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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Are the police really there to protect us?

Last week, the UK finally saw a verdict passed on the case of a man named Mark Duggan. Duggan’s name might not be well known outside of that country, but the events he inadvertently sparked are infamous. Duggan was killed in August 2011, shot by police officers who claimed he was holding a gun. The resulting protests in the Tottenham area of London escalated as residents felt the police were ignoring their concerns. Soon, things erupted, and a riot broke out – houses, cars, and buses were burned, and shops looted. The violence spread to other parts of London and to the rest of the country, and raged for five days, leaving numerous iconic images of burned-out buildings and giving politicians and the amateur sociologists of the newspaper opinion columns material for months.
And now the inquest is over, the facts and interpretations have all been laid out, and the decision has been reached. Duggan, despite being something of an unsavoury character, was in fact unarmed when the police shot him. Nevertheless, the jury decided that it was ‘lawful’ for the police to shoot and kill him. Despite fears of a repeat of the riots of two-and-a-half years ago, things have stayed fairly calm in a physical sense. But underneath the surface, tension is bubbling in the UK.
Many politicians from all parties portrayed the riots as mere criminal activity – bands of opportunistic looters who were exploiting the opportunity presented to them by a young man’s death to steal as much as they possibly could from shops and homes. But what this interpretation misses, and what seems to be confirmed by the conclusion of the inquest last week, is the increasing breakdown in trust between the public and the police. The people of Tottenham did not believe that the police have their best interests at heart, and did not believe that officers would face justice for their actions in shooting Mark Duggan, and it is this that led to the initial protests that later escalated.
The rioters aren’t the only ones whose relationship with the police has broken down over the past few years. Students protesting against cuts to courses or increases in tuition fees have been faced with repression, often being ‘kettled’ by the police – that is, surrounded by heavily-armoured police, forced to stand on the street for hours, and only allowed to leave after being ID’d and photographed. At one protest, an innocent passerby died after a policeman attacked him from behind – again, the officer did not face any serious repercussions.
Generally speaking, young and working class people in the UK are increasingly realizing that the police do not represent them. They recognize that the police are an expression of the authority of those with power, and that their main aim is to harass, arrest, and imprison anyone who challenges that power in any way. The aim of the police is the same as the aim of the politicians and businessmen who they protect – to keep the poor in poverty, and to take away their freedoms, money, and livelihoods in order to give them all to those who are already rich. The outcome of the Duggan inquest is simply the latest example that shows the collusion between the powerful and the police who protect them.
At NRGLab and the Ana Shell Fund, we believe in a different vision of society. One in which being poor doesn’t make you a target for violent repression, and one in which less money is spent on authoritarian policing, and more on creating the conditions for a better life for all – social spending, redistribution of wealth, and the use of public funds for public goods like cheap, renewable energy and housing.

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