Content warning: this piece contains discussion around sexual violence, police violence, war, murder, and death
Earlier this month, the much anticipated Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) was published by the Home Office. Since then, it has passed its second reading in parliament, but the parliamentary process has been delayed as a result of the huge outpour of rage and solidarity that arose after the police violence witnessed at the gathering to mourn, grieve and protest Sarah Everard’s tragic murder. Most recently, protests in Bristol have renewed the conversation and put the spotlight on the Bill, as well as the role of police in our communities.
Rushed through parliament by the government, little time had been allowed for the PCSC Bill (nearly 300 pages long!) to be properly scrutinised. Regardless, many campaigners and community members have picked up on strikingly draconic aspects of the Bill, that increase already violent police powers to an extreme. Some examples include, the risk of ‘annoyance’ or disruption that could allow police to shut protests down and jail protestors for. Both dangerous and ridiculous in expecting a demonstration or protest not to disrupt (what is the purpose of a demonstration?!), the addition of ‘risk’ raises the questions of how and who will analyse what could be a disruption. Refusing protests to take place near the symbolic centre of power (parliament) is among other aspects highlighted in the Bill. Another, is the increased sentences for defamation of statues (like that of slave trader Edward Colston) to 10 years in prison, with reference to the ‘emotional’ value that these statues hold.
Whilst the state should not dictate to us how we protest, nor expect us to seek permission from the state to protest, these examples and the way this Bill has been rushed through parliament exemplify how this government has continued to erode our rights and legitimise the increase of powers that protect them and their interests. Legislation no longer even wrapped up with the language of rights, the government has been audacious enough to reveal their intentions.
We protest for the survival and life of our communities. Is the death of our communities not an ‘annoyance’? Do our communities, our youth, our elders not have emotions that deserve to be respected, or even just recognised, like that which the state and police forces are willing to give to statues of men that supported, upheld and profited from some of the most heinous acts?
A holistic demand for justice
Much of the conversation that has followed the murder of Sarah Everard has importantly exposed the links between gender violence and police violence. The distrurbing facts around sexual abuse within the police itself has been again exposed to the public, although not a new revelation. Locally, only last week a police sergeant in Bradford was charged with rape and sexual assualt. Similarly, the violence presented at the Sarah Everard vigil, and the following protests by the police, which included the use of batons, police horses, the arrests of legal observers, and the targeting of BLM activists exposed the violent ways in which the police police.
Whilst there has been an outpour of renewed rage in light of the scenes witnessed at Clapham Common, we must recognise that the violence of policing and the police has been experienced and resisted for as long as its existence as an institution. In the UK, campaigns and groups like INQUEST, the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) and Black Lives Matter UK have long campaigned against deaths and violence at the hands of the state and police. Last year’s uprisings saw, again, the especially discriminatory violence of the police against protestors, as documented by Netpol’s report on the policing of BLM protests.
The implication that Cressida Dick’s role is important in the fight for ‘all women’ by one of the organisers of Reclaim These Streets exposes a shallow understanding of police violence (amongst so much other violence, Dick’s involvement in Charles de Menzes’s murder cannot be forgotten). This trampling on so many of our communities for superficial changes that fail to deal with the underlying oppressive structures precisely ignores most, and harms all women. It allows the state to exercise it’s oldest and most harmful ‘trick in the book’ – to divide and rule.
This conversation around police violence and gender violence is inseparable to the violence of racism and class, and our solidarity must extend to women failed and assaulted by the state, and forgotten by a lot of the public, like Blessing Olusegun, Shukri Abdi, Belly Mujinga, Bibaa Henry & Nicole Smallman, as well as those killed directly by the state, in custody or in prison like Sarah Reed and the 194+ women whose deaths have been recorded. It must show in our campaigning to resource facilities and institutions of care and safety from the horrors of domestic violence, and in the fight to end carceral systems that kill our sisters and communities, whether in custody, in immigration removal and detention centres, on borders, on our streets or in our homes . This rage and solidarity must be inseparable from our fight for an end to the hostile environment, for justice for Grenfell, and justice for Moayed Bashir, Mohamud Hassan and Christopher Kapessa,
Patterns of Policing
This Bill is by no means an aberration from the practices of policing, nor from the increasing legislation introduced by this government that has legitimised and expanded the abuse of power from forces that police. Let us not forget that whilst it is in its final stages of approval now, the Overseas Operations Bill introduced last year, was ‘designed to protect UK soldiers from prosecution for crimes committed abroad after five years’. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, or more commonly referred to as the Spycops Bill, has received huge criticism for authorising rape, murder and torture.
Policing powers have also been increased and deployed to criminalise already criminalised communities as seen throughout the pandemic under emergency powers and the Coronavirus Bill. With this context, it is easy to identify the limited ‘solidarity’ and care that many politicians have expressed with women, especially in the ways shock, disappointment and anger at the Met’s policing of the Clapham gathering was conveyed. Whilst abstaining from or voting for the Bills mentioned above, the Hostile Environment or for literal wars, their ‘care’ for women is clearly deficient of substance. It is crucial therefore, to realise that although the PCSC Bill is particularly outrageous in its clarity on the clampdown of protest, this type of legislation is not new, nor contradictory to the purposes of policing institutions, nor to the attitude and actions of this government.
