Those of us who sometimes imagine the freedom of being fifteen again have forgotten that being fifteen means going around in a body you hate: a body that seems misshapen, that people might laugh at; a body that smells, sometimes; that sprouts unwanted hair. Even worse if it’s a body that menstruates, cramping and gushing and threatening to leave mortifying stains on upholstery. Worse still if it’s a racialised body, distant from white ideals of beauty, more vulnerable to slurs and violence, less liable to be protected from harm.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. A Minnesota jury yesterday found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty on three counts – second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter – for kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he suffocated and died on 25 May last year. In the days following Floyd’s death the world watched him gasp ‘I can’t breathe’ and knew, long before the jury was empanelled, that Chauvin had killed him, in public and in cold blood. That a jury found him criminally responsible may mark a historic moment for the United States. Such verdicts are vanishingly rare. In Britain, they are even rarer.
The first demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill took place in Bristol on 21 March. It has been followed by demos in cities from Brighton to Manchester, and further protests in Bristol. Over the Easter weekend there was a carnival atmosphere, with dancing on College Green, festive drums, and flowers around an impromptu memorial for Sarah Everard.
Lecturing at the Collège de France thirty years ago on the nature of the state, Pierre Bourdieu queried Weber’s notion that functioning states enjoy a monopoly of ‘legitimate physical violence’. Bourdieu already preferred the expression ‘legitimate and symbolic physical violence’, and in the lectures he commented: ‘One could even call it the “monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence”.’ In the last few years, the French police have overstepped the mark. The use of unreasonable force is nothing new. More worrying is the coincidence, on more than one occasion, of physical violence with sinister signals that make a mockery of the idea that the police are a ‘legitimate’ expression of symbolic violence on the part of the state. If they are, then France is in trouble.
Since Narendra Modi announced a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown on 24 March, violators of the rules in India have been fined, abused, arrested and killed. Across the board, working-class people have received harsher penalties than the more affluent. People who work in essential services were exempt from the lockdown even during the first and most stringent phase, but the sudden nature of Modi’s announcement led to confusion among citizens and local government officials alike. A lack of communication between government and law enforcement meant that several key workers – including doctors, as well as people delivering and selling food – were subject to harsh treatment from the police.
Organised working-class activists in Cape Town, as well as less organised community protesters across the country, have continued to demand more police stations, more equipment and more police officers in poor neighbourhoods to combat crime, pointing out what amounts to a racist distribution of policing resources. The broader, less nuanced, conversation in South Africa continually returns to criminal justice metrics: why don’t the police arrest more, why don’t the state defenders prosecute more, why don’t the courts convict more? Other conversations veer towards reigning the police in: less torture, less killing of protesters, less assault of sex workers.
In the late 1990s, Catholics made up roughly 40 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland, but fewer than 10 per cent of RUC members. The rubber bullets that US police officers have been firing so freely were initially designed for use by the British security forces in Northern Ireland, where they killed 17 people. RUC patrols carried weapons, wore flak jackets and drove around in armour-plated vehicles, foreshadowing the militarisation of US policing.
The Metropolitan Police has announced it is going to use Live Facial Recognition (LFR) in London. The controversial technique involves officers sitting in a public place and filming the people who walk past. Their faces are automatically compared to pictures in a database of wanted criminals and the police are alerted if there is a match. A few days earlier, the New York Times reported that a company called ClearView AI has developed a facial recognition tool that allows law enforcement agencies in the US to match images or video footage with photos from the internet.
David Oluwale drowned in the river Aire on 18 April 1969. His body was recovered near Knostrop Sewage works on 4 May, and buried in a paupers’ grave at Killingbeck cemetery with nine others.
Rough sleeping is up 169 per cent across the country since 2010, along with every other form of homelessness. The rate in Manchester is more than twice the national average. Among major English cities, it’s higher only in London and Bristol. The numbers of homeless people referred to temporary accommodation in Manchester rose 319 per cent between 2010 and 2017. It’s bizarre in these circumstances for Greater Manchester Police to downplay the crisis of homelessness by claiming that the genuinely homeless receive help, and those visible on the street are not really in need. ‘There is plenty of help for those willing to accept it,’ they say.
On 20 January, during the anti-abortion ‘March for Life’ in Paris, Thomas Salgado and other activists from Act Up arrived at a Metro station in the 16th arrondissement to take part in a counter-demonstration. Within seconds, they had been surrounded by CRS officers, who ordered them against the wall for an ID check. Salgado asked why they were being searched. To prevent a threat to public order, he was told. ‘No rights for you; only duties.’
