Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This little piggy shot a robber

The struggle for equality of the sexes still has some hurdles left to overcome before it is entirely won I'm sure you'll agree. Ellee posts on the battle to see the police force dragged into the new century after seeing this article in the Cambridge Evening News.

Julie Spence, the high profile Chief Constable for Cambridgeshire, argues ""If you want a firearms officer, can they shoot straight, are they tactically aware, will the community be put in danger with this individual? Do they have the right mental mindset to actually be using a gun? So if you answer all that, you then look at fitness as a developmental tool." But instead the test to wield lethal force involves running around and pulling heavy objects - tests that Spence claims favour men without giving any reasonable assessment of a copper's suitability for the job.

Recently The Times reported a study that said "“Sexist language and behaviour was all but endemic within the police service,” it said. “Women, minority ethnic and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officers continued in large numbers to feel excluded, uncomfortable and discriminated against”... “Sexism was endemic, that is to say everywhere. Not just in every force we surveyed, but in every part of every force.”"

It seems that sexism exists not only in the heads of many police officers, but within the very structures of the police itself. Just 8% of officers ranking chief inspector or above are women even though 1 in 5 police officers are women, which in itself is a disturbing statistic.

Whilst most of the left have abandoned the field when it comes to the battles within the police over issues of bigotry and abuse in favour of an essentially "all coppers are bastards" attitude I'd argue we need to take a more tactically nuanced approach to these questions. An approach that allows us to take progressive ideas into areas where they have hitherto been unwelcome guests.

The analysis of the police as a tool for class repression is essential and useful - but it ignores the fact that it is not only a tool for repression but also carries out socially useful work. Even if it did not it is still made up of predominantly working class people who, just like the rest of us, are a mixture of positive and negative ideas. There's work to do and space to do it in.

Way back in July 2006 I asked "Would you rather a policeman that beats you up because you're black or one that pursues racist attackers vigorously? Would you rather a cop that says all women should get a slap now and then to keep them in their place - or should they take domestic violence and rape seriously?" The important battles going on internally, like Ian Blair's tenure, the idiotic use of police time, taking on the bigotted canteen culture or the industrial disputes in the prison service are ones where we should at least try to intervene in as effectively as we can.

Of course, whilst Spence may have a point about the endemic sexist culture of the police being embedded institutionally it doesn't mean she is on the right side of every argument. It's not that long ago she was arguing that immigrants caused crime - and she gained the support of racists everywhere in doing so, including some police officers.

We can argue to disarm the police or even to abolish them outright but whilst I have every sympathy with the analysis that might lead you to that position it ignores the utter futility of these slogans. Leftwing Criminologist recently had an interesting post on the theory that all police officers are reactionary arguing that if the left supports those progressive struggles inside the police (including those officers on the right side of these fault lines) we can bring them into the orbit of the left.

I'd take it one step further. If we can help push one of the most reactionary sections of our society to the left it shifts the entire national debate in our direction and opens up wider spaces free from most backward ideas that we have to face today.


Phil BC said...

I can understand why a lot of leftists don't have time for the police, but we do need to get real and move away from posture politics. Here's a couple of incoherent thoughts:

1) Fear of crime is real, so how do we address it? I remember Barry Buitekent criticising Lindsey German in an old What Next? for believing a decent welfarist programme is the answer to crime. Yes, of course that has to be a constitutive element of any socialist policy, but so has enforcement of the law. Should we tell a burglary victim to wait until we've formed a workers' militia?

2) Like all state agencies, the police are not a monolith: it is riddled with contradictions that more or less correspond to how labour is divided up in the force. Community coppers, CID, traffic police, bureaucrats, hate crime units, vice squad, etc all have different ideas and favour different methods of policing. The job of socialists is to try and hamper their operation as capital's protectors and win over as many of them to socialist politics. If we can split the army, we can split the police.

3) After the revolution, won't today's cops be the one's most qualified for the "law and order" functions of workers' militias?

Inspector Gadget said...

Piece of free advice: learn to recognise irony when you see it!

Renegade Eye said...

I agree crime is a real problem. I was at a meeting, when someone said, "those so called gangs," Gangs that are criminal do exist.

Do you pass out antiwar leaflets to cops? Invite them to meetings? Organize them?

This is a good discussion.

Jim Jay said...

Fear of crime is real - and the horrible consequences of crime are real too. It's one thing to seek to address the root social cause of long term problems it's quite another to say don't worry about it until then.

The Bolsheviks had police coming out of their ears so it's not exactly with precedent.

It seems to me that in addition to supporting struggles within the police (and whilst I don't see it happening right now a socialist cop society would be a cool thing and not impossible) we also need to seek to make the police force more accountable, shift their prioirites towards addressing the problems of social inequality and insist they investigate white collar and city/financial crime.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Phil, the points you make a good ones which i agree with (although I wouldn't advocate the enforcement of the whole law - things like anti tu laws we wouldn't want)

Jim jay, "we also need to seek to make the police force more accountable, shift their prioirites towards addressing the problems of social inequality and insist they investigate white collar and city/financial crime." - I'm currently writing an article on the police pay dispute which will touch a little on some of these issues

In case your interested, I've also written several pieces on the prison crisis in the uk see my archive

There's a quote from Marx as well about police in the paris commune where he briefly mentions it's reorganisation and use in the interests of the commune. I need to do some posts about the paris commune and russian revolution and crime soon