chiefs Council.
“In evidence to the Committee Stage of the Bill the community and the police have been united in calling for a better way of resolving the conflict around a lack of stopping places.”
Drive 2 survive campaigners will be joined in Parliament Square by Labour MPs Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro Addy, Andy Slaughter, Ian Byrne, Olivia Blake and Kate Osbourne.
From Parliament Square, the campaign will head to Appleby Fair, the world’s largest Gypsy horse fair, where GRT people have met annually for over 500 years.
Roma activist Mattey Mitchell added: “A stage and PA system will be set up to educate the community about the threat coming its way.
“One of Europe’s largest projectors will project films about the Bill onto the Cumbrian mountains next to the fair.”
The community is taking the threat of the new legislation so seriously that it has organised the first Romani Kris – a council of elders – in decades to decide a unified response to the Bill at Appleby.
South West Londoner contacted the Home Office for a response to this article.
They said responses to their 2018 consultation, ‘Powers for Dealing with Unauthorised Developments and Encampments’, showed the public wanted to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater powers to prevent or remove these encampments.
The Home Office added that the new offence and amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will apply to anyone trespassing in the conditions specified, with enforcement decisions not made on the basis of ethnicity or race.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of travellers are law abiding, and we recognise their right to follow a nomadic way of life in line with their cultural heritage.
“Unauthorised encampments reflect badly on the law-abiding Traveller community – they can cause misery to those who live nearby, with communities impacted by problems such as being unable to access or use their land, and excessive noise and littering.
“It’s therefore right we are giving the police the powers they need to address this issue and the government will continue its work to provide more authorised sites for Travellers to reside on.”
Featured image credit: romainberth via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 3.0 license