Let's stop assuming the police are on our side

Let's stop assuming the police are on our side

From mass arrests to surveillance, confidence in the Metropolitan police is at an all-time low.

Can confidence in the Metropolitan police sink any lower? Even before the past few weeks revealed the possibility of their complicity in the News of the World hacking scandal, and the past few months their brutal attitude towards the policing of students and other protesters, there were many who already had reason to mistrust those who claim to be "working together for a safer London".

Take Ann Roberts, a special needs assistant, who was recently given the go-ahead in the high court to challenge the allegedly racist way in which stop-and–search powers are used: her lawyers claim statistics indicate that a black person is more than nine times more likely to be searched than a white person.

Or take the family of Smiley Culture, still waiting for answers after the reggae singer died in a police raid on his home in March this year. They are campaigning on behalf of all those who've died in police custody. Inquest, a charity which deals with contentious death, particularly in police custody, reports that more than 400 people from black and ethnic minority communities have died in prison, police custody and secure training centres in England and Wales since 1990.

Ian Tomlinson's family may finally be able to see some justice when PC Simon Harwood comes to court in October on manslaughter charges, but if the story had not been tenaciously pursued by journalists (particularly the Guardian's Paul Lewis) the police would no doubt be sticking to their line that a man had merely collapsed at the G20 protests and that missiles had been thrown at medics when they tried to help him.

The appointment of Cressida Dick as head of counter-terrorism following John Yates's resignation is similarly unlikely to inspire confidence in anyone who remembers her role in authorising the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, mistaken for a terror suspect because an officer decided he had "distinctive Mongolian eyes".

One of the positive effects of "citizen journalism" is how much harder it makes it for the authorities to disseminate disinformation, such as the stories put out by the Met concerning Tomlinson's death. More recently, in the case of the arrests of UK Uncut protesters in Fortnum & Mason, video footage of chief inspector Claire Clark deceiving the group into a mass arrest has proved highly embarrassing to the police, who nevertheless freely admit that arrests at protests are part of an ongoing intelligence-gathering operation. The use of undercover police officers, such as Mark Kennedy, recently found to have unlawfully spied on environmental activists, has further increased suspicions regarding the motivations for police spying, not to mention the fact that its illegality makes it wholly ineffective against those it would seek to prosecute. It is cheering to see those targeted fighting back against such criminalisation of legitimate protest, particularly among those too young to vote, such as Adam Castle, who is taking the police to court over kettling at a student protest last November.

But given the many allegations of police corruption, racism, spying and death in their supposed care, why does anyone feel safe when the police are around? Robert Reiner, professor of criminology at LSE and author of The Politics of the Police, describes the phenomenon of "police fetishism" in the following way: "the ideological assumption that the police are a functional prerequisite of social order so that without a police force chaos would ensue". In fact, as Reiner points out, many societies have existed without an official police force or with very different models of policing in place. While it may be hard to imagine Britain without a police force of some kind, it is increasingly clear that those who "protect" its largest city are far from doing any such thing.

In the runup to the 2012 Olympics, we should be deeply concerned about the Met's policies and actions, particularly when they congratulate themselves on things that appear to be utterly in contrast to the way everyone else experienced them, such as the supposed "restraint" shown by police on recent demonstrations. Before the royal wedding, many were arrested on what have been described as "pre-crime" charges, with the effect that many were banned from the city for several days for doing precisely nothing. In parliament, David Cameron described the royal wedding as a "dry run" for the Olympics. If by this he means simply a large spectacular event watched by many around the world, then that's one thing. If, on the other hand, he means it to be yet another opportunity to pre-emptively criminalise, to increase surveillance, to restrict the movement of individuals and to condemn protesters, then we have a serious problem.

The resignation of those at the top of the police, and waning public trust in police policy in general, give us a perfect opportunity to question the Met's organisation and tactics. It may be difficult to shake off the idea that the police are "a condition of existence of social order", as Reiner puts it, but to stop imagining they are automatically on our side might be a good place to start.

Originally published at the Guardian Comment is Free.

