2007 - 2021

On Police Violence


The state holds the monopoly on violence in our society. We can talk about male violence but the murder of Sarah Everard is also state violence and needs to be seen in both contexts.

A few things stem from the horrific trauma of Everard’s murder. Men have been rightly called to speak out and to act in the aftermath of the disgusting events but institutionally the police seem immune from any action, insulated from any real change and spewing out ridiculous statements while their leader remains in post.

The idea that it’s the responsibility of women to make sure they are safe is incomprehensibly stupid. Among the ideas being put forward are that women should “run”;  or that they should “call the police if the police make you feel unsafe”; or “wave a bus down”. 

The impression given of Cressida Dick remaining in her post after the litany of disgraceful operational failures she’s presided over adds to the vision of Britain as a country where nothing matters, where the powerful act with complete impunity, and absolutely no behaviour has any consequences.

This Thursday also saw the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruling on Kate Wilson versus the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The three judges who made the ruling found in her favour and lambasted the police for co-ordinating undercover policing that grossly violated her human rights, who was deceived into a long-term intimate relationship by an undercover officer. The spycops scandal – in which secret police infiltrate protest groups and form sexual relationships with women (often for years) has barely begun.

Mark Kennedy – the officer at the heart of this particular case – was just one of 139 undercover police officers who have spied on more than 1,000 political groups since 1968.

In their 158-page ruling, the IPT  said the senior officers appeared to have a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” towards their spies who were deceiving women into sexual relationships. They said the managers probably had “a lack of interest” in protecting women’s human rights.

After the ruling, Wilson said: “The events in my case happened years ago. However, the failure of the police to protect women from sexual predators within their own ranks, and police attempts to criminalise protesters are both still very live issues today. The tribunal has gone some way towards recognising how deep the abuses run.”

The police have persistently claimed that their undercover officers were not allowed to form sexual relationships with women they were spying on. The IPT tribunal ruled that this claim was “materially undermined by the sheer frequency with which Kennedy (and other undercover officers ) did conduct sexual relationships without either questions being asked or action being taken by senior officers.

The issue is not confined to England and Wales as Bella has consistently pointed out. The cases of Andrea and Tilly Gifford are just two. As Andrea has written the need for a public inquiry is vital:

“The undercover policing scandal has been unfolding since 2010. As victims of political policing in Scotland, we seek the truth as to why we were spied upon and why our lives were so cruelly disrupted. We have asked for an independent public inquiry, in line with England and Wales, but the Scottish Government has repeatedly refused. Michael Matheson, then Justice Minister, commissioned the police to write their own report in 2016. This was co-authored by none other than Stephen Whitelock, lead inspector at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS). Unsurprisingly, the report concluded that there was ‘no evidence’ of police infiltrating campaign groups in Scotland.”

“Yet just this last month, we discovered that Scottish undercover officers, under Whitelock’s governance, incinerated ‘secret and highly sensitive files’ in a car park (Sunday Post 10 February 2019). This is disgraceful and corrupt, but as victims of undercover policing abuses we are not surprised.”

“In 2016, when it was announced that HMICS would conduct the review into undercover policing in Scotland, we warned that the report would be tainted by lack of impartiality. This is precisely what has happened. The HMICS review must now be considered seriously compromised. Inviting the police to investigate their own malpractice is farcical. The report only references operations from the year 2000, but we know that these secret undercover units have been operational since 1968. Finally, due to Whitelock’s central involvement in this damning case, and with his judgment, decision-making and treatment of the police whistleblower being seriously called into question, it is absolutely clear that his report is tainted by connection and corruption.”

Couzens disgusting deeds happen within the context of an institution that has spent decades sanctioning police to have sex with peaceful activists, a conduct that is politically condoned because it was overwhelmingly directed at the left. The police are political. Police violence is gendered.

It’s no surprise that a culture existed (and exists no doubt) in which Couzens shared misogynistic, racist, and homophobic messages with fellow police officers in a WhatsApp group.

Women’s faith in the police has been completely broken and the response is pathetically inadequate. Many many groups in society have learned to distrust the police for years. Now the appalling conduct of Couzens is met by police denial. Here a senior police officer is trying to claim that a serving police officer who ‘arrested’ his victim shouldn’t be thought of as a police officer. This is deplorable.

