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On Police Violence
The state holds the monopoly on violence in our society. We can talk about male violence but the murder of Sarah Everard is also state violence and needs to be seen in both contexts.
A few things stem from the horrific trauma of her murder. Men have been rightly called to speak out and to act in the aftermath of the disgusting events but institutionally the police seem immune from any action, insulated from any real change and spewing out ridiculous statements while their leader remains in post.
The idea that it’s the responsibility of women to make sure they are safe is incomprehensibly stupid. Among the ideas being put forward are that women should “run”; or that they should “call the police if the police make you feel unsafe”; or “wave a bus down”.
The impression given of Cressida Dick remaining in her post after the litany of disgraceful operational failures she’s presided over adds to the vision of Britain as a country where nothing matters, where the powerful act with complete impunity, and absolutely no behaviour has any consequences.
This Thursday also saw the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruling on Kate Wilson versus the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The three judges who made the ruling found in her favour and lambasted the police for co-ordinating undercover policing that grossly violated her human rights, who was deceived into a long-term intimate relationship by an undercover officer. The spycops scandal – in which secret police infiltrate protest groups and form sexual relationships with women (often for years) – has barely begun.
Mark Kennedy – the officer at the heart of this particular case – was just one of 139 undercover police officers who have spied on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968.
In their 158-page ruling, the IPT said the senior officers appeared to have a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” towards their spies who were deceiving women into sexual relationships. They said the managers probably had “a lack of interest” in protecting women’s human rights.
After the ruling, Wilson said:
“The events in my case happened years ago. However, the failure of the police to protect women from sexual predators within their own ranks, and police attempts to criminalise protesters are both still very live issues today. The tribunal has gone some way towards recognising how deep the abuses run.”
The police have persistently claimed that their undercover officers were not allowed to form sexual relationships with women they were spying on. The IPT tribunal ruled that this claim was “materially undermined by the sheer frequency with which Kennedy (and other undercover officers) did conduct sexual relationships without either questions being asked or action being taken by senior officers.
The issue is not confined to England and Wales as Bella Caledonia has consistently pointed out. The cases of Andrea and Tilly Gifford are just two. As Andrea has written the need for a public inquiry is vital:
“The undercover policing scandal has been unfolding since 2010. As victims of political policing in Scotland, we seek the truth as to why we were spied upon and why our lives were so cruelly disrupted. We have asked for an independent public inquiry, in line with England and Wales, but the Scottish Government has repeatedly refused. Michael Matheson, then Justice Minister, commissioned the police to write their own report in 2016. This was co-authored by none other than Stephen Whitelock, lead inspector at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS). Unsurprisingly, the report concluded that there was ‘no evidence’ of police infiltrating campaign groups in Scotland.”
“Yet just this last month, we discovered that Scottish undercover officers, under Whitelock’s governance, incinerated ‘secret and highly sensitive files’ in a car park (Sunday Post 10 February 2019). This is disgraceful and corrupt, but as victims of undercover policing abuses we are not surprised.”
“In 2016, when it was announced that HMICS would conduct the review into undercover policing in Scotland, we warned that the report would be tainted by lack of impartiality. This is precisely what has happened. The HMICS review must now be considered seriously compromised. Inviting the police to investigate their own malpractice is farcical. The report only references operations from the year 2000, but we know that these secret undercover units have been operational since 1968. Finally, due to Whitelock’s central involvement in this damning case, and with his judgment, decision-making and treatment of the police whistleblower being seriously called into question, it is absolutely clear that his report is tainted by connection and corruption.”
Couzens' disgusting deeds happen within the context of an institution that has spent decades sanctioning police to have sex with peaceful activists, a conduct that is politically condoned because it was overwhelmingly directed at the left. The police are political. Police violence is gendered.
It’s no surprise that a culture existed (and exists no doubt) in which Couzens shared misogynistic, racist, and homophobic messages with fellow police officers] in a WhatsApp group.
Women’s faith in the police has been completely broken and the response is pathetically inadequate. Many many groups in society have learned to distrust the police for years. Now the appalling conduct of Couzens is met by police denial. Here a senior police officer is trying to claim that a serving police officer who ‘arrested’ his victim shouldn’t be thought of as a police officer. This is deplorable.
“It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.” A senior investigator on Sarah Everard's case, former DCI Simon Harding, says police officers “do not view” Wayne Couzens as a police officer and he “should never have been near a uniform”.
As police officer Wayne Couzens goes to prison for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021, new figures reveal that women have been killed by at least 15 serving or former police officers in the UK since 2009.
The radical overhaul of how we view policing and law and order shouldn’t be contained within the prism of the appalling problem of male violence – but seen in the context of state violence, the repression of dissent and the growth of the surveillance state.