These policing practices are not isolated to the UK – they have also been used to surveil, control and harm communities across the globe for centuries, from their very inception. Earlier this month, we saw the return of the annual Security & Policing fair hosted by the Home Office. At this atrocious event, in which delegates from across the world are invited, police techniques, equipment and technologies are shared and sold, whilst officials ‘network’. Beyond the sharing of policing tactics, sales of police equipment or/and trainings offered to state institutions later to be used on populations (in sometimes lethal ways), the practice of policing also extends to and beyond borders. This is evident for example, through the continued legacies of colonialism (as explained in our #ENDSARS video), through the operation of arms corporations in policing European borders, or through paramilitaries and state actors that provide direct British global policing. Policing on borders, and of migrants which will no doubt be extended under Priti Patel’s most recent asylum plans are not to be sidelined in this conversation. Locally, massive investments in arms and fossil fuel companies by West Yorkshire councils (amongst the largest in the country) have funded and profited from the policing of communities at home and abroad, reminding us again that our struggles are inseparable.
Britain’s historical and ongoing role in policing the world, to accumulate wealth, crush dissent and surveil communities needs to be part of this conversation. A reckoning with this bloody and ongoing picture and a holistic understanding might help expose problems in attributing ‘violence’ to acts of protest. One of the most symbolic representations of this contradiction was evident in Boris Johnson’s condemnation of protests in Bristol and calls for protesting to be done ‘peacefully and legally’ whilst he was visiting one of the world’s largest arms companies, BAE Systems, that has played a huge role in the war on Yemen, even throughout the pandemic.
In our local communities, we continue to see money being poured into policing whilst our living and community services are underfunded. Earlier this month, West Yorkshire police announced the building of two new police stations in Kirklees. Just over a week ago, it was also announced that West Yorkshire police would be receiving £1.5million from the Home Office. And a few days ago, West Yorkshire Police declared a surge in the deployment of police bikes in Calderdale. This is not to mention the investment in policing (often racialised) communities beyond those in uniforms, through schemes like Prevent in schools, hospitals, workplaces. Where is the investment in education, housing, health, and leisure, that could radically better our communities and contribute massively to the prevention of problems the police claim to deal with?
Within the last few months, the Racial Justice Network has published two reports: ‘Hate Crime & System(ic) Injustice’ and ‘Stop the Scan(dal): A Report on the public perception of police fingerprint scanning’. Both have outlined the ineffectiveness of policing in protecting our communities as well as the continuous violence and criminalisation of (particularly racialised) communities by the police. Considering this criminalisation and ineffective nature of dealing with hate crime, and the fact that victims of hate crime do not receive monetary compensation, questions continue to be raised around the consequences of increased policing of our communities, especially with the recent announcement of an £8million investment to reduce crime and support victims in West Yorkshire. Importantly, within these reports, we shed light on new technologies of policing like fingerprint scanning and the transfer of data between the police and Home Office, and how it is clear that for example, border and police violence are entangled, and can only be resisted together.
Whilst we outlined attempts at dividing our struggles above, a collaborative understanding of the ways in which gender-, border-, racist-, colonial- violences are inherent to police (violence), can allow us to continue the call and organising for a radical, collective resistance and movement in which we prioritise our communities and life rather than violence and death, leaving no-one behind.
The delay of the Bill, the pressure that changed the Labour Party’s abstaining stance into opposition, and most importantly the mobilisation of thousands in the last weeks are huge victories. With this, comes the opportunity to grow our movement collectively, fighting against institutions and practices that are killing our communities in different ways.
It is not enough to call for reforms or promises from institutions dedicated to the protection of institutions and bodies that kill and harm our communities, at home, on borders, and abroad.
Instead we must fight for an end to structural violence for which these institutions are fundamental to, and invest our capacities in building our communities, looking out for and protecting one another, and investing in community resources, facilities and practices that foster and flourish life.
Immediate things you can do:
- Sign the petition
- Write to your MP using this template
- Join and organise around the #KilltheBill movement that Sisters Uncut have led
- Government announces new restrictions to the right to protest
- On the 2021 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – BLM UK
- Our Response to Boris’ Statement: No More Police Powers – Sisters Uncut
- Silencing Black Lives Matter: Priti Patel’s anti-protest law
- Opinion: As a Black woman, would anybody care if I went missing?
- Reclaim These Streets’ girl boss feminism will never set us free
- People Are Waking Up to the Horrors of Police Brutality. It’s Time to Build a Movement
- Britain is Not Innocent – A Netpol report on the policing of Black Lives Matter protests in Britain’s towns and cities in 2020
- ‘We’re not a clique, we’re here to organise’: Sisters Uncut lift the lid on what makes the group so effective
- Sisters Uncut Statement on Bristol – We Will Not Be Divided
- Movements First, Solutions Later. Demands to “defund the police” begin… | by Kevin Blowe 🏴 | Feb, 2021
- Stop the scan: turning police into border guards
- The UK government is attempting to bend the rules on torture | Nicholas Mercer
- Cressida Dick’s involved in Intelligence & Scotland Yard – a thread by Ian Cobain
- Policing in the Brexit State – Back to the 1980s
- On militarism and policing (a resource by CAAT)
- Policing & Militarism – Adam Elliott-Cooper (recording)
- Air power as police power – Mark Neocleous
- States of Control: the dark side of pandemic politics (webinar recording)
- From Fanon to ventilators: fighting for our right to breathe