On 30 March The Guardian published a video recording showing Mauro Demetrio, a twenty one year old from Beckton, East London, being subjected to racial abuse and violence by police officers in the back of a police van after his arrest during the riots in August 2011.
In the soundtrack, one officer admits to strangling Demetrio and calls him a “cunt”. Another officer, PC Alex MacFarlane, can be heard justifying the assault because Demetrio would “always be a nigger”.
A couple of days after the Demetrio recording, evidence was published that on the same day in August 2011, also in East London, PC Joe Harrington, assaulted a 15 year old black male.
Harrington has been put on desk duty; MacFarlane has been suspended; 21 people are being currently investigated, and eight have been suspended, in an ongoing Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation.
Yet Channel Four TV has reported that 120 police were officially found guilty of racist behaviour by the Metropolitan Police between 1999 and 2011; and only one was dismissed.
During and after the riots in August 2011, sparked when police shot dead Mark Duggan, police arrested about 3000 people. Some had little connection to the riots. Of those brought before courts by October 2011, 58% were non-white. In magistrates' courts, 42% received immediate jail, though the rate was 12% for similar offences in England and Wales in 2010. The average sentence was 5.7 months, though for similar offences in England and Wales in 2010 it had been 2.5 months.
Back in 1999, the Macpherson enquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 officially declared that the Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist".
Everyday experience — waiting outside school gates, use of metal detectors in public, interactions with victims of crime, and the daily harassment of stop-and-searches —shows the same.
On Home Office figures, black people are seven times more likely than white people, and Asians twice as likely, to be stopped and searched by the police. There were over 1.1 million searches in 2008/9 alone.
The Newham Monitoring Project, which has worked since 1980 at monitoring the police in east London, warns that things will get worse in east London with the Olympics.
“For under 16s alone, the use of powers to stop without reasonable suspicion under Section 60 – which are incidentally those that are most prone to accusations of racial profiling – saw a staggering increase in Newham of 2,540% from 2007-2010... we are gravely concerned about how local communities will survive the anticipated militarisation of Newham [during the Olympics]”.
At G20 and student demonstrations, the police have used shields, batons, tasers, pepper spray, dogs and horses, kettles, assault, and the fear of arrest or jail to enforce their will. And got away with it.
From 1990 to today, according to the Inquest group, 1428 people have died in police custody or been killed in police pursuits. 176 black or ethnic-minority people died between 1993 and 2011. Not a single police officer has been charged with a related offence.
The solution is not better anti-racist training, the recruitment of more black police officers, or IPCC investigations. There has been plenty of that sort of thing since the 1990s. The problem lies with the institution itself.
The labour movement should demand:
• An independent, elected and properly resourced police complaints authority;
• The sacking of cops found guilty of racist behaviour;
• Elected local authorities to control the police, with power over operational policy and budgets. (Existing Police Authorities have little power, are only partly elected, and can be ignored by the police);
• Repeal of arbitrary stop-and-search powers, and other attacks on civil liberties under “anti-terrorism” legislation;
• The disbandment of all armed units, Special Branch, and the immigration police.
But the job of the police is to maintain the power of the state. Its job is to maintain unjust laws and an exploitative economic system, and to quell dissent against such a system. Everything else it does — including the things that are uncontroversial — is built round that.
The police are deliberately separated off from the general population, trained as a separate corps, and structured in a strict hierarchy of control. They are accountable only to their commanders, not to the people. Such a separate corps is bound to distill and concentrate all the reactionary and authoritarian prejudices in the society around it.
The only fair society is one based on democratic workers’ self-management and collective ownership, and short of that all reforms of the police will be limited. Under a workers' government, those functions of the police that we would retain could be taken on by patrols elected from and accountable to local communities.
The mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, Doreen, stated in 1999:
“Black youngsters will never be safe on the streets. The police on the ground are the same as they were when my son was killed... I think we have had enough of police policing themselves, because they have always given themselves a pat on the back.”
Remember Ian Tomlinson, Smiley Culture, Jean Charles de Menezes, Mark Duggan: those names should inform any discussion about the police.