Sunday, late July: the small suburban towns of Persan and Beaumont-sur-Oise are almost empty. Persan, the last stop on the H line, is half an hour from the Gare du Nord, through a landscape of woodland and fields. It was a beautiful day. A man was fishing by the banks of the Oise; two others were chatting in front of a hairdresser’s salon. The day before, thousands of people from Paris and the banlieues had filled the streets; some had arrived by bus from further afield, among them party leaders from the left-wing NPA and La France Insoumise, anti-racist activists, relatives of people who had been killed by the police, girls wearing T-shirts saying ‘Justice for Adama’ or ‘Justice for Gaye’, and a man with a placard: ‘The State protects Benallas, we want to save Adamas.’ Adama Traoré died two years ago in police custody in Beaumont-sur-Oise. His family and friends had organised the march to demand justice – yet again – after his death. A few days before the protest, Le Monde revealed that a man in a police helmet who had been filmed assaulting May Day protesters in Paris was not a police officer but a close aide of Emmanuel Macron.
Cressida Dick is replacing Bernard Hogan-Howe as the Metropolitan Police commissioner. She is the first woman to hold the post in its 200-year history, which has spurred hope that she will reform the Met in a period of uncertainty and strain. The budgetry perils the force faces are real: Hogan-Howe said recently that his successor’s biggest challenge would be ‘money’. But Dick has another problem too. She was the senior officer in charge during the 2005 operation in which Jean Charles de Menezes was killed. Firearms officers emptied eight rounds into the Brazilian electrician at Stockwell tube station after wrongly suspecting him to be a suicide bomber.
On 2 February, Théo Luhaka, a 22-year-old black youth worker, was stopped by police in the northern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, where he lives. Most of the media reported that the four officers were carrying out an identity check on him, but Théo says he confronted them first, when he saw one of them slap a young person whose ID they were checking. In either case, Luhaka was doing nothing wrong. And however the encounter began, there’s no doubt how it ended: twelve days later, Luhaka is still in hospital.
Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, a 27-year-old man from Huddersfield, was killed last Monday during a ‘pre-planned policing operation’. Reports of his death suggest that the car Yaqub was travelling in on the M62 was ‘hard stopped’ by firearms officers: the police ambushed the car, boxing it in and immediately drawing their weapons. The few images of the scene which have circulated in the past week show several bullet holes in the car’s windscreen. How Yaqub died is pretty clear. To learn why will take some time.
At 12.35 a.m. on 5 July, the night after Independence Day, police in Baton Rouge accosted 37-year-old Alton Sterling who was selling CDs in front of the Triple S Food Mart, a convenience store in a poor neighbourhood. Mobile phone footage, taken by members of an organisation that monitors police violence against civilians, shows two police officers pinning Sterling down and shooting him at point-blank range, multiple times. We see Sterling’s blood spread rapidly across his red shirt. We see a man die.
Last Thursday, Sadiq Khan announced that from April next year there will be 400 more firearms officers in London. ‘Nothing is more important than keeping London safe,’ the mayor said in his first major announcement concerning the capital’s policing. The Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, had asked for more armed police after last November’s terror attacks in Paris. On 1 April, Downing Street announced that £143 million would be spent on ‘increasing the number of specially trained armed officers’. But senior figures in the police are telling the BBC that still isn’t enough.
In March, Theresa May announced that Christopher Pitchford, a serving lord justice of appeal, would lead an inquiry into undercover policing. It followed a series of revelations about members of the Met’s disbanded Special Demonstration Squad, who infiltrated protest groups and in some cases had long-term sexual relationships with their targets. Just after Pitchford was appointed, a former SDS officer revealed he had spied on members of four trade unions; another officer posed as a joiner to infiltrate the builders’ union Ucatt. The most prominent trade unionist known to have been targeted by undercover police is Matt Wrack, the leader of the Fire Brigades’ Union.
According to the Policing and Crime Act 2009, for violence to be ‘gang-related’ means that it involves at least three people, associated with a particular geographical area, who have ‘a name, emblem or colour’ which allows others to identify them as a group. Last month this was revised in new statutory guidance from the Home Office. There’s no longer any mention of geographical territory or gang emblems: a ‘gang’ is any group that commits crime and has ‘one or more characteristics that enable its members to be identified as a group’. There’s no mention of what those ‘characteristics’ might be.
Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers seize up to forty people a day. They carry out raids in communities with large ethnic minority populations, without warning, and snatch their unsuspecting targets, who are often uninformed about their rights, from their places of work or off the street. Immigration Enforcement (IE) replaced part of the UK Border Agency in 2013 to carry on the work of tackling so-called ‘immigration offences’. According to Home Office statistics, there were more than 4400 ‘enforcement visit arrests linked to information received’ last year, leading to over 1000 ‘subsequent removals’. In total there were over 12,000 enforced removals for breaches of UK immigration law in 2014. How many of them were the result of the 10,000 indiscriminate (i.e. not ‘linked to information received’) raids isn’t clear. Many of the people who aren’t deported end up in detention centres; others are released. Again, the precise figures aren't published.
