NB: While the term ‘abolition’ has often been used in reference to African Chattel Enslavement, it is also used in the context of police and prisons. i.e the work of Angela Davis has long advocated for prison abolition, while police abolition and #DefundthePolice were debated at the pique of the Black Lives Matter movement. Especially when US Congressperson Cori Bush used the slogan on her winning ticket.
In a UK context, police abolition specifically may be considered even more so, following the Murder of Sarah Everard and the two incidents of police terrorism from London Met on Black and Brown children: most infamously on Child Q and even more recently in the ordeal of an autistic Mixed-Race fourteen year-old, who like Child Q was strip-searched while menstruating on their period. A third strip-search victim has now been reported, but their race has not been stated (as of June 2022).
With consistent cuts since the arrival of the Conservatives in 2010, it could be argued British policing has been defunded for some time (Fleetwood and Lea, 2022) where in response to “Defund the Police” Kier Starmer called it “just nonsense”. Following the second anniversary of the Murder of George Floyd, I am not sure what has changed, and in some cases, we are worse off than we were in June 2020 (i.e Nationality Bill, Policing Bill, Sewell Report). However, Sarah Everard and Child Q are simply two examples in a trajectory of incidents by London Met that show the problems within policing are not only symptomatic of society, but that only defunding will not go far enough in combatting something that is also sociocultural and ideological. Simply, joining the police does not make a person racist, misogynist (etc etc), but culture and ideology via power can exasperate the biases people have within them.
Whilst in my time writing for the blog, I have scarcely touched policing, it is not a topic I am unfamilar with as I was stopped and searched for the first and only time when I was fourteen years old in an encounter which I now know could be described as “adultification” (Dancy III, 2014; Epstein and Colleages, 2017). As a Black person, this is not a topic one can just escape as many of us will have had friends and / or family members who have been negatively impacted by experiences with the Police. Teaching on Violence (CRI3003) this academic year, it radicalised me further against The Police institution pertinently with the class on the Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Not just the shooting itself, but how London Metropolitan Police dealt with the aftershocks in their shoddy police work and incredibly violent mistakes.
Yet, as a Black person I am more familiar with the killings of Edson Da Costa, Rashan Charles, Joy Gardner, Sarah Reed, and even the events that lead to the Brixton Uprisings (1981). Moreover, the police terrorism at Mangrove (1970), and events surrounding uprisings in Nottingham and Notting Hill in 1958. So, this culture of overpolicing to the extent that few Black people I know have anything good to say about them, let alone London Met, has something to be said for it. Black people have long felt underprotected and you cannot train white supremacy out of an organisation who are fundamentally colonial soldiers.
The way London Metropolitan Police deal with students, protesters, women, and other marginalised groups is deplorable. Often the police skirt around their violent decision-mistaking, by describing it as “failure” but I do not believe this goes far enough. The term failure implies there were prior attempts to engage. Yet, so often they haven’t tried to engage with others, including marginalised communities (not that this is exclusive to policing). However, what appears more obvious is the lack of effort to look at themselves, as we saw when the Met claimed they didn’t see Wayne Couzens (the murderer of Sarah Everard) as one of their own even despite using his status as a police officer to kidnap and kill a woman (he was the sacrifice for patriarchy). The Met then stormed the vigil held in her memory.
Britain needs police but I am not sure we need The Police. What policing looks like needs to change, and it must be a policing that puts the most vulnerable first and asks questions why these people are vulnerable. The inquiry into the Prime Minister’s wine and cheese parties is allegedly being led by Deputy Commissioner Bas Javid (the brother of Health Secretary Sajid Javid). Defunding London Met would only go so far as to redivert resources, but the more critical questions around culture and ideology would standfast. No less than in considering the nature of gilded circles. Reform often does not change anything other than show us the problems are thousands times worse than once thought.
Last year, the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan was revisited, and even in the 1980s London Met were considered corrupt. Abolishing the Metropolitan Police and starting anew is the only reasonable measure whether we are talking about racism, miosgyny or even out and out corruption and cronyism. However, it is not just the Met but The Police wholescale. Just as an example, South Yorkshire police have not faced repercussions from Hillsborough while West Yorkshire have not been held accountable over Jimmy Savile. The police’s problems are not in bad apples, and food scientists will tell you how one “bad apple” is enough to spoil the bunch. When we were children, how many of us had friends our parents didn’t like, and then these friends “spoilt” the dynamics of the group? After Joy Gardner, Blair Peach, Daniel Morgan, Stephen Lawrence, and others, it’s clear The Met (and Policing) is rotten to the core and that includes how it traps good and bad officers too. Systems > Individuals.
Though, we all know that when we are presented a reckoning of sorts, it will be led by establishment patsies and not the people who understand what it means to be on the recieving end of persistent institutional violence. The phrase “Abolish the Police” strikes fear into a good many people and that’s the problem. The culture of our politics has paralysed our thinking of a different world. As a population, we are so psychologically colonised by what we can see, to imagine a a different world is truly terrifying.