The recent murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police has sparked a wave of protest from millions around the world, highlighting once again the systemic racism present in the US police force.
With these protests now erupting in the UK also, many on the right have attempted to argue that police brutality does not exist here; that British police are not racist like their American counterparts. But both statistics and experiences prove this to be wrong.
In 2018-19, the use of ‘stop and search’ was almost 10 times higher for black people than for white people. Meanwhile, stun guns are used on black people at a rate 8 times higher. Fatalities are lower here than in the US. This is not because the police are less racist - but because they are not armed with lethal weapons nearly as often.
All these statistics show that - despite the Macpherson report and the Stephen Lawrence case from over 20 years ago - the British police are still institutionally racist. The use of racial profiling is widespread.
It is therefore no surprise that BAME people are less likely to trust the police. In fact, only 61% of black people aged 16-24 trust the police, compared to 77% of white people of the same age.
This fear and lack of trust makes any encounter with the police that much worse for black people. And this nervousness, in turn, makes the potential outcome more damaging. However innocent you are, your nervousness or fear can be misunderstood for guilt, giving the police all the more reason to use unnecessary force.
We know that people from BAME backgrounds are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, mainly because of socio-economic reasons. But the imposed lockdown and quarantine laws have also led to even more police harassment of BAME people, who have been fined for ‘breaking lockdown’ at a disproportionate rate.
For example, in Greater Manchester in April, police issued a fixed penalty notice to Gershom Leach for allegedly breaking coronavirus guidelines. Gershom is a youth worker, who says he was delivering food to vulnerable family members. The force rescinded the fine the next day, after a video of him being threatened with pepper spray went viral, causing an outcry.
To understand how and why we ended up in this situation - with an institutionally racist police - we need to understand the role that both racism and the police play under capitalism.
The whole state apparatus, of which the police are a key component, is designed to protect the rich and their property. As long as there is private property and glaring inequality in society, there will be a need for ‘armed bodies of men’ - the police - to maintain ‘law and order’; that is, to uphold this unjust status quo.
The police, therefore, naturally attract many of the most reactionary layers of society: those who buy into the idea, propagated by the ruling class, that one race or culture is better than another; or that one race or culture can be blamed for society’s ills.
Police brutality in UK, West Midlands look how they attacking this man he’s not even resisting for arrest,the Officer attacks 8 times on the head with a can of pepper spray,they where about 5 police officers the man doesn’t appear to fight back and instead try to protect his head pic.twitter.com/TSOvnCjGnD— Eng: Ahmed Mukhtar, Director of TILMAAN TV (@ahmedmukhtar01) March 11, 2019
The answer to this is not simply less funding for the police, nor the tokenistic promotion of black officers to senior roles, nor a push for more ‘diversity’. The answer is to dismantle the whole institution of the police.
But this cannot be done in isolation. The entire state apparatus must be replaced, as part of the socialist transformation of society. This means putting the organised working class in control of production and the economy, to be run for the benefit of workers and society in general.
To abolish racism, to abolish the police – we must abolish capitalism.