The Bill is killing us

By John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder and case worker

The police, crime sentencing, and courts bill is rapidly approaching and holds major implications for black and brown communities across the UK. As the Institute of race relations said way back in March of this year “the race and class implications are massive and go beyond the right to protest”

To get an understanding of what the future holds for our communities we only need look back at history. Just recently I visited the outstanding War Inna Babylon at the London ICA. As moving and powerful as the exhibition is what it conveys is not only a communities fight for the truth and justice in the wake of police brutality and deaths in custody but of the continual resistance to racist and autocratic policing over the decades.

Professor of sociology and author Alex Vitale once said that “the police are not here to protect you” and as people of colour we know this to be a truth. Over the past two to three years there has been an increase in the disproportionately of stop and search nationwide. Here in Avon and Somerset we have seen a reintroduction of section 60 powers and during lockdown black people became a frequent target for fines and increasingly disproportionate and racist policing.

Photo of a stop and search via the Guardian 2017, in 2021 disproportionately has increased.

As a Police monitoring organisation we noted the 38% increase in the use of stop and search powers across the county (2019 to 2020 respectively) and the stark fact that black people became 6.4 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts. We also expressed a great deal of concern that not only did the police not acknowledge this fact but in fact outright denied its existence whilst drawing on the reactionary “more whites are stopped than blacks” trope.

Of course, this was not only infuriating but troubling for many of us. The lack of trust and public confidence in the police has become increasingly evident over the past eighteen months or so. Rather than bridge the rapidly emerging divide that exists between themselves and communities they seem more inclined to contain than protect we are currently witnessing an increasingly aggressive and militarized response to crime that has adopted the authoritarian law and order iron fist approach of the conservative leadership of this country with relish.

We need look no further than the introduction of serious violence reduction orders (SVRO ) to understand the implications. In the conservative party 2019 pre-election manifesto it was stated that “police will be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime.” However the landscape was soon to change when re-elected home secretary Priti Patel issued a consultation document proposing that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of an offence involving a knife or other offensive weapon could also be subjected to an SVRO stop.

We need only look at the legal definition of offensive weapon (‘any tool made, adapted or intended for the purpose of inflicting mental or physical injury upon another person’) to understand the scope and target range of SVRO powers increases dramatically on this basis as does the potential for disproportionate stop and search. The issue we face is that it has always been unlawful for a police officer to target someone based on previous criminal history. To do so allows no propensity for people to rehabilitate and change and effectively allows the law to punish us forever.

Of course, what the law states the police should and shouldn’t do and what they actually do are very different things. As a ‘mixed race black male’ (my PNC record definition) I have been stopped and searched over 50 times in my life. Upholding the once a criminal always a criminal narrative does not bridge divides or heal wounds and regain trust in the police. It creates trauma. It creates cycles and dog whistles to the reactionary elements of society as well as within the police themselves. By increasing the scope of powers that are frequently abused we are moving rapidly away from “policing by consent” and towards a model of policing from a bygone era.

As IRR stated in March “policing in the Brexit state” is a trip back in time to the 1980s. Recently, the government has said that discrimination against black people and travellers and the impact on us from the bill is “objectively justified”. They went further to state “any indirect difference on treatment on the grounds of race is anticipated to be potentially positive and objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving our legitimate aim of reducing serious violence and preventing crime.”

This statement has massive implications for our communities and what the future of policing in the United Kingdom means for us. It’s clear that to some in the echelons of power the ends justify the means and racial profiling, stereotyping and disproportionate targeting of anyone who is deemed to be a potential criminal often it seems based solely on race alone is quite simply collateral damage.

At present black people are nine times more likely to be stopped by the police in England and Wales than our white counterparts. The police seem happy to open the doors to racist strategy without any consideration for those who are on the sharp end of such powers. Stop and search has failed spectacularly to act as an effective deterrent to knife crime and an expansion of these powers will only continue to destroy public confidence in policing.

I share the same concerns as the Criminal Justice Alliance Group that we are looking at the disruption of the lives of those who are rehabilitating in our communities and from my point of view no doubt ‘discretionary ‘ongoing vendettas by malicious racists who should never have been granted a position of authority. In late 2020 the ex-Met Police superintendent Leroy Logan said “young people feel they are over policed and under protected. They see the police as predators”.

