Not just of slavery – take that and being anti-racist as a given – but of the police and all enforcement, worldwide.
I’ve been thinking about police for some years. I began a piece about their reform three years ago in which I quickly saw that I needed to ask deep and fundamental questions about the whole of society. And by that, I meant globally. I realised that police are key to the kind of world we live in. And by that, I mean that how they treat us is how safe and free we are.
If you’re expecting me to say: good policing means an orderly, safe world – you’re wrong.
That wasn’t what I was going to say at all.
I may begin sharing my work from June 2017, for the time feels right. There is a worldwide hunger for police reform after the horrific death of George Floyd 2 weeks ago, but sadly he is one of so many that have been brutalised by the force we have to pay to supposedly look after us. Policing isn’t just an American issue, or an issue for those countries that we dismiss as being far away and undeveloped and run by despots. Those people matter too. And they might be your country. Even if you think your country’s police are safe and reasonable, I ask you to think again.
Here is a big point to make early on: that I will not use the country specific talk of so many. American friends and readers, you are especially bad at this, as if you are a synecdoche for the whole world. You aren’t, but right now, the infamous horror on your soil is opening a platform for all of us; and I hope that the strength of feeling against this disgraceful and horrific act is going to open the way for real action on something that has been mooted for a long time.
I am also going to make a point early on which has to be made carefully, for I do not wish to alienate readers at this stage, nor to ever sound as if I in any form tolerate racism or belittle that.
I do not.
However, I do clearly state that I ABHOR ALL FORMS OF INJUSTICE and that for me, there is a bigger bottom line here than racism. My friend said: the attention’s on that fire because that’s where it’s burning at present. And I see that the Black community wants us to look at the fire, because they want us to see what’s been done to them – again. And we witness that with you in anger and sorrow.
But I want to look at fire itself – at this flammable liquid and who’s pouring it.
I am concerned that in the understandable ire and strident voices against the many incidences of racism and the disproportionate amount of police related suffering among non-caucasian people, that there is a new imbalance and set of otherness.
When I began my piece, almost three years ago to the day, I knew that otherness – the concept of people or things being different to you – was the absolute fundament of all else. This basic decision about whether this other form is similar or not to me was quickly followed by, so how shall I relate to or treat them? And that for many, that equalled fear, resentment, treating as less than, abuse.
But there is also a subverted version of this which is being seen via the speaking out, as if those belonging to the other group are all corporately guilty and are ‘other’ to the victims.
Those of us who stand – and I hope that is all of us – against the brutalities of police abuse and against racism, but who are not black, can feel that our solidarity and care must be qualified and earned. What would I or you know about prejudice, brutality, and suffering?
Well, in my own case, more than you might be assuming. I realised that it was possible to stand so vociferously in my own groups’ pain that I wouldn’t let outsiders in, even those who wanted to join with us and stand with us. I could make them feel bad for not having it bad (enough). I could assume the happiness and ease of their lives as compared to me and mine.
I would also like to say – I am on a controversial roll now – that I note that ‘Black’ is often used as a synecdoche for all those ethnicities which aren’t ‘white’ – a description I don’t like. In Britain, we called non ‘white’ BME (Black and Minority Ethnicities), and there’s a new set of initials coined, again leading with B for black. But what about Asian (a wide and diverse group), native American, Australasian; Inuit, Latin… (another broad group who seem to have a new name), Romany, Jew…forgive me if I’ve missed a group, especially if it’s yours. We are many. We are one. We all matter.
I know that black and Asian people and others are disproportionally targeted for police searches and arrests.
But that oft-quoted fact seems to have the horrible logical upshot: that more of the rest of us should be subjected to arrest and search.
NONE OF US SHOULD BE.
I want to abolish stop and search. I want to abolish enforcement targets. I want to abolish spying, weapons, and customs.
I want to abolish the police. Why does only America seem to say this?
I did a little research – it sadly didn’t take much looking – to find negative police incidents in every country I could think of. I don’t know if the beating of a Romani in Romania in April got much international coverage. It should have. “Police brutality” searches get pages of internet search results, as does “police corruption”. Searching “police + bullying” seems to be designed to bring up how to handle bullies, and how to involve the police if you are being bullied. And yet, it was through US churches that I came across a call – and not a new one – to stop calling the cops.
How else might your issue be addressed?
