After the events of the last few days, there are calls for the resignations of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. I don’t think anyone would be too upset if there were resignations but for anarchists, the problems of policing are not about individuals. The problems will persist, whoever is in charge.
The issue has come to the fore after a vigil to respect Sarah Everard was treated like an unlawful protest by the Met Police under Covid laws. Sarah was murdered and a Met Police officer has been arrested for the crime. The way the vigil was handled in advance of it taking part could be described as a public relations disaster. That women were arrested at the vigil, whilst paying their respects, is an outrage.
The police, as individuals and as a whole, have real problems with empathy. They act without compassion, on the basis that there are pieces of paper, with words on them, that tell them they can. Told they must uphold the law, at times they lack the flexibility of judgement. On this occasion they have created their own problems with public mistrust. The calls for resignations stem from this uncaring attitude.
Let’s suppose that people lose their jobs over it. Let’s suppose the police learn from it. What would it actually change? The Police, Crime, Sentences and Courts Bill is currently going through Parliament. This Bill seeks to increase police powers in relation to protest. More paper, more words, for the police to follow unquestioningly.
Cressida Dick is quoted as saying “ever since the first large-scale Extinction Rebellion protest in April last year I have been talking publicly and with the government about the potential for change to powers and to legislation that would enable the police to deal better with protests in general given that the act that we work to – the Public Order Act – is now very old, [dating to] 1986.”
The idea that legislation is out of date when it comes to protest is highly questionable. How often do protests actually cause the type of disruption she is annoyed by? Why would that level of disruption not be legitimate, if it helps to save the planet, or right wrongs, or raise awareness of important issues? It is the sort of argument that is made because protest can stop the world of finance. It is a statement that hints at her desire to protect capitalism.
Again talking about Extinction Rebellion, she put it more clearly when she explained that she wanted legislation to “deal with protests where people are not primarily violent or seriously disorderly but, as in this instance, had an avowed intent to bring policing to its knees and the city to a halt and were prepared to use the methods we all know they did to do that.”
The police and capitalism are utterly intertwined. Protecting capitalism is what the police are for. That isn’t to say that they don’t do things that we need. We would always want a safe society. They provide safety, though, on a skewed basis. They would say that they are politically neutral and that they simply uphold the law, whatever it is. This is such hogwash, it’s ridiculous. The rule of law includes the protection of property. As the richest and most powerful in society have the most property, police protection has a class dimension.
They literally protect the rich more the the rest of us and as the rich are the people setting our wages, that is really significant. The bosses have the right under law to steal the value of our work (they call it profit) and we have no rights to try to get it back. As those on the left are most likely to protest about the problems of the capitalist society, police desires for tougher sentences naturally also have a class dimension. When police chiefs call for more powers, it is a right wing political act.
Cressida Dick, then, is a politically motivated Commissioner, actively seeking powers that will harm the poorest and those on the left of politics. If she goes, the legislation will continue. If Patel goes, the system continues. If Khan goes, the only people celebrating will be Tories, happy to see the London mayor take the rap instead of their buddies.
What we really need is a detailed discussion on what policing should be. How can we achieve a safe society without the violence of the state? How can we defund this harmful institution and stay safe? Can we achieve suitable policing in a capitalist society? I don’t think so.
This article was first published on Jon’s Bigger’s blog here.
Sister’s Uncut have called a demonstration against police violence and the new police powers bill today at 4pm outside New Scotland Yard. Wear a mask and check out @gbclegal on twitter for more information on your legal rights.
Photo credit: @sistersuncut