We Do Not Consent examines increased police powers over lockdown through 27 protests
From Black Lives Matter to Kill the Bill, these images show “what happens when a heavily equipped, well resourced police presence decides to exert force on a crowd”.
- Liz Gorny
- 13 June 2022
We Do Not Consent, a new book published by Fistful of Books, captures a year’s worth of work from Jeremy Jeffs, crucially captured in the thick of the UK’s lockdown. From May 2021 to May 2022, the photographer documented more than 27 demonstrations that took place across London, including Black Lives Matter, Kill the Bill, the Sarah Everard vigil and Extinction Rebellion protests. But beyond serving as a record for these historical events, We Do Not Consent looks at the effect of one particular force across demonstrations: the police, exploring how they exercised the increased powers they held during the pandemic.
“I’ve been shooting protests in London for several years now, and have probably covered more than 70 since early 2019,” Jeremy tells It’s Nice That. “What immediately became clear about the protests that took place during lockdown was that the police were using more confrontational tactics [...] That usually meant targeting individuals for arrest and pulling them out of the crowd and attempting to take them away in a police van. Sometimes it could get quite violent and I know photographers who’ve been concussed, pepper sprayed and punched.”
During lockdown, documenting protests meant following and capturing a range of diverse movements; many of those Jeremy recorded were focused on issues around climate change, Palestine, food standards and the right to protest itself. “There were so many protests during this period that the process almost became a practised routine: during the week I’d scour social media and keep in touch with contacts, researching what was likely to happen and where,” recounts Jeremy. While the issues under scrutiny in the UK were vast, uniting most was the urge to question the powers of the government and the police to decide what a lawful protest was, and what options, under “unprecedented circumstances”, we have to signal a lack of consent.
While Jeremy wasn’t looking to show violent confrontation with the project, excessive use of force becomes a recurring theme in the series. “I think the most shocking thing I witnessed was the vigil for Sarah Everard,” says Jeremy. “When a group of protestors and speakers were arrested, a large group of police forced their way through the crowd to remove the protestors, with eight or 12 large male officers surrounding each female protester. It felt like a deeply moving, peaceful memorial was subjected to an excessive use of police power, in a way that wasn’t consistent with other protests I’d witnessed.”
For a photographer, the dangers implicit in undertaking such a series are wide-ranging. In particular, Jeremy had to grapple with bearing witness to events while not creating situations that could incriminate protestors. However, Jeremy states on the ethics involved in publicising images, an “essential element” of protest “is the right to be seen in public demonstrating”, “and the press and photographers have a role in this, ensuring that public opinion is seen and heard. Nearly everyone at these demos came to be seen: dressing up, creating signs or simply marching with friends. Covid masks and hoods allowed people who wished to remain anonymous to cover up.”
The images from We Do Not Consent raise many questions about the role of a photographer today in recording the police. Not only was Jeremy frequently blocked access to the protests – “the police seemed to adopt a deliberate tactic of discouraging photographers” – he attests that police were increasingly using cameras and surveillance to gather images of people at protests. As conversations around police powers continue well beyond the year We Do Not Consent was birthed within, it begs the question, how should photographers record protests?
GalleryJeremy Jeffs: We Do Not Consent, published by Fistful of Books (Copyright © Jeremy Jeffs, 2022)
Jeremy Jeffs: We Do Not Consent, published by Fistful of Books (Copyright © Jeremy Jeffs, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.