Today the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, and other senior police officers have come to Brixton to find out about the community’s priorities for policing. This is a slap in the face of every resident who has first-hand experience with the Met. Brixton has been at the centre of police brutality for decades, well known as a place of vicious abuse, particularly against ethnic minorities. On 21 August 2008, Sean Rigg, a black musician who suffered from mental health problems, died in Brixton police station after violent restraint by police officers.
As we all know, Rigg's murder is no exception – think of the shooting of Mark Duggan and the subsequent out-and-out lies to cover up and justify his killing, and of Smiley Culture, who supposedly stabbed himself in the heart while his house was being raided by police. For decades not a single police officer has been held accountable for murder and terror in black and Asian communities – nor has there been any relaxation of the ruthless containment of protests against the ongoing nightmare of cuts and infringement of civil liberties.
The arrest of 286 anti-fascists in Tower Hamlets last September, the biggest mass arrest in Britain since WWII; the kettling of student protests against rising tuition fees; and the heavy-handed police attacks on students in London and Birmingham in December and January all bear the same marks. They are the logical extension of the anti-terror legislation first introduced by Labour and maintained by the Tories to criminalise any legitimate protest, be it against imperialist wars, cuts to benefits and services, fascist violence or the disproportionate stop and search of black and Asian people. Increasingly repressive policing of demonstrations has a clear aim – those attending their first protest should be encouraged to make it their last. Under capitalism the working class are expected to simply accept their diminishing prospects.
Criminalising ethnic minorities is an attempt to sow division within the working class, driven by ruling class fear that workers identifying common interests will result in even stronger resistance to cuts and other attacks. Blacks, Asians and immigrants are targeted in an attempt to make white workers believe that their brothers and sisters of different skin colour deserve the dehumanising treatment they experience on a day to day basis. Few people know that a larger percentage of the black population is behind bars in Britain than in the US. Meanwhile prisons are increasingly turning into institutions of forced labour.
As long as Britain remains capitalist, we cannot seriously expect any meaningful change in the way our communities are policed – regardless of which party is in power. Many on the left believe that a Labour government would improve the situation, seeming to forget that Labour under Tony Blair introduced the most significant encroachments on civil liberties that Britain has seen in decades. Jean Charles de Menezes was murdered just down the road from here in Stockwell by a police force under Labour leadership. If the Tories introduce water cannons to the streets of Britain, Labour would be right behind them – both Labour MP Glenda Jackson and former Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone called for the use of water cannons during the 2011 riots. Tories, Lib-Dem and Labour have all signed up to the maintenance of the capitalist system and will use brute force in order to protect what they call social stability and to intimidate those who dare to raise their voices against the mess we are forced to live in.
Today the police are in Brixton in an attempt to regain legitimacy by winning friends and informants. We should not be taken in by talk of ‘community control’ of policing, advocated by the liberal left. The function of the police is to protect private property and the rule of the capitalist state, and they will always be fundamentally ‘controlled’ by that aim. Still less should we view them as ‘workers in uniform’, as some misguided left groups advocate. Marxists do not support strikes by police and prison guards for better conditions in which to repress workers and ethnic minorities.
Only when workers are able to create our own institutions to replace those of the capitalist state, will the interests of the vast majority be ‘served and protected’. This requires the destruction of the capitalist state and what Lenin referred to as the ‘special bodies of armed men’ – the standing army, police and prisons which serve as the state’s main repressive agencies. The International Bolshevik Tendency is committed to building an organisation capable of carrying out this complicated task, and we welcome the chance to engage in serious discussion with all those working to curb state repression. Today’s demonstration is a step forward to recognising that the police are an inherent part of the system that creates and sustains the racism and vast inequalities that are intrinsic to capitalist rule.