Recent events have once again shone a light on the endemic sexism and racism within the police. This rotten institution cannot be reformed. It must be overthrown, along with the capitalist system that it exists to protect.
Sarah Everard. Sabina Nessa. Aishling Murphy. All were murdered in the past few months; just three names among countless victims of violence against women, which under capitalism is depressingly prevalent and institutionalised.
Far from working to stem this pandemic of brutality against women and other oppressed groups, the police are often the perpetrators – as indicated by a multitude of recent scandals surrounding the Metropolitan Police in London.
Consider the case of Dr Konstancja Duff (who goes by Koshka), an academic at the University of Nottingham, who was arrested for ‘obstruction’ in 2013, after trying to provide a ‘Know Your Rights’ legal advice card to a black teenager facing stop-and-search by the Met in East London.
Koshka was taken to Stoke Newington Police Station, where she was pinned down and strip-searched by three female officers. In the process, she was verbally and sexually abused, leaving her with extensive physical and emotional injuries.
Koshka later managed to obtain CCTV footage of a custody sergeant instructing the officers to “treat her like a terrorist”. Meanwhile, these officers made vile remarks about her body odour, hair and underwear.
Speaking with Socialist Appeal, Koshka shared an undeniable truth: “The degrading treatment I suffered is business as usual for the police.”
This was not an isolated incident. Nor was it simply an unfortunate byproduct of a ‘culture problem’; something that can be sanitised through review and reform of the police, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan has suggested. These attitudes are endemic within the institution of the police.
Recently, for example, a horrific series of WhatsApp and Facebook messages between Met officers came to light.
The messages included such charming phrases such as: “I would happily rape you”; “If I was single I would happily chloroform you”; “F*** you bender” – alongside unprintable references to African children, Somali people, and Auschwitz.
All of this was expressed very casually, like ‘business as usual’.
Koshka has spoken about how the treatment she endured at the hands of the Met – alongside other women and minorities – is dehumanising at its core.
“The fact that the officers in my case have not yet been disciplined; that their conduct was endorsed at every level of the system, just shows […] that the use of sexual violence to intimidate and punish anyone they don’t like is routine and normalised.”
After winning a legal battle against the Met, Koshka received a mealy-mouthed letter of apology for Inspector Andy O’Donnell, which simply stated that “professional standards” had not been met.
In Koshka’s words, her experience led her to feel like a “piece of meat”; a mere object. And looking at the evidence, this kind of treatment is fully in line with the Met’s usual ‘standards’ of behaviour, and its attitudes towards women.
Take, for example, the police’s approach to rape and domestic violence. Of the 52,210 rapes recorded by police in 2020 – an act of violence overwhelmingly targeted at women – only 843 resulted in a charge.
Meanwhile, the disgraceful Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill noticeably does not explicitly reference preventative measures targeted at domestic abuse, sexual violence, and domestic homicide in its Serious Violence Duty section.
The police’s mediaeval attitudes also extend to their own homes. UK police forces have received more than 800 allegations of domestic abuse against officers and staff over the last five years.
The police are the first line of defence for the capitalist system and the property of the capitalist class. They are a weapon of repression – in the hands of the ruling class – in a society predicated on the exploitation and oppression of the working class.
Racism, sexism, and bigotry are part and parcel of this, used by the ruling class to divide workers, so as to exploit them all the harder.
It is therefore no accident that the ranks of the police are drawn from some of the most backward layers of capitalist society, and are permeated with its worst prejudices.
The police as an institution are opposed not only to ending women’s oppression, but to ending the exploitation and oppression of workers from all backgrounds. They are the ruling class’ armed servants in the class struggle: brought in to crush protest, dissent, and industrial action.
Koshka affirmed to Socialist Appeal that we can never change the police. As she reminds us from her own experiences:
“It is imperative that expressions of outrage and pledges to ‘overhaul’ the system are not funnelled into more training and recruitment drives that just hand over more resources to the very institution whose chronic corruption has been revealed.”
We fully agree. Similarly, the recent resignation and replacement of Met commissioner Cressida Dick will do nothing to change the nature of this thoroughly corrupt, repressive institution.
But the title of Koshka’s new book on the subject, Abolishing the Police, raises the most pertinent question. How can we do away with this rotten body of the capitalist state?
Ultimately, in order to abolish the police, we must eliminate their raison d’être: the protection of the property, power, and privileges of the elites. And that means overthrowing the capitalist system that the police exist to defend.
Letter: Rotten to the core
You may have seen in the news recently about the Charing Cross police officers’ scandal, where officers shared messages joking about rape, homophobia, racism and disability discrimination.
In one stomach-turning set of messages, officers joked about dressing up as famous sex offenders to a festival. In a similar case last September, a sergeant was made to write a ‘reflective piece’ on his behaviour for attending his stag do dressed as Jimmy Saville.
This comes as no surprise from the same institution that routinely harasses young black men, has subjected countless women to inappropriate searches and gets away with it.
It has been 23 years since the MacPherson Report declared the police ‘institutionally racist’. Still, black men are subjected to humiliating stop-and-search tactics at a rate seven times higher than their white counterparts.
Wayne Couzens, the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard, was joked about as a rapist by his colleagues.
Even the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), which investigates the police, has admitted that this isn’t a case of ‘a few bad apples’ – the police is rotten to the core.
These disgusting attitudes reflect the class nature of the state apparatus. These ‘armed bodies of men’, as Lenin put it, serve to protect the ruling class and violently oppress the working class, just as much as the divisive and hateful bigotry they whisper in closed circles.
Of the 14 Charing Cross officers investigated, only six have either quit or faced disciplinary action. The remaining continue to prowl our streets with their racist and misogynist ideology.
No amount of black or female police commissioners, or attempts to defund the police, will save millions of oppressed youth and workers being harassed, assaulted or murdered by the police.
Only a revolutionary movement can ensure the end of the police and the start of real safety for workers.
Dr Raj Mistry
South East England