Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The rise of militarised policing

Kevin Blowe from the Network for Police Monitoring says the police are acting more like an army of occupation

January 20, 2016
6 min read


Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


  share     tweet  

policePolice chiefs are fond of talking about the way UK law enforcement is guided by a bedrock principle of “policing by consent”: the idea that police officers are legitimised by a consensus of support in the communities where they exercise their powers.

Whether this has ever been true is another matter. Over the last four decades, there have been many in working class mining villages, in black and Asian communities, amongst numerous protest movements and in the north of Ireland who would profoundly disagree. Nevertheless, it is a comforting and prevailing fiction – even if it is hard to reconcile with the fact the police in this country are apparently in a permanent state of war.

These ‘wars’ on Britain’s streets include, unsurprisingly, the unending ‘war on terror’, but also a war on ‘gangs’, a war on ‘illegal immigration’, a war on ‘extremism’. Every battle requires an enemy and these wars are no exception, whether Muslim communities, or urban black youth, or political dissenters, or the ‘tidal wave of migrants’ the Daily Mail insists is the greatest threat to Europe since 1945.

The police leaders expected to prosecute these conflicts, like the generals of any army, are constantly insisting they need more comprehensive intelligence, improved weapons and logistics, more boots on the ground. Unsurprisingly, there is also a growing network of private sector companies, like their counterparts in the arms trade, whose profits are dependent on the continuance of irregular domestic war: on expanding the emerging policing and security market in Britain and exported it around the world.

The time has come for us to start joining the dots: between mass surveillance and data capture, the oppressive use of stop and search, the labelling of individuals as ‘domestic extremists’, the criminalisation of young black men and the racist targeting of migrants

In a 2012 speech after becoming Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe talked about ‘Total Policing’: “using all the powers we have, all the levers we can access, all the skills and capabilities of our people in a total war on crime.” He added:

“Our most important activity is often pre-emptive – targeting criminals before they strike – or preventative – trying to head off the risks… We will need to reorganise ourselves so that we can put more officers and staff into the teams who go into battle on our behalf”.

Placing everyday policing on a war footing enables senior officers to claim the need to respond to alleged ‘threats’ to social order using extraordinary means – in other words, to break the notional rules of ‘policing by consent’.

One result is a nominally unarmed British police who have shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes, Mark Duggan, Azelle Rodney, Anthony Grainger and Jermaine Baker, or who in 2014 alone threatened UK citizens with Tasers on over ten thousand occasions and fired on them over 1700 times.

Another consequence is a liberal society that is prepared to comprehensively spy on Muslim communities under the ‘Prevent’ ‘anti-radicalisation’ programme, increasingly extended to other so-called ‘domestic extremists’ involved in a wide range of activism from campaigners against fracking to bereaved families seeking justice following a death in custody.

So too is the changing approach to policing public order: more officers in riot gear, more mobile security barriers, the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to introduce water cannon to the UK mainland (defeated due to public pressure) . Another is the threat of eviction against families of alleged ‘gang’ members, a sinister form of guilt-by association familiar to occupied Palestinian communities; the fencing, barbed wire and scanning equipment at our borders; the systemic absorption of academia into developing greater police surveillance; or the operations conducted by police and immigration enforcement officers in search of ‘illegals’.

The desire for ever greater intelligence by police means mass surveillance of our social media, the routine filming of demonstrations, the harassment of protest organisers, a database of young people ‘at risk’ of becoming drawn into a gang. Currently, a public inquiry is examining the grotesque tactics that undercover officers have been prepared to use to undermine organised political dissent.

So much for consent: the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, we are expected to avoid questioning why the police are acting more and more like an army of occupation.

After all: don’t you know there is a war on?

The notion of police militarisation might sound like paranoia, but even the body representing rank-and-file officers has used it as a warning as austerity hits more ‘old-fashioned’ forms of policing. In part, this is because senior police chiefs know governments are always able to find money for responses to supposedly extraordinary threats: it’s the reason why the Metropolitan Police will recruit 600 extra armed officers in the aftermath of the Paris attacks last November.

In March this year, many of the companies that provide the technology and support for militarised policing – and that help fuel the demand for ever more repressive or intrusive methods of ‘Total Policing’ – are gathering behind closed doors for Security and Policing 2016, a sales exhibition in Farnborough.

The event, which is organised by the Home Office and the arms industry’s trade body (ADS), has been billed as enabling exhibitors “to display products which would be too sensitive to show in a more open environment”. Numerous national and international police forces, national crime units and military delegations will attend to network with delegates.

In response, a coalition of groups is arguing that the time has come for us to start joining the dots: between mass surveillance and data capture, the oppressive use of stop and search, the labelling of individuals as ‘domestic extremists’, the criminalisation of young black men and the racist targeting of migrants.

The militarisation of policing in Britain is already underway. If the police are using all the powers they have, all the levers they can access, all the skills and capabilities of their people to make it happen, then maybe we should consider the same approach to actively resisting it.

A public planning meeting takes place in London Thursday 21 January: Resisting police militarisation and state repression

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Kevin BloweKevin Blowe is a community centre worker and activist in Newham, east London.


#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


349