The recently announced report on Metropolitan police corruption is nothing more than a confirmation of what the family of Stephen Lawrence – the black teen stabbed to death in a 1993 racist attack in South East London – had suspected since the days following his murder. Such reports will only serve to further undermine the authority of the police and the Establishment at a time of deep capitalist crisis.
The recently announced report on Metropolitan police corruption is nothing more than a confirmation of what the family of Stephen Lawrence – the black teen stabbed to death in a 1993 racist attack in South East London – had suspected since the days following his murder. Labeled “deeply troubling” by Home Secretary Theresa May, the report revealed that an undercover officer had infiltrated the anti-racist campaign surrounding the case so as to spy on and possibly discredit the Lawrence family. Furthermore, it was confirmed that an officer had corrupt links with the criminal father of one of the prime suspects, explaining the covering up of evidence since the murder.
Despite Cameron’s and May’s ‘shock’ at the findings, the corruption surrounding this case, and of the police in general, is not real news – certainly, at least, not to the Lawrence family, who had called a private prosecution of the suspects in 1994 following the police’s incompetence. Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, said: “What the home secretary has announced today is 21 years overdue. Mark Ellison’s report has simply corroborated what I have known for the past 21 years and our long fight for truth and justice continues.”
Nor is it news to the general public, to whom it was already revealed in the 1999 MacPherson report that the officers had failed to give first aid upon reaching the scene and had failed to follow obvious leads in the investigation. It was also disclosed that undercover officers had given false evidence in the courts during the MacPherson report and acted as if they were exempt from the normal rules of evidence disclosure.
In 1998, the leading officer in the case farcically announced that the suspects hadn’t been arrested in the days following the murder because he didn’t know arrests could be made based on “reasonable suspicion” — an elementary tenet of criminal law. In the face of all this, not to mention the many other known cases of racist police action, one would have to be blindfolded to be surprised by the Home Secretary’s revelations.
The findings of the report are even less surprising to those who understand the nature of the police under capitalism. The police and the state are not eternal institutions; in fact, for the majority of our existence as a species, human beings lived without a state, and couldn’t even conceive of one. It was only after our division into classes, when the gap between haves and have-nots became so unbearable that the latter had to fight back in order to preserve their livelihoods, that it was necessary to create an entity rising above society to maintain peace in an inherently violent system of exploitation.
It is often assumed that people resort to crime because they are innately violent and greedy individuals. “It’s human nature”, we are told – but this phrase is not too different from “God works in mysterious ways”. What does it mean, then, if black and working class neighborhoods of London have higher crime rates? Does it mean, as the reactionaries would have us believe, that black and working people are innately more violent and greedy?
In reality, individuals resort to crime when there is no other option. For someone who has free access to a tap, stealing a bottle of water is unthinkable. If one was deprived of water for days, however, despite there being plenty available, it is a different question. The police are those who enforce this unjust system – of simultaneous rotting food and starving people; vacant houses and homelessness; sick people and expensive drugs – by punishing those who are forced to fight for what they need. The police are those who discipline the victims of capitalism and institutional racism, while the media and politicians use them as scapegoats. The petty burglars are thrown into jail, while the real thieves, the capitalists who profit from this crisis, continue to run our society.
Of course, Stephen Lawrence, like Mark Duggan, was not a thief, nor any kind of criminal. He was a school student keen on becoming an architect. And despite this, the London Metropolitan police still protected the racist thugs who murdered Lawrence, while violating the privacy of his mourning family. But this scandal isn’t surprising if we take the true foundations of the police into account, and the recent report has revealed these foundations to millions of British workers and youth.
Events like these have a stronger impact on the people’s consciousness every time, making them question the role of the state in society, and undermining the establishment’s authority. In a recent poll by the Guardian, following the release of the report, over 80% answered that they no longer trust the police. It has become stark as daylight that this is not the case of one “bad apple”, but of a system that is rotten to the core, and will never be fixed by petty reforms.
The ruling class is unsurprisingly deeply concerned about the effect on consciousness this is having. In their propaganda, policing requires ‘public consent’ – in reality, the illusion of public consent. No one has ever been given a meaningful say in the existence and functioning of the police force. The Evening Standard worries that “the danger is that it will confirm in the minds of some people the [patently correct] assumption that when the police are accused of misconduct or incompetence, their response is lies and dirty tricks”.
The same article goes on to champion the reforms away from racism that the Met has apparently undergone since the Lawrence scandal broke out. No doubt superficial changes in this direction have been made, in order to try and maintain the pretence of ‘public consent’ – or as it should more accurately be called, public acquiescence. But the recent execution of Mark Duggan and the subsequent blatant cover up and whitewashing show that the substance of police racism and corruption is alive and well.
How could it not be? Why was the police racist in the first place? By mistake? No, it flows from the nature of the police as a force in society which has a monopoly on violence, and which is used to maintain the racist and unjust status quo of capitalism. The objective requirements of the police in a capitalist society must express themselves one way or another. It has expressed itself in other ways too – in the recent revelations of large scale police spying in activist groups, and in the undercover police thoroughly involved in the blacklisting ring so extensively used to force out 3,200 trade unionists and other honest workers from the construction industry. All this is an inevitable consequence of a force based on maintaining capitalism.
As the capitalist crisis deepens, the government continues its cuts, the gap between the rich and poor widens and the working class organises to fight back, the police will only become more treacherous and brutal, and more evidently an organ for the oppression of the working class. To fight police oppression, fight capitalism!