Comments

Ernestine
Mar 17 2012 19:01

I can't remember ever automatically imagining the police were 'on our side' - right back from childhood I read about civil rights protests in the US, and then along came the Brixton riots, the miners strike and the poll tax, to name a few, so if anything it was the opposite. I've had some very interesting discussions with a member of my family who was a policeman though and with friends who work for the police force in civilian roles, and it's worth bearing in mind that not all police support the culture of brutality and cover-ups that some take part in, rather as a lot of people working for local councils don't support the way these bodies are being run.

There are degrees of state violence. Some social services departments for example have removed children forcibly from homes where they were not being abused. Does the fact that they have protected others from abuse make this acceptable? I run the risk of making myself unpopular by arguing for not assuming the police are not on our side, but it doesn't seem helpful to come at the issues with a rigid approach either way. Joining the police can bring a person insight into society's thorny issues, in the same way that joining the army can lead to broader political awareness. Doesn't always, but it can.

And as anarchists there are a few holes in our arguments - we may say we have ways in mind to police ourselves, but at present these are just that - ways in mind. We could learn a lot from talking to people who have been on the other side of the fence, who are sceptcal of society's ability to self-regulate, especially given the centuries of state regulation we have to break the habits of. There are huge grey areas in between the helping old dears find their lost cats end of policing and the beating up protesters end. Let's not lose touch with people who can help clarify them, and let's take the issues on with people in the police who don't like the way things are going and might actually want to serve communities rather then suppress them.

communal_pie
Mar 17 2012 20:05

I think self-policing communities works really well, has hard-evidence behind it during periods of unrest and huge strikes etc. We've got a lot on our side there and the police are just thugs dressed in fancy clothing, basically.

I wasn't alive in the 1980s but from everything I know, the recent actions of the police (just in my local area but around london as a whole, stock well seems worse than ever at the moment) are just becoming more and more openly thuggish rather than having to try and put a professional face on it. Which is a real mistake on their part, because it only comes on top for them in the end of the day..

Ernestine
Mar 18 2012 03:11

The thing is, communal-pie, that those communities were already politically united in solidarity. How are we actually going to deal with petty thuggery and robbery, when most people will sit still on a train while a fellow passenger is being robbed? And how are we going to deal with the kind of vigilatism that causes a mob to attack a pediatrician 'cos they think they're a peodophile?

Look at last summer's riots. A lot of people had a fine time taking stuff from big businesses AND quite a few people got hurt who didn't deserve to. Some of them were trying to defend the vulnerable, some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the sort of stuff that can stop a revolution in its tracks and give an excuse for 'leaders' to take control again with public support. Obviously we're a long way from taking social control of resources, but we might get to a stage where this is a possibility and we need to be aware of what it could mean on the streets.

I've seen both ends of the police spectrum, protesters being mown down by a horse charge, as well as community support officers getting kids to pick up their litter with a bit of banter, and I've been arrested myself pretty roughly. Friends of mine have had a lot worse, and I'm not excusing it, but not all police are thugs in fancy clothes. This is a fantasy, and it really makes us look a bit stupid if we make out we'll have an easy time dealing with crime 'come the revolution'.

no.25
Mar 18 2012 06:21

Lol, the revolution itself is the 'crime' of all 'crimes,' I don't suppose that there would be much of an orderly character to it.

Sure, not all police are mindless tools, but unless they're willing to step aside they are enemies of the working class.

Where I'm from, the primary duty of the police is harassing and arresting minorities, specifically blacks. Of course they're 'only doing their job,' and quite a few of these minorities have died as a result of 'confrontation' with these police or in their custody, which was entirely unnecessary. Also, cops around here shoot stray dogs, I dunno about rescuing kittens and stuff but I'm sure that would be beyond them.

I get what you're saying Ernestine, but like communal_pie I'm fairly confident that communities can police themselves against undesirable elements.

greenman-23
Mar 18 2012 14:19

the police aren't on any side but the side of totalitarianism .. the recent blog post I published on w43w.com 'N30 The Euston Deceit' is an account of how the police used arson to discredit a peaceful protest. Some interesting comments on the blog but none of which actually dispute my claim or offer evidence to counter it...

