The murder of George Floyd by the Minnesota Police department on the 25th May 2020, sparked both nationwide and worldwide protests against racism and the ongoing crisis of police brutality. George Floyd’s tragic murder is tragically, and abhorrently, another example of how black people are failed by the very systems that are ‘designed’ to protect and serve.
George Floyd, much like Sandra Bland, Yvette Smith, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Erin Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Michael Brown, and countless others, lost his life due to a system which was built on racism. Whilst it may be easy for many to look on to the U.S. and claim this is an issue perpetuated by the militarisation of the police, you can tell that to the families of Stephen Lawrence, Azelle Rodney, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg, Sheku Bayoh, Sarah Reed and so many more who have been failed by a criminal justice system in the U.K. which is racist and bias at its core.
The murder of George Floyd is evidence that the police do not need guns to take a life. In the U.K, this was also the case for Sean Rigg, who had been in the grip of a mental health crisis in 2008 and was restrained by officers and taken to Brixton police station, where he died. The officers were accused of failing to identify and treat Rigg as mentally ill, excessive use of restraint, and giving false evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and an inquest into Rigg’s death, but were ultimately not held accountable for Sean’s death.
Sean’s experience with the Police is an extreme and devastating event, but it is not isolated and is the result of a wider, racist system. According to the Runnymede Trust, black people are 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched, and research from the Guardian in 2018 discovered that the Metropolitan police tasered black people over four times as often as white people. Deborah Coles, the director of inquest, stated that “[there are] racial stereotypes woven into police culture and practice that can lead to disproportionate and fatal use of force”. According to the Guardian’s research, Police Forces have been required to provide use-of-force data since April 2017, however many forces have failed to keep up with the duty.
To be ignorant of the reality of police brutality in the U.K. is to be complacent and undermines the experiences black people have with the police. It is not surprising that this is the reality given that the origins of the police are intimately tied to the management of race and class inequalities. As Vitale addresses in The End of Policing, the Police exist to “fabricate social order”, but that order is based upon systems of exploitation. In the U.K., the Police force was originally developed in the wake of industrial capitalism, when the loss of jobs led to widespread poverty and unrest.
The perception that the police now are “public stewards” for the whole of society, is not only disingenuous given the origins of the police to protect the state and manage political uprisings, but it does not align with the experience of black people in the U.K. It undermines the fact that the micromanagement of black lives is at the centre of policing, further evidenced by statistics outlining that the Police enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in England and Wales were almost up to seven times more likely to issue fines to black, Asian and minority ethnic people than white people, according to the Guardian.
We are required as a society to recognize that the organization which exists to protect and serve the community frequently proves to do the opposite for the black community in the U.K. Asha Bandele wrote for Essence, the Police’s role as first responders is not heroic, but harmful, when not outright deadly. There is no space for ‘one bad apple’ in an organization in which its employees swear an oath to protect, and history has shown us that the issue of structural racism runs deep through the institution of the Police.
This requires us to question the institution of the Police as it currently exists and its place in modern society. For many, this leads to calls to defund the police, whereas for others the change would be the abolition of the police altogether. Metro spoke to Professor Dylan Rodriguez about police abolition, who asserts that ‘To think of police abolition right now, not only in this lifetime, but in this breath, is to plan for other ways of protecting ourselves, loved ones, community, and place. We could begin, perhaps, by redistributing resources away from militarized domestic warfare (policing) and toward housing, feeding, educating, and nourishing the most vulnerable and disfranchised people in our midst.’
Reni Eddo-Lodge expressed in her best-selling book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race that, “I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the existence of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.” For too long, the experiences of black people have gone unheard and thus the operation of institutions such as the Police has become normalized as accepted ways for our communities to operate. Ultimately, it is a direct assault to the security of the black community within the U.K. to allow the current ‘normal’ to continue when it is failing.
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