The National Guard was unleashed on Baltimore yesterday to quell unrest following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained in police custody. On 12 April, Gray was pinned to the pavement by officers before being loaded into a police van. When he was taken out of it his spine was ‘80 per cent severed’, according to the family’s lawyer. He spent a week in a coma and died on 19 April. On Saturday I went to join a protest due to start at the corner of Presbury and North Mount streets. On my way there from the subway station I passed an alleyway with four police cars in it, their lights flashing. The cops appeared to be questioning people. A group of residents, all black, stood at the entrance to the alley, their phone cameras trained on the police.
On 4 March the UK Supreme Court ruled that police surveillance of John Catt, a law-abiding 90-year-old peace campaigner, was legal, and that a detailed record of his movements would remain in the national domestic extremist database. ‘The composition, organisation and leadership of protest groups,’ Lord Sumption said, ‘is a matter of proper interest to the police even if some of the individuals are not themselves involved in any criminality.’ Using the data protection act, Catt obtained a copy of his police file in 2010. At one protest, it recorded, he ‘sat on a folding chair... and appeared to be sketching’. At another, ‘he was using his drawing pad to sketch a picture of the protest and police presence.’ Another entry noted he was clean-shaven. The Network for Police Monitoring said that the ruling ‘allows the police extraordinary discretion to gather personal information of individuals for purposes that are never fully defined’.
For the better part of a month, New York's police have been throwing temper tantrums, turning their backs on the new mayor and refusing to do their day-to-day jobs, prompting the New York Times to publish a series of admonishing, incensed editorials. 'What New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple,' one said:
The rioting in Ferguson, Missouri in recent days and the mass demonstrations in 170 other US cities are testament to a deeply felt rage. That rage boils over in moments like this, when reality runs up against the continuous denials of black people’s humanity in a nation whose creed of fair and impartial justice is a sham. From its beginnings, the scales of justice in the United States have been tipped against blacks – who are often, too often, presumed guilty – and in favour of whites who are presumed innocent of nearly all matters related to race.
I was sitting behind my folding table in the polling station – usually a bingo hall – when I saw the elderly couple come into the sport club's lobby, hesitate and walk through the wrong door into the bar. I hurried across to help them. ‘Excuse me, are you looking to vote?’ ‘No, no. I have a vote but I'm not going to use it this time because I don't agree with these police whatsits. Thanks though.’ ‘They just out for a pint?’ the presiding officer asked when I got back. ‘Yes.’ ‘Can't blame them.’
University fees are a dead issue from the point of view of the major political parties. But the last year has seen the development of a new student protest movement that attempts to move beyond the question of fees to the broader logic of the Browne Report. Local campaigns to pay a living wage to support staff have merged with calls for flatter top-to-bottom wage ratios and a reshaped, democratic university administration involving students and academics as well as managers. It's nothing to match the size and anger of 2010, but the movement possesses something like its reanimated spirit – together with the usual attachment of the British left to heroic defeat.
In January, Inspector Steve Poppitt of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary spoke at the University of Cambridge Graduate Union to a small audience who wanted to ask the police about the covert surveillance of students. He said he was interested in improving relations between students and the police. 'It has to be a dialogue,' he said. The meeting was called in response to the revelations last November that the police had tried to infiltrate student activist groups. This week, three campaigners have described attempts by the police to recruit them as informants on fellow political activists. One said he was offered an envelope full of cash at a supermarket.
On Wednesday 29 January, 150 students from around the country met at Birmingham University to discuss the next steps in their campaigns against the privatisation of education, outsourcing of university services and selling off of student debt. After the meeting, the students picked up red and black flags, put on masks and marched around the campus. Some unfurled a banner from the top of Old Joe, the university's clock tower named after Joseph Chamberlain. Others spray painted and chalked slogans onto the red brick walls: 'Occupy, Strike, Resist'; 'No more 1984.' When protesters tried to enter university buildings, security tried to stop them. There was some pushing and shoving. Soon the police arrived. A university spokesperson later said that 'the university had no choice but to ask the police for assistance in restoring order and protecting students, staff and university property.'
1. Mark Duggan was shot dead by a Metropolitan Police officer on 4 August 2011 after getting out of a minicab on Ferry Lane, Tottenham. The inquest into his killing concluded yesterday. All ten jurors agreed he had a gun with him in the taxi before police stopped it. Eight of them were sure the gun was no longer in his hands when he was shot. And yet, by an 8-2 majority, they found that Duggan was lawfully killed. The jury accepted that V53, the anonymous officer who shot Duggan, ‘honestly believed, even if that belief was mistaken’, that he needed to use deadly force to defend himself against an unarmed man. According to the police witness accounts, Duggan was holding a gun until the moment he was shot. A gun was later found behind a wall nearby. No witnesses – including the only civilian – describe seeing Duggan throw anything away.
