By Declan Carey
NEW legislation extending UK police powers ‘outlaws’ Britain’s Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller communities, a campaigner has said.
Luke Smith, 27, a Romany Gypsy engineering worker and Labour GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) campaigner, believes the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will make it easier for the police to discriminate.
The bill sparked protests across the UK and will ‘widen the range of conditions that the police can impose’ on protests according to a government policy paper.
Smith told Redaction Politics: “It outlaws our historic way of life, it’s just awful. It gives the state the power to seize assets until criminal proceedings have taken place.
“It’s putting that at the discretion of police officers who are often racist towards our community.
“We suffer some of the worst poverty and deprivation in the country, God knows how they think this is going to make their outcomes any better.
“It specifically targets our community, it’s tailored for our community, that’s how specific it is in its intent.
“We’ve always been used to people attacking us in the streets, but we never thought it would be state sanctioned.”
Statistics backup Smith’s claims, particularly on inequality and deprivation.
A Parliament report found pupils from Gypsy or Roma, Traveller, or Irish Heritage background had the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups throughout their time at school.
The 63,000 people who identify as part of Britian’s Gypsy, Traveller, and Irish Traveller communities are also significantly overrepresented in prisons.
On the launch of the bill, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick argued the need for updating the law to put the police in a better position to stop static protests causing major disruption in British cities.
But Smith expressed concern about extending the abilities of the police, claiming the Romany Gypsy and Irish Traveller community already experience high levels of discrimination and harassment.
He said: “We’ve always experienced brutality and harassment from the police. If something goes missing like a quad bike, whether it was us or not you can bet your bottom dollar the police have been round. We get this all the time, false reports.
“When there’s a site somewhere, crime is always reported more, but it’s not because there’s more crime, it’s because people are on the lookout all the time.
“Number two is that when there is crime it’s always automatically attributed to outside ‘invaders’ as they call us.
“These are terminologies that you’d consider pest control issues, not that we’re people with kids, dreams, aspirations, who need somewhere to live, who need somewhere to go to school. We’re talked about as if we’re vermin.”
However, a Home Office spokesperson defended the new measures, saying: “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.
“This new offence will enable the police to arrest those residing with vehicles on private or public land who cause significant damage, disruption, or distress and who refuse to leave when asked to do so.”
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