by Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party Regional Secretary
The recent conviction of a Metropolitan Police officer, David Carrick, for dozens of rapes and sexual assaults spanning decades has further fuelled anger at the police. This follows the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, also a serving police officer at the time, who used his authority as a police officer to carry out his crime. Around 800 Met police officers are under investigation for sexual and domestic abuse claims.
All of this comes just years after Black Lives Matter protests spread around the world following the murder of George Floyd by police in the US. Since then, the protests have periodically returned following further killings by police in the US and UK.
Like any other institution, the police force reflects the prejudices and ideas of wider capitalist society. But those are reinforced by a hierarchical structure and culture that can be particularly attractive to those individuals who seek power and control. Repeated reports have shown how criminal investigations are often influenced by backward ideas held by officers. For example, myths about victims of sexual assault lead to crimes of that nature going under-prosecuted.
There are also now thousands of officers stationed in schools, disproportionately in poorer areas. Rather than employing specially trained staff with connections to the local community, schools are bringing in the police and poor students are being criminalised.
The extent of policing of children made news with the case of Child Q — one of 650 teenage students who were stripped and searched by police in London in two years. The majority of them were black boys. Black youth are 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
It’s no wonder that Londoners are the most critical of the police force. The Met, and other police forces, have always used stop and search powers disproportionately against Black and Asian youth. With growing anger in society, stop and search is increasingly being used against protesters too. Anticipating growing class anger, the Tories are beefing up police powers to supress protests through the Public Order Bill, and introducing further anti-union laws to try to curtail the extremely effective national strikes against the cost-of-living crisis.
The police force has not escaped the effects of over a decade of austerity. The number of people who think the police do a good job has fallen from 75% to just 53% in two years. In response to Carrick’s case, Humberside Police Chief Constable Lee Freeman said: “I genuinely believe that the future of policing by consent is under threat”.
Recently there have been further attempts to ‘diversify’ the police. No doubt some people will have joined hoping to challenge racist and sexist ideas, improve relations between the police and minorities, and protect their local communities. While it’s true that the overwhelming majority of police are white and the majority men, this isn’t the root of the racist and sexist ideas the institution reflects. It also can’t simply be changed by individuals.
The attitudes of the police force are linked to the role it plays in defending capitalist interests. The reality is that the police force is ultimately accountable to capitalist representatives, not to ordinary people. The Met should be disbanded and replaced with a democratically controlled alternative. This would mean giving real control, including over firing and hiring, and policing priorities, to democratically elected representatives of the trade unions and local communities, so that the police would be accountable to the areas and the people they should be protecting. This would be the only way to begin to tackle the institutionalised racism, sexism, and the class interests that the police ultimately represent.
However, the fight to end discrimination, inequality, and oppression also includes the need to build the mass working-class organisations and movements capable of the socialist transformation of society.