Banner on Extinction Rebellion march in London, 22 February. Photo: Twitter Banner on Extinction Rebellion march in London, 22 February. Photo: Twitter

The police are an institutionally racist, anti-working class organisation and no amount of love-bombing will change that, argues Shabbir Lakha

Since the first ‘rebellion’ last year, Extinction Rebellion has rapidly grown, become international and brought thousands of people into a militant movement against climate change. The threat of impending climate breakdown, already evidenced by the horrific fires in Australia, floods in Indonesia and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns globally has created an urgency to drastically change course.

On Saturday, thousands marched through London on an Extinction Rebellion-organised protest. But it was disappointing to see a banner that read “Metropolitan Police, Extinction Rebellion: Both working for a safer London” on the march, and unchallenged.

It’s not the first instance of a welcoming attitude by Extinction Rebellion and its supporters towards the police. During the October Rebellion last year, protesters chanted “we love you” to police as they dragged and arrested their fellow protesters. Even when the Metropolitan Police raided their warehouse and banned Extinction Rebellion in London, the response from the organisation was essentially to try to win the police by showing them love.

This attitude towards the police shows a deep misunderstanding by the organisation and its activists of the role the police play in society and in whose interests they act. It is also one of the reasons why there is little involvement from black and ethnic minority communities in XR.

The police exist as a force to defend the interests of the state and against the interests of working people. From Peterloo to Hillsborough to the anti-Poll tax movement, the police have never been on the side of working people.

And even less so on the side of black and brown people. Over 1,500 people have died in police custody or after police contact in the last three decades, overwhelmingly BAME people. Jean Charles de Menezes, Mark Duggan, Terrell De Costa, Sean Rigg, Sarah Reed, Edson Da Costa, the list is long and horrific.

It was last year revealed as part of an ongoing inquiry, the level of police infiltration and spying on left wing and campaigning organisations. Among the outrageous revelations of the groups targeted, the individuals manipulated into relationships and so on, was the police infiltration and surveillance of the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence to try protect officers from being pursued for gross negligence.

More recently, counter terrorism police listed campaigning organisations – including Extinction Rebellion – in materials used for Prevent training, alongside violent fascist groups, as implied examples of extremist organisations.

The simple fact is, the police are an institutionally racist, anti-working class organisation that will never ever be your friend. Their function is to defend the state and no amount of love-bombing will change that. You cannot appeal to the police if you want to build a movement that brings in working and BAME people and that takes on the state. The sooner that Extinction Rebellion accept this, the better chance they have of moving toward building the kind of broad campaign needed to really affect change.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.