Speak to anyone in St Pauls or Easton in Bristol and you’ll notice the general mistrust and disillusionment with the police. Communities here like those in London have a long and volatile relationship with the police and with the upcoming PCSC bill we can only expect things to become increasingly worse before they become better.

The focus on the bill in particular the goal of Kill the bill protests has primarily been to raise awareness about the attack on our civil liberties and the right to assembly. Of course like many others I completely agree that protest is a cornerstone of our democracy the fight is without a shadow of a doubt an important one.

However, it’s absolutely worth noting that other than a large amount of righteous noise being made about the impact the bill is going to have on travellers’ rights It seems that along the way the primarily white Kill The Bill protest movement seems to have forgotten about us.

Don’t get me wrong, the brutality of Avon and Somerset police during the protests earlier this year has been unforgiveable and has produced some of the most disgusting displays of state violence I have ever witnessed in my life. It’s worth remembering that when the uprising occurred at Bridewell that weekend in March following the first Kill the Bill protest a black man with a heart condition was tasered three times and violently assaulted by an armed response team in St Weyberg.

When you understand that the horrific levels of violence seen and used against peaceful protestors is used against black and brown communities far too frequently than not you realise that the police commit hate crimes against us every day. At points I’ve cringed seeing the dare I say it, middle-class trendy student “send flowers to Brixton police station please! “XR protestors take centre stage who think living in St Pauls is “edgy” and drinking in Easton is getting back to their nan’s roots but you know what? It’s their fight too. Except when they walk past a stop and search that seems a little rough because it’s not their problem.

The support work I have been involved with as a case worker and a member of Bristol Copwatch over the past 12 to 18 months has been emotional. When we’ve seen unjust convictions overturned for those we have been supporting it’s been liberating. When I’ve been called an everyday hero it’s touched my heart. It’s made me revisit my own trauma the police have created from years of stop and search harassment and most recently low key surveillance, tails and ongoing harassment because of the work I do in the community.

From what I’ve seen whilst volunteering and what I know about the police as a whole it is clear that they are unlikely to change their approach towards marginalised communities. What they put us through reflects the corrupt system they enforce. It mirrors the attitudes of those in the highest echelons of power and its something that we as people of colour should always stand together and resist.

RAW Summit 2021 ‘Know your rights’ – 23/09/21

Bristol Copwatch is proud to support StopWatch RAW Summit 2021 Look out for us on the morning of the 23rd. We will be hosting a workshop on bystander intervention. A link to Eventbrite to order your tickets will shortly be available on our events page.

‘John Pegram (Copwatch) leads a workshop focusing on bystander intervention, or passive observation of a stop or arrest on the street. John takes a look at how to conduct yourself on the street and how to ‘cop watch’, what questions you should and should not ask, how to film the police and why it matters’.

“Portrait of Basquiat being welcomed by the Metropolitan Police.” Art by Banksy

John is the founding member of Bristol Copwatch and a community activist. He has been involved with anti-racist campaigning for many years and has been monitoring police since 2018. He has been on the receiving end of racial profiling and has been stopped and searched 53 times in his life.

John was dragged through the criminal justice system at a young age and understands the trap of the cycle many Black youth find themselves caught up in, he understands the trauma police can create, and is one of several members of the team who have lived experience of police harassment and targeting. We feel this event is important and empowering for communities across the UK and we look forward to making a positive contribution.

PC Benjamin Monk found guilty of the manslaughter of England footballer Dalian Atkinson.

PC Benjamin Monk, of the West Mercia force, has been found guilty of manslaughter for his part in the death of Dalian Atkinson, a Black and highly talented footballer from Shropshire. This is a landmark case. In the UK there have been 1789 deaths of people either at the hands of the police, following police contact, or in police custody since 1990, and this is the first successful conviction of an officer.

Mary Ellen Bettley Smith, who was the other police officer present when Monk killed Atkinson, was charged with assault but the jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial against her will not happen until next year. Monk is set to have a hearing at time of writing expected to bar him from serving again in the police; Bettley Smith remains suspended from the force but whether she will be allowed to return to working in the force remains unclear.

Dalian Robert Atkinson was a star footballer, born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1968. He played for a number of football teams, won “Goal of the Season” on Match of the Day, and trophies in three different countries. Since his death, he has been described by those who knew him as: “just a gorgeous soul.”

