Following the death of George Floyd, civil rights activists across the Atlantic have suggested a simple solution to address conflicts within the Black community: defund the police.
Amid the “Black Lives Matters” protests, the conversation is progressing as officials in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd was killed, announced the dismantling of its own police department.
Countless activists in the UK have taken inspiration, echoing the same “Defund the police” chants, suggesting instead to divert funds into non-policing forms of public safety and community support. But what is the reason for this rallying cry in the UK?
Many see the police force in Britain as being an inherently violent institution towards our Black communities, and the ill-feeling has been established for decades.
The history of the police service is stained with systemic oppression. During the 1970s Black people were unfairly targeted by the controversial sus laws, which enabled police to stop and search individuals that they suspected with intent to commit a crime.
Young Black men during this time were disproportionately targeted by stop and search compared to their white counterparts. Fast forward to today and this ugly reality still exists for the simple reason that policing is institutionally racist.
But there is a better option. What if we could reduce crime in an inclusive way, where communities didn’t feel disproportionately targeted and disenfranchised? Divesting resources from policing would mean we could invest in services that prioritise the community at large, like mental health provisions and education.
Health and social care workers are much better first responders to those in the community experiencing mental health crises than officers in uniform.
Reformation will fail to bring justice to a system that is built to dominate, tyrannize and harass communities.
Keir Starmer was wrong to label calls to defund the police as “nonsense”. To eradicate racism in the UK, our politicians need to decolonise their thinking – and Starmer’s narrow mindedness on the issue is extremely disappointing, to say the least.
Look no further than statistics from Scotland Yard, Britain’s police headquarters to illustrate the scale of the problem. Black people are stopped and searched 96 times per 1,000 people. White people are stopped and searched just 23 times per 1,000 citizens, despite there being 1.2 million Black people in London, versus 4 million white people.
The harsh truth behind these figures makes it harder for Black people to accept that institutional racism doesn’t exist in policing.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to many local authorities having to make hard choices about savings, while police budgets have remained immune to cuts.
This is why many are fighting to strip the financial liberty of the police through reinvesting funds back into the community.
What makes the abolitionist movement even stronger is when police chiefs choose to ignore our grievances by making statements dripping in disdain for our lived experiences.
Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said recently: “I think the phrase ‘institutionally racist’ is for others to judge; I don’t find it a useful or appropriate phrase for my service at the moment but if others judge us differently that’s obviously their right.”
Starmer should also take note that when our leaders fail to listen and ignore the demands of the public, this can often result in people taking matters into their own hands. This is the backbone of the community-led, defunding the police movement.
After all, reform strategies have been tried and tested, and resoundingly failed. Body-worn video cameras were rolled out after the killing of Mark Duggan in 2011, in an attempt to build trust.
This failed miserably. Officers can turn the camera on and off on a whim, which enables them to control the narrative in a fabrication of true justice.
In 2014, the government introduced the “Best use of Stop and Search” (BUSS) scheme in an attempt to reform policing and decrease the negative experiences of excessive stop and search.
The scheme ranked police forces with five performance measures – lay observation, community complaint triggers, recording outcomes, monitoring the impacts of stops and reducing the number of stops from section 60s.
A report on police legitimacy from the HMIC in 2015 reported that just 11 of 42 police forces complied with all five measures from the BUSS scheme. Almost one in three failed to comply with at least three, and 15 percent of records couldn’t validate any reasonable grounds for a stop and search.
What Starmer seems to willfully ignore is that reformation will inevitably fail to bring justice because the system itself was built to dominate, tyrannise and harass communities.
All it does is rebrand institutional racism with the packaging of policies with long-winded names.
But through defunding the police, much can be accomplished. It would finally bring an end to David Cameron’s failed “all-out war on gangs”, a policy that is inherently racist, abusing surveillance, IT, communications and technology to target and criminalise Black and brown communities in the UK.
Defunding this area of policing and diverting funds into public services to address the social inequalities and conditions that cause criminality could only result in a decline of criminal activity.
For instance, investing in housing, employment and also youth centres – London alone has lost at least 100 youth centres since 2011. These investments would provide the assistance communities desperately need.
Divestment is the only alternative action to decrease crime, while bringing an end to racial disparities in policing. Let’s hope Starmer starts to see sense.
Emmanuel Onapa is a freelance writer and campaign’s manager at Account, Hackney’s youth-led monitoring group.