Protests by climate activist group Extinction Rebellion has continued to roil cities around the world, including London. And after shutting down parts of Central London, police banned the group from conducting protests anywhere in the city on Monday evening. The move comes after eight days of protests centered on Trafalgar Square resulted in more than 1,300 arrests across the city.
According to the Guardian, the Metropolitan Police Service issued a revised section 14 order (part of the Public Order Act 1986, which allows police to impose conditions on a public protest deemed likely to result in serious public disorder or intimidation) effective at 9:00 p.m. local time stating that “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’... must now cease their protests within London (MPS and City of London Police Areas).”
Officers began demanding Extinction Rebellion clear tents from Trafalgar Square shortly thereafter, though the paper reported that most of the crowd had already moved to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The move comes just days after Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick penned an editorial stating that “We have designated an area of Trafalgar Square where they could lawfully make their point. We are not anti-protest—but we are against them repeatedly breaking the law.”
Extinction has launched numerous protests in recent months, including by disrupting flights out of London and dropping a boat in NYC’s Times Square and throwing fake blood on Wall Street’s iconic bull. These protests—which began October 7—come six months after the group staged its first shutdown of London. Extinction Rebellion has taken to the streets to demand the government declare a climate emergency, “act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025,” and create a Citizen’s Assembly to guide governments toward “climate and ecological justice.” Group co-founder Gail Bradbrook told the Financial Times that a “war-type” response was necessary to fight climate change, citing UK Committee on Climate Change forecasts that it would take up to one or two per cent of the country’s GDP to quickly switch to renewable energy.
Extinction Rebellion spokesman Howard Rees described the situation in Trafalgar Square as “peaceful” with police allowing protesters to gather their items and leave. But on Twitter, Extinction Rebellion’s London branch wrote that “No police officer in Trafalgar Square can explain the arrests, other than to repeat ‘section 14’—as if all peaceful protest could be made illegal so the police could save face.” Guardian reporter Damien Gayle tweeted that one expert had characterised the revised Section 14 order as “extraordinary” and “a massive abuse of power.”
It may be that the police have overstepped the mark with their use of Section 14 to effectively ban #ExtinctionRebellion from the entire city. One expert I spoke to tonight called the new conditions "extraordinary" and "a massive abuse of power".
— Damien Gayle (@damiengayle) October 14, 2019
Network for Police Monitoring coordinator Kevin Blowe told the Guardian that the order appeared to violate due process, saying “A ban has to be made by the home secretary. Our reading of it is that the section 14 powers are supposed to be used with caution because people still have a right to protest and potentially this is unlawful, and there is no other way to put it.”
Blowe added that Section 14 authorises police “restricting a number of people for a particular duration of time,” not a blanket ban, and that he believed there is a legal case to be made the police have opened themselves to a “potential legal challenge.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has largely opposed climate legislation and urged police to use the “full force of the law” against Extinction Rebellion despite his father appearing at the protest in Trafalgar Square to lend them his support. The BBC reported last week that amid remarks from Johnson that the protesters were “uncooperative crusties,” the Home Office had confirmed it was reviewing police powers around protests after receiving a letter from Dick, the police commissioner.
One of the arrests in the square on Monday was of Jeffrey Newman, a 77-year-old rabbi leading some 30 Jewish activists in the protest, the Times of Israel reported.
“We are in a period of enormous catastrophic breakdown and, if it takes an arrest to try to find ways of helping to galvanize public opinion, then it is certainly worth being arrested,” Newman said before his arrest.
In a statement on Extinction Rebellion’s website, the group said that “Extinction Rebellion will let the Trafalgar Square site go tonight. The International Rebellion continues.”
“It’s impossible, at least for me, to read the Bible of Prophets without recognising how much we’re rooted in the Earth, in social justice, in an awareness of the world around us, and, attempting to give all that we have on its behalf seems to me the highest calling towards God,” Newman said in the statement. “The highest principle is the saving of life, pikuach nefesh, there isn’t anything more that we’re doing here in Extinction Rebellion than being aware that millions, or hundreds of millions of people, already are at threat because of the changing climate, and if you add in future generations then … this is where we have to be.”
Despite the police directive, the group continued protests on Tuesday throughout London. In a WhatsApp group, Extinction Rebellion members said that the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens site was also being cleared by police despite assurances they could stay. Bradbrook, the group co-founder, was also arrested for take a hammer to the glass facade of the Department of Transportation.