Last Wednesday a peaceful occupation of Senate House in protest against outsourcing and privatisation at the University of London was broken up by force by university security and police. Security pulled and pushed students to the ground and dragged them out of the building, where around 100 police were waiting, holding off a crowd that had gathered in support of those inside. An officer punched a student in the face. Some were violently bundled to the ground and arrested. Protesters blocked the street as the police tried to drive those they’d arrested away. A woman was thrown to the ground screaming and her friends told they’d be arrested if they tried to help her.
Cambridge University promises its students ‘a supportive environment’ and ‘specialist assistance should you need it’. ‘Students who are struggling with a particular problem or feeling a bit lost won’t go unnoticed,’ it reassures us. ‘Don’t worry.’ But when the Guardianrevealed last week that Cambridgeshire police have attempted to infiltrate student activist groups and record the names and details of protesters, the university declined to comment, saying the case was a matter for the police.
When my father was a student at the University of Cape Town in the 1970s, the university went to court to prevent the police coming onto campus during political demonstrations. Yesterday Michael Chessum, the president of the University of London students’ union, was arrested on suspicion of an offence under Section 11 of the Public Order Act – failing to notify the police of a public procession. The procession in question was a demonstration the previous day of maybe 200 students, on the pavement outside the students union, around the perimeter of Senate House and in the Senate House car park.
I spoiled my police commisioner ballot in North Yorkshire. I wrote: 'This is a very ill-advised idea borrowed from the US and not wanted by the public.' So the results declare it to have been. The primal fault lies in a belief that voting and democracy are the same thing and that more of one means more of the other.
I watched the Olympic opening ceremony sitting on the roof of a narrowboat near King’s Cross. Boat dwellers have had it hard under the Olympic regime, and many of the boats moored opposite us were exiles from the Olympic Park, moved on because they supposedly presented a water-borne security risk. Danny Boyle’s nostalgiafest was projected onto a screen stretched between two trees on the canal bank. I didn’t pay close attention – the trees got in the way, the BBC iPlayer kept cutting out – but cycling, which the British have been expected do well in, seemed to feature heavily. Bradley Wiggins rang a bell; Chris Hoy paraded round waving the Union Flag; hundreds of winged cyclists flapped their way, ET-like, into the evening sky.
Last year the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD, with help from the CIA, had set up an extensive surveillance operation to spy on Muslims both in the city and over the state line in New Jersey. Known informally as the Demographic Unit, it employed a network of undercover officers (a.k.a. ‘rakers’) and informants (‘mosque crawlers’).
On 16 January the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, gave a lecture on ‘Total Policing’ at the London School of Economics. By chance, earlier that day, London saw the first directly elected Police Commissioner take up his post (the title will be less confusing in the rest of the country, where they have Chief Constables). Any Londoners worried that they missed the chance to vote for this important figure needn’t be: the job automatically went to Boris Johnson. In light of his other duties as Mayor of London (and columnist for the Telegraph), he’s delegated most of his policing powers to his deputy Kit Malthouse, who as long ago as 2009 said: ‘We have our hands on the tiller.'
Worried about security in London tomorrow? Maybe you should be. A month ago Lynne Owens, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had this to say to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which was hearing evidence on the policing of the TUC march: we will be preparing to police any protests on the day of the royal wedding very robustly, but what we should remember is it is a different sort of event.
On the train to Rome the other afternoon, three bored young policemen were roaming the corridors. Maybe they'd been on since Trieste and were going all the way to Naples: who knows. In the compartment next to mine a young black woman, travelling by herself, was talking on her phone. One of the policemen stopped outside the door to her compartment and asked her to be quiet. She ended the call. The other two officers swaggered along to join their friend. The three of them stood in the corridor, in silence, staring at her. I thought I should go out and ask them what was going on, maybe tell them I was an English journalist, possibly one who was writing an article about racism, or about sexual harassment... Or maybe I should I just go and sit in her compartment.
The Orwell Prize committee this year introduced a new prize for political blogging. It has been won by an anonymous 'English detective' who calls himself 'NightJack'. His posts are a mixture of general comment and diary accounts of apparently typical days in the lives of English policemen. They are vigorously written and sometimes perfectly reasonable. NightJack regrets that the police today are kitted out as imperial stormtroopers, he has little nostalgia for the old canteen culture, he laments the mass of paperwork that has been foisted on the police (like everyone else in the public sector) and fairly argues that if plea-bargaining is to become entrenched it ought to be formalised. Thereafter, however, reasonableness ends.