He had lifetime harassment by the police” and “one hell of a football player and a top man”. On the 15th August 2016 West Mercia Police were called to the home of Ernest Atkinson, Dalian’s father. Ernest has said it was not he who phoned them, but that Dalian was amid a severe mental health crisis, and that he thought the police would be able to calm him down.

Outside of the house, Benjamin Monk tasered Dalian three times, the third of which lasted 33 seconds. Once Atkinson lay on the floor, he was kicked by Monk so hard that his boot prints were found on Atkinson’s head and Atkinson’s blood found on the laces. It has been said by a witness that she saw Monk stamp on Atkinson’s head and shout at him “Stay down.” Bettley Smith also struck Atkinson with her baton whilst he was on the floor. West Midlands Ambulance service were called at 1.45AM. At 3AM Atkinson was pronounced dead.

The case was instantly passed onto the IPCC (now the IOPC) and West Mercia police said they could not publicly comment. Five years on (the family say this is an unacceptable amount of time for it to have taken to reach trial, and Bristol Copwatch are inclined to agree) a jury has found Monk guilty of manslaughter.

Has justice been served? The problems surrounding all of this are complex and multilayered. Monk was found guilty of manslaughter, but cleared of murder. He has been sentenced to eight years in prison, just two thirds of which he will have to serve before he can be released on licence.

Bettley Smith has been referred to as “covid volunteer” by the press, instead of “assault criminal on trial” as if her volunteering somehow undoes the fact she chose to strike an injured man with her baton while he already lay on the floor. In the weeks and months following the incident, press swarmed to vilify Atkinson; describing him as being on a drink and drug fuelled binge.

West Mercia police describe one of their key values as “reducing vulnerability” and another as “problem solving”. Dalian Atkinson was a man in an acute mental health crisis; officers called to the scene should have been working to solve the problem and aware of his vulnerability, but instead he died at their hands. This clearly demonstrates an acute and terrifying failure by West Mercia police.

Bristol Copwatch would like to express our solidarity with Atkinson and his family, as well as the many other people who have lost their lives at the hands of the police. We hope that this is a step forward which can begin to set a precedent where violent and dangerous police officers are held accountable, and families of victims can begin to see some justice.

Cop Watch goals

We’re always on the lookout for volunteer Cop Watchers! If you can help with

Cop watching on the street & monitoring the police across the UK



Event organising

Community outreach

Or just have some great ideas for a bust card or know your rights fliers then send us an email! We’re a fiercely independent grassroots police monitoring organisation.

Justice Nowhere: 06/03/2021 – Review

Scene from the Bristol vigil for Sarah Everard

On March 6th Bristol Copwatch hosted an online event to explore the escalating levels of police violence and racism seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were joined by a panel of powerful speakers, including Lawrence Hoo (award-winning poet, activist and educator), Ken Hinds (Chair of Haringey’s Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group), Siana Bangura (writer, community organiser and founder of Courageous Films) and Neal Brown (Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator for StopWatch).


Siana started us off with her story, and that of her documentary ‘1500 And Counting’ – named after the number of deaths in police custody in the UK between 1990 and 2015. Today, this number is closer to 1800, with zero convictions. Mentioning the attention that is often given to police brutality in the USA, Siana explained that she began the project to draw attention to police violence in the UK, instigated after the murder of Sheku Bayoh in Scotland. Paying homage to a number of other efforts, including the United Families and Friends Campaign, Siana highlighted for how long both racist police brutality and its resistance have existed, referring to the origin of the police as a colonial project, born out of a need to quell dissent. This is continued in the training and support the UK provide to militarised policing in other countries like Nigera, and even the USA. She also drew attention to the lack of awareness around black women’s experiences of policing, and how the effects of the pandemic have impacted those already most marginalised. She stressed how these ‘numbers’ of deaths are not just that, but lives lost, stories ended, families broken. On the topic of protest during the pandemic, Siana stated ‘for us, it’s a matter of life and death anyway’ and that the pandemic of racism has existed for generations and finished with a compelling note that police abolition is not a utopian idea, but a real possibility that should be taken seriously and actively engaged with.