 

As police officer Wayne Couzens goes to prison for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021, new figures reveal that women have been killed by at least 15 serving or former police officers in the UK since 2009.

The radical overhaul of how we view policing and law and order shouldn’t be contained within the prism of the appalling problem of male violence – but seen in the context of state violence the repression of dissent and the growth of the surveillance state.

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Comments (26)

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  1. Liz Summerfield says:

    Wave a bus down??? What planet do these folk live on?

  2. James Mills says:

    If you want to know the time ask a policeman – they will tell you that it is about half-past 1950 and unlikely to change soon !

  3. Chris Connolly* says:

    To be scrupulously fair, a police officer handcuffing a woman in order to rape and murder her is such a nightmarish thing to have to come to terms with that it’s difficult to suggest any tactics for dealing with the situation that don’t sound stupid. Obviously, Wayne Couzens shouldn’t have been allowed to join the force in the first place and should have been dealt with long before he carried out his crime, and the onus is on the police to sort its failures out, but the rest of us need some direction about what to do if somebody claiming to be a copper stops us and tells us to get into his car. Run like hell would seem to be the only option worth contemplating.

    As for Mark Kennedy and his fellow UCOs, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be charged with rape. If having sex with a woman too drunk to consent amounts to rape, then it seems only reasonable that cynically lying to women and pretending to respect and share their values in order to have sex with them should be treated likewise.

    1. Indeed Chris some of the women involved consider those relationships abusive and that they were raped.

    2. Hamish100 says:

      So sorry for the family and the poor victim of Couzens. Arguably and to a much lesser degree his family are also victims. I hope the minority of the PC colleagues who apparently helped him in other incidents are kicked out.

      I would separate entirely the institutional approval ( tacit or otherwise) of undercover Police Officers ( why were they undercover other than political) lying over who they were, the fact that some in the normal life were in relationships in any case and had sex with their female victims. They were victims and as far as I can see they were all lied to by male police officers. It is not unreasonable to say if the Police Officers had been honest the public duped by them would not have entered into any form of a relationship.

      Trust police management?///

  4. Axel P Kulit says:

    The question in my mind, and I lack information to resolve it, is

    Was Wayne Couzens turned into a sexual predator by police culture?

    The possibility the culture produced him is as important as the fact that it shielded him.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Of course he was, Axel; it’s part of the basic training of all police officers. He bears no personal responsibility whatsoever for his actions. The police made him what he is. He’s as much a victim of the police as Sarah Everard was.

      1. Axel P Kulit says:

        That is not what I said.

        Couzens is responsible for his actions, but I see this as the same thing that happens when a mob forms but in much slower motion.

        It is entirely possible that being in a culture where misogynistic and racist remarks immerse him every day – a form of peer pressure in my opinion – could result in an impressionable person doing things they would not have done had the culture been different. I am thinking Neurodivergence here.

        I am not saying he would NOT have been a rapist and murderer if he had never been a policeman, but that the police culture normalised an attitude to women that facilitated his becoming a rapist and murderer.

        This is apart from the fact that there was no alarm raised by his behaviour and he merely got a nickname. Had such an alarm been raised Sarah Everard might well have been alive today.

        But, according to what you wrote, police culture is perfect and something to which we should aspire.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          How can he be responsible when he was ‘turned into a sexual predator by police culture’; i.e. the culture that ‘produced him’?

          Stop making excuses for the guy!

          My partner is currently on secondment to Police Scotland. From what I gather from her experience, the institution is far from ‘perfect’. It’s not only structurally dysfunctional like most of the Scottish government; its macho culture still replicates that of society generally.

          But it doesn’t turn its officers into sexual predators.

          1. Axel P Kulit says:

            I think you are twisting my words.

            I ASKED if he was turned into a predator. I did NOT say he was. And we are discussing the MET not Police Scotland.

            He is not an isolated case, other police have murdered women, at the rate of about one a year.

            It’s not just the police here, In France a retired policeman committed suicide recently and confessed, in his note to a series of rapes and murders.

            when a subculture turns out that many killers you have to ask if it plays a role in producing them.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            ‘He is not an isolated case, other police have murdered women, at the rate of about one a year.’