The police are and have become the biggest gang on the street and so are enemies of the community . Their favourite tactic is to pretend to be black block .. to mask up, cause vandalism and then blame legitimate protesters... never trust anyone who won't show their face because they are nearly always pigs or paid by pigs..

next time some one masks up on a protest.. take it off them.. and expose the truth about the police and the black block

jonthom
Mar 18 2012 14:41
greenman-23 wrote:
The police are and have become the biggest gang on the street and so are enemies of the community . Their favourite tactic is to pretend to be black block .. to mask up, cause vandalism and then blame legitimate protesters... never trust anyone who won't show their face because they are nearly always pigs or paid by pigs..

next time some one masks up on a protest.. take it off them.. and expose the truth about the police and the black block

Right. Because nobody could possibly be uncomfortable with having police, CCTV, passersby, other activists and the media filming them in a potentially violent situation. Nobody could possibly be concerned about their invasion of privacy, or of possible consequences later (whether from police, employers or whoever). And certainly nobody has ever been picked up by police months after a demo due to having their face snapped on camera.

Nope, anyone who doesn't like having massive FIT cameras shoved in their face every five seconds is clearly some sort of undercover cop intent on discrediting "legitimate" protestors (whatever "legitimate" even means in this context).

roll eyes

I mean, it's pretty much a given that police will infiltrate demonstrations - particularly those areas likely to kick off - and that they have an interest in provoking violence (if only to justify the violence they were likely to use anyway). But the presence of some cops in a black bloc doesn't mean everyone in that black bloc is a cop. And encouraging people to forcibly de-mask folks is utterly ridiculous.

I mean, I'm not hugely fond of black bloc stuff myself, and masking up isn't always useful. But your attitude is basically on a level with Alex Jones-style paranoia.

Cooked
Mar 18 2012 23:38
greenman-23 wrote:
Their favourite tactic is to pretend to be black block .. to mask up, cause vandalism and then blame legitimate protesters... never trust anyone who won't show their face because they are nearly always pigs or paid by pigs..

These awful simplistic ideas that spread like the plague... this time even with the tasty conspiracy element to it.

greenman-23 wrote:
next time some one masks up on a protest.. take it off them.. and expose the truth about the police and the black block

Just don't. As mentioned above there are *many* reasons not to show your face at a protest. Much like there are many reasons not to use your real name on the internet.

I'm not saying undercover cops are a fantasy but demasking protesters isn't the solution.

communal_pie
Mar 19 2012 06:33
Ernestine wrote:
The thing is, communal-pie, that those communities were already politically united in solidarity. How are we actually going to deal with petty thuggery and robbery, when most people will sit still on a train while a fellow passenger is being robbed? And how are we going to deal with the kind of vigilatism that causes a mob to attack a pediatrician 'cos they think they're a pedophile?

Don't let it happen, with force if necessary. If the communities' appointed guards are corrupt, then new ones should be appointed, if a large element of the community is corrupt, then perhaps the guards would have to step in with force or another community would have to step in and restrain people. Anyway usually things like that are led by capitalist mass media hysteria from the daily mail and the like which we aim to eliminate.

Quote:
Look at last summer's riots. A lot of people had a fine time taking stuff from big businesses AND quite a few people got hurt who didn't deserve to. Some of them were trying to defend the vulnerable, some of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the sort of stuff that can stop a revolution in its tracks and give an excuse for 'leaders' to take control again with public support. Obviously we're a long way from taking social control of resources, but we might get to a stage where this is a possibility and we need to be aware of what it could mean on the streets.

First of all, a LOT of people got hurt who didn't deserve to, some were mugged, some got beaten by police, burnt out of their homes etc. It wasn't really okay, but as you might expect, I knew quite a few ultra-middle-class business owners joined in too. This is what I mean, it was just weird and unpleasant full-stop IMO, I stayed well out of it (and I don't live very far from Tottenham..) as I'm not into the euphoric thrill of being chased/chasing the police.

Quote:
I've seen both ends of the police spectrum, protesters being mown down by a horse charge, as well as community support officers getting kids to pick up their litter with a bit of banter, and I've been arrested myself pretty roughly. Friends of mine have had a lot worse, and I'm not excusing it, but not all police are thugs in fancy clothes. This is a fantasy, and it really makes us look a bit stupid if we make out we'll have an easy time dealing with crime 'come the revolution'.

As no.25 says ".. but unless they're willing to step aside they are enemies of the working class".

Think this rings true and it was different say, when the police went on strike in times long past. But now, they aren't really doing anything apart from getting more brutal, that doesn't mean they won't step aside in the future necessarily..but it doesn't bode well imo.