Beginning with the shocking statement that he has been stopped and searched over 125 times in his life, Ken told us his story of being abused by the police and his work with young people in conflict de-escalation. Ken told us how he realised his need to step up to stop other young people being targeted like he was, and spoke to the way that the trauma from policing is internalised by those who experience violence. Ken also spoke of the impacts of intergenerational trauma from colonialism and slavery, and the way that different state processes align to form a systemic means of oppressing racialised people. Today, Ken helps young people win their cases against the police and works with young black men to heal the trauma people experience as a result of policing.

Ken left us with the acronym GO WISELY, referring to the information that police officers should (but often don’t) provide to those under a Stop and Search.

G: Grounds for the search
O: Object the officer is searching for
W: Warrant, particularly if the officer is in plain clothes
I: Identification, proof that the officer is indeed a police officer!
S: Station to which the officer is attached to
E: Entitlement, any citizen being searched by a police officer is entitled to copies of all paperwork
L: Legislation, the legal power which gives the officer the right to stop and search
Y: YOU are being detained for the search or for the purpose of…essentially informing the citizen in no uncertain terms the purpose and nature of the search


Neal began with an overview of Stopwatch, which has existed since 2010 and is a leading voice on Stop and Search tactics, research, policy and advocacy. Neal described how the police have 19 stop and search powers, and that these are often abused. He spoke to the high levels of distress in black and ethnic communities and his experience of working with people in them, mentioning the difficulties of discussing the trauma from police violence within families. Neal works to amplifying community voices and build resilience. He also delivers youth workshops, which he sees as empowering people through using knowledge as self-defence. He stressed the importance of holding the police to account through questioning their actions, and recording your experience of being stopped and searched as evidence. He also introduced us to the app ‘YStop’, created by Stopwatch and Release, which provides an accesible means of recording and reporting experiences of being stopped and searched.


Our final speaker, Lawrence, related to us his experiences of growing up in Bristol and of the Avon and Somerset Police as a racist force that continues to be so. Stating that accountability simply isn’t served, he has seen the worst of Bristol’s police force. Lawrence drew attention to the fact that the laws made to protect people from racist violence are not being recognised, how the police operate above the law and how institutional racism is still racism and should be illegal. On his own story, he spoke about how he internalised the narrative he was told while being targeted by police: that there was no place for him in the world. He related to us some local anecdotes of police brutality, including that of Ras Judah, a 64 year old elder who was tasered in the face (tasering above the shoulders is illegal), and a mother who, last December (2020), was violently arrested by six police officers and and pepper sprayed on a bus after a dispute with the driver. He also spoke about his long campaign against the bail hostel on Brigstock Road (St Paul’s) for child sex offenders, how the bail hostel was directly adjacent to a nursery, despite sex offenders prevention orders outlawing proximity to children and the crimes that were committed against local children. This, he said, was a clear example of how working class communities of colour are marginalised and violated by the establishment.

We are so grateful to all those who attended, and were bowled over by the response. Thank you to our panellists for sharing your stories, which just went to show how important community-based action against police violence is and will be in the continued struggle for justice.

In solidarity,

Bristol Copwatch

Justice Nowhere: Racist Policing Under Lockdown 06.03.21

An exploration and discussion of escalating police violence and racism in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About this Event

UK policing disproportionately targets people of colour in the UK, with a range of police powers used to target and harass communities. This meeting aims to address how long term trends of racism and police brutality have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will be hearing from 4 speakers;

Lawrence Hoo, an award-winning poet, activist and educator based in Bristol, and founder of CARGO films. He will speak about policing in Bristol and St Pauls from the 1980s St Pauls riots to today.

Ken Hinds, Chair of Haringey’s Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group, will speak on the use of force and strategies to hold police forces accountable.

Siana Bangura is a writer, community organiser and founder of Courageous Films. She is the producer of ‘1500 & Counting’, a documentary film investigating deaths in custody, and will be speaking on police brutality in the UK.

Neal Brown is Youth and Community Engagement Coordinator for StopWatch. Neal will give an overview of UK stop and search, and practical information on you rights.

This event is hosted by Bristol Copwatch, a community project and police monitoring group fighting back against police brutality and abuses of power in Bristol and beyond. It’s an opportunity to engage with an experienced panel of activists and organisers, and to explore together what we can do within our community to combat police misconduct.

This event is free to attend and will take place on Zoom. We have limited numbers, so if you can no longer attend after booking a ticket, please let us know so we can give your place to someone else.