I’ve long felt a discomfort with calling the police. I know that they can worsen a situation, and for some people, it can mean being taken into a system that harms you, or even kill you. There’s the phrase: suicide by police. I keep seeing the statistic that over 1000 people are killed each year by police in America alone. I did a little research and was sickened to learn that these deplorable figures in the US are not the world’s highest. I’m unsure how these deaths by law enforcement were classed – direct shootings or other violence, or did mistreatment in custody resulting in death also get counted? How many of these fatalties are reported and made public? I’m reluctant to quote Wikipedia, but according to its chart, Brazil had 6000, Venezuela 5000 deaths by enforcement each year; the Philippines 3000, Syria was similar to America; India and several African countries were in the hundreds – Nigeria had 800. China isn’t on there! Interestingly Canada is around 30 a year, unlike its neighbour. Much of the rest of the West – Australia, Malta, Scandanavia, Britain – claims less than 10 deaths each, perhaps a single incident, or none. But I know that in the last couple of years, police shot and killed a suspect at a busy London railway station, as happened at Amsterdam in 2018. Thus this high drama risked many people, and the supposed bedrock of democracy – the judical system.
I give you some examples of corruption and brutality, although it’s heart rending and stomach churning. The couple who called the police over their car being burgled as they changed a tyre and the moustache twiddling policeman who implied, give me the expected bribe and I might actually show some interest. The kettled protesters in many demonstrations and the violent clashes and cruel treatments, held for hours. The man who reached for his papers in his car’s glove compartment, and was shot dead because police assumed it was for a gun. The family watching video games at home – also shot. The young women who had sex with 2 officers in exchange for her freedom – who walked free from court. The immigrant told to give a handjob in return for her papers to remain. The organised chronic infiltration of environmental protesters, even entering sexual relationships and having children with them, only to dump their ‘partner’ once the operation was complete. The police who ran drug and child abuse rings, paid huge salaries tax free and given legal exemption whilst ‘peacekeeping’. I could go on… that was just a snippet of some cross-country examples which I could bear to type. None of those were hearsay. And all of those were in the West.
I note that some tabloid British newspapers sided with Trump and the mayor of Minneapolis against the strident calls to abolish the police. I was really interested in this call, which the council of Minneapolis have supported, and that another US place which was considered unsafe – Camden – stopped its police force, and instead created a community based safety system, and seems to be better for it.
But I want to go further than replacing one set of prefects with another. I don’t simply look at official crimes statistics to see if it’s worked.
Calls for the police’s removal seem to be followed by calls for other systems, and I am against systemic control. When we speak of decriminalising cannabis or prostitution (sorry, I won’t call the commodifying of physical love ‘street work’), it usually asks for regulation which means official licensing, and that the government financially benefits from these trades.
I’m asking about the very way that we organise ourselves and who has control.
I am very clear who should not have it.
I’ve felt uncomfortable with the police for some years – at least 10. I consider it a good day if I don’t see any. I’ve always hated customs and border controls, which puts me off travelling, and I am concerned about internal travel. Why I am anxious about this journey, I ask myself. If I am anxious taking a walk, what am I worried about?
Ah. Doing something ‘wrong’. That some official, especially during the lockdown, will tell me that I have committed a misdemeanour and am liable to be punished. I have the wrong train ticket. I crossed the road in the wrong way. I didn’t touch my smart travel card on the right place. I’m eating or drinking something outside when I shouldn’t be. I’m wearing or not wearing something that I should be. I don’t have permission from the authorities for something, like holding a meeting or playing music, or having a stall or allowing my customers to drink outside my premises. And now, that I might be deemed to be ill or walking unnecessarily, and even barred from buying food that I need, or be forced to give my genetic material to the state, or be taken away and incarcerated, or worse, for not doing those things.
Or for refusing to comply (be meek) when told off for allegedly doing any of the above.
The year I really got uncomfy with the police was the year that I started this project. There were at least three incidents of terrorism in the world at that time, and I want to say that all of them mattered – not the ones in the West or in my country more. But in May 2017, a terrorist bomb was detonated at a pop concert held in an arena in central Manchester. Immediately following this, Manchester cathedral did bag searches! Canterbury cathedral had armed police in the grounds – two hander rifles; and there were suddenly armed police at other places that I would never have expected them (police in Britain had hitherto usually been unarmed.) Everyone I knew reported having seen them. In provincial, safe towns and cities. Outside the zoo; the library; at the railway station. And everyone going to a concert at an arena in my city had to be searched. Well, with these terrible people about, it’s necessary, sighed one ticket holder. A large annual market in a small town now has a huge police presence.
My thought was: this spreads fear and compliance to the provinces. We’re not just to think that these abhorrent attacks happen in our capital or largest cities. I note that London, Berlin and Paris each had them in recent years. And as well as being the centres of political and economic power and greatest populace, these cities are the hub of creative ideas and free thinking. It was suggested to me that Berlin’s horrific incident sent a message to a chilled, liberal, egalitarian city: It can happen to you too. When it happened in Manchester, it says: it’s not just the capital that can suffer this. None of you are safe, so all of you will need to make sacrifices.
My fear after these atrocities was not Will This Terrorism Come Here but What Erosion Of Civil Liberties Will Happen Next? Of course I was sad for those who suffered – please take that as a given. Of course I would not like such an event near me, although I realised that one in my city, a mid sized historic low crime area, would serve the Population Control By Fear agenda well.
Happily, those armed guards didn’t seem to last, but the police got new powers and ‘toys’.
Because of this heightened discomfort, I read Norm Stamper’s Protect And Serve: How to Fix America’s Police. I was more interested in reforming police per se, but at that time, I couldn’t find other books. You can see my review on Amazon, but I generally disliked the book and was disappointed. The subtitle said alot [sic]: he, as a long serving ‘cop’, was pro-police and had a fix-it mentality. He praised the ‘tools’ – that’s those ‘toys’ – which are a disgrace, and I fear are very common among police internationally.
If both of us were stopped and asked to empty our pockets, who’d you want to let enter?
He had: spray, two guns, numchucks, a taser, two sticks, plus surveillance technology.
I have no weapons and no spying devices whatever.
So even when police stop people who are found with a weapon, is their one knife as bad as all this?! Sometimes people have knives for legitimate reasons, and are not planning to harm. Knives are widely used – in mediaeval times, even monks carried them. Now I’m not suggesting that we all do, but I’m making the point that knives have multiple and good uses. All the above list have only one – to harm, if not kill. And we know that these are (mis)used, and not seldom.
In 2017, I wanted a new kind of police. I’d long queried army and security agencies.
But now I query them all. Or rather, I don’t query, I assert: NO.
I looked into why we have police.
The answer is that they were created – usually in the 19th century – to protect government and their lobbyists’ interests. They were to stop rioters; to keep looters from cargo. At the moment, we’re especially being reminded that the American South’s forces grew around catching and returning slaves, and that many forces have a link to immigrant control, and controlling poorer people, who are often from non-white ethnicities.
I think we need to again go broader and deeper, and say: why do any of us need this force?
‘Disadvantaged’ covers a wide kind of person, and I know that poverty and mental illness aren’t situations that can always be easily spotted. I could add many more groups, such as the so called neurodiverse, who also can be picked on by the police, and with tragic results.
Injustice goes after whoever is different. We are back to ‘other’ again. And often other is misunderstood, and seen as a threat. And how you deal with threats is to control them.
I want us to back up a little and take in that police took over from the army and private watchmen, and that they are about controlling ‘rabble’ and protecting property. They are the servants of the ruling group. It is about council revenue acquisition under the guise of enforcing the law.
I have an essay about why the rule of law is unjust. I will just say here that for law to work, it uses fear. There’s the final punishment and that of going to court as a deterrent; and then there are the people who are our first contact, those on the streets, those who pull us into that system. Note that police groups are known as a FORCE. I’ve not heard fire brigades so deemed.
It really has struck me that police have come out of a fear and materialism based culture. They say that they keep us safe, but I wonder if they’re brainwashed into believing that, or just trot it out?
We don’t believe it.
What is truly being safe? We are told, during this pandemic, to keep safe, but I recall a card I loved.
Two butterflies; one in a net, one flying outside. The latter says:
You are safe, but I am free
I know which I’d rather be. The flying butterfly is in many ways safer as well.
When I walk about, am I scared of burglars or gangland war? For some, yes, that is a very realistic concern and it is not impossible that I could be attacked, or that my home could be.
We have a name for government licensed home attackers: bailiffs. (Sometimes they’re even attacking and pillaging on the behalf of the government)
And now, for some of us, we have home attacks in the name of health.
I am more concerned at being stopped, harangued – not by ‘criminals’, but by the very people who define what crime is. For I, like many of us, don’t fit, stand out, do or are something which the establishment doesn’t like. Let us find our unity, not demarcation, in that and go from there into an adventure of new possibilities and an equal, caring world.
I’ve much more to say, which will include my thoughts on why I don’t admire Robert Potato Peel; how we can avoid using police and what a world without police could be like.
I end by reminding that we are all valuable, all deserving of going about freely and without fear or bullying. We’ve recently seen the extreme of police bullying in those murders, but bullying starts with the milder end – the right to stop, interrogate, search, take something from you, watch you.
I believe that we must burn this candle at both ends and stop both.
I remind again of our solidarity as beings, however we self describe and whatever groups we affiliate with. Let our anger at evil acts not cause division and tip the seesaw the other way.
Let us remember too – and I find this harder – that our enforcement workers are people too, and fellow citizens. If any are reading this, please ask how being a good, decent and loving being fits with the tasks you’re given and the very ethos of your work’s existence.
If it were my world, you’d all be having new employment with immediate effect.
It’s all of our world and I’m not trying to rule it (I believe in facilitation, not ruling anyway), but I’ll be sharing my thoughts – which I’ve actually worked on for many more years than three – on how I suggest and invite to build something better than what we’ve all endured for so long.