How can the solution to violence against women and girls be more police when it's the police that women need protection from?
The tragedy of the murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens cannot be quantified or put into words. Sarah Everard’s death is one that has sparked feelings of deep grief, anger, and despair in people all over the world, particularly women.
The more recent and equally heart-wrenching murder of Sabina Nessa has underlined to women everywhere what the vast majority of us already knew to be true: this world is not a safe place. It should not be a privilege to be able to walk home without dying, it should be a given.
It is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t understand the deep-seated anxiety of walking home at night, not knowing if you’ll make it home, or the fearful rush of adrenaline as you hold your keys in your fist, ready to be used as a weapon should you get attacked.
These anxieties do not appear out of nowhere, you will struggle to find a woman who hasn’t been followed down the street, sexually assaulted, or even made to feel unsafe by a threatening stranger.
It is even harder to explain to someone who doesn’t understand that these fears and anxieties are rarely alleviated by the presence of the police, but exacerbated.
The reality is that it is a total myth that the police exist to keep us safe. Spend any time in almost any interaction with the police and this will be proved to you; anything from witnessing police at a protest to being stopped and searched will demonstrate that the police are nothing more than an arm of the state exercising its power over ordinary people.
This is a fact I often find myself reiterating to myself and to others: the police are here to enforce the law, and the law isn’t here to keep us safe, but to protect the interests of the state and of private property. Because the police force is one of the state’s last lines of defence, it has to be ready to impose order physically and tends as a result to concentrate the more backward elements of official ideology in its ranks.
Furthermore, it is clear that the police often do not go to pains to follow the law, and they are in the unique position where they are often able to bend the law to their whim if it means they come off better.
This is exactly what Wayne Couzens did when he illegally arrested Sarah Everard before brutalising her and ending her life in the most horrific circumstances imaginable. She believed him when he told her she was under arrest, and passers-by tragically believed him as well.
In this sense, perhaps we should add Sarah’s name to the long list of those who have died in police custody; a list that includes a disproportionally large number of people of colour (particularly black men), women, and people with mental health issues.
The events of the last year or so have left many questioning the role of the police in our society. Since the newest wave of BLM protests, many believe abolition to be the only solution, a belief even more popular since the Police and Crime Bill was first put forward by the Conservative Government.
The murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, and the police’s treatment of the bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, have led to more questions around the role of the police when it comes to dealing with the misogyny still so prevalent in our society.
Conversely, the solution of the dominant bourgeois political parties is to solve police violence by placing more police on the streets, or with more female officers, or by cracking down on crime.
Keir Starmer’s tone-deaf speech to the Labour Party Conference, paired with the creation of Labour Friends of the Police prove that the opposition party is firmly on the side of the establishment when it comes to law and order.
Cressida Dick’s pitiful suggestion was for women to flag down buses if they feel unsafe during an interaction with the police, or to phone more police. This is perhaps proof that a woman in power does very little to solve sexism and misogyny.
The problem of the police cannot be solved easily. Moreover, it cannot be solved without taking on the problems of the establishment and of the capitalist state as a whole.
As long as there is inequality, there will be a need for a special body of armed men to police those less fortunate, in case they start to fight against the system that keeps them less fortunate. We cannot take on one aspect of this system on its own, but must look at it in its entirety if we are to understand how to bring it down.
This means that reforming the police will do nothing to freeing us of police and state violence. At the same time, it means that we cannot just abolish the police without looking at the system of oppression that necessitates police in the first place.
I am not often one to argue that one ‘gets educated’, but I do encourage anyone to read up on their rights when it comes to the police. A comprehensive explanation can be found on the Green and Black Cross’ website. This is not a solution to endemic police aggression, but a step we can take to keep each other safe. Asking ‘Under what power?’ is a very small act of resistance we can take when we see someone getting stopped or arrested by the police.
However, it is obvious that the best long-term solution to the oppression we face at the hands of the police is mass mobilisation and mass resistance.
We have to join forces to fight the injustices brought by an unjust society, whether this means taking on the sexism of our establishment or taking on the horrific violence that the police are continuously allowed to carry out.
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