            As of 31st March 2020, there were 192,146 serving police officers in the UK, which is about average for the previous 10 year period. F*ck knows how many former police officers there were in addition to this.

            According to the Femicide Census, 15 serving or former police officers in the UK have murdered women in the past 10 years.

            Seems fairly isolated to me.

            Stop catastrophising!

  5. Fehvepehs says:

    State violence is indeed the biggest problem.
    If we, as a society, really want to change then bold steps must be taken.
    Belting children in school and smacking of children has rightly, in my opinion, been banished to history.
    The next step is to amalgamate all the armed services into one Scottish service, then gradually disband the standing force.
    The savings made from no using bombs, bullets, rockets and troop bases abroad would be spent on education and make learning exciting and life long.
    Police would not be necessary as the education provided by the community would, I hope, eventually make violence, theft, corruption so heinous that it would not be contemplated. It may never be possible to eradicate all major crime, but let’s be honest, how many of us have committed major crimes. I may have thought about it, (the time when I lost the wages in the bookies on a sure thing) but never seriously.
    Big changes can happen but it needs to be from the top down. This is where the difficulty lies as the status quo is providing a good life for the upper classes.
    A story springs to mind of when Chinese girls routinely had their feet bound. It was a practise that had been going on for centuries. The tradition carried on even after a few powerful families stopped the cruelty. A big change came when one of the most powerful families announced that their sons would NEVER marry a girl with bound feet. Change was swift within the upper echelons, but it took a ban and a few more decades to pass before the practise was made socially unacceptable to the lower classes.
    There’s nothing wrong with dreaming.

    1. Chris Connolly* says:

      I like the idea of turning the armed forces into something humanitarian and pro-humanity, and would like to make another point.

      Tackling male violence would be much easier if the media didn’t continually celebrate macho behaviour. Boxers, footballers and rugby players are lauded for their capacity for violence as much as for their skill; books are written by former football hooligans, turning up on the shelves in WH Smith’s, and TV shows and films are still full of big, handsome men taking revenge by killing the baddies that hurt their womenfolk (though what benefit accrues to the women is never explained.)

      Any film with Liam Neeson in it proclaims that men should be admired for their toughness and fighting/shooting ability; likewise James Bond and all the other witless shite that Hollywood flings at its customers. Clint Eastwood raped a woman in the opening minutes of Hang ‘Em High and Sean Connery raped Marnie in order to stop her from being hysterical in the film of the same name. While Hollywood wouldn’t go so far these days there are no apparent restrictions on ever more gory depictions of both women and men being murdered, and it’s all packaged as entertainment with 5 star reviews and newspaper specials as part of the package.

      Then there are all those “World’s Most Evil Killers” books and TV programmes, dressing up murder as entertainment. I don’t know how many folk watched 24 Hours in Police Custody this week, but film of a thug beating up women was put on Facebook and thousands of responses were of the “Catch the bastard and give him a taste of his own medicine” variety; in other words, treat male violence by getting more men to dish out yet more violence against the original perpetrator.

      The Saturday night BBC4 slot might as well be called “Killing Women Time” considering the number of shows in which women appear as corpses in the first 5 minutes and at various other stages of the serial till the psychotic evil murderer is caught just as he is about to slay another victim. While stabbed, shot and battered female bodies litter the screen we are advised before the start of the show that it contains strong language, as if somebody saying “fuck” might offend us but women being slaughtered is OK.

      The tabloids love to dwell on murder stories and they splash pictures of women’s breasts all over their front pages, then they throw their hands up in horror when a pretty middle-class woman becomes the victim of a horrific sexual crime, as if they bear no responsibility for women being treated as sex objects to be used and disposed of. Vomit-inducing hypocrisy will be in order for 2 or 3 days till the story goes cold, and then it’ll be straight back to features about tits again.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        Yep, male violence is certainly popular in our culture. Maybe that’s part of what makes horror stories like ‘The Murder of Sarah Everard’ so newsworthy.

      2. Niemand says:

        I remember from a very young age being puzzled by male violence as entertainment. I never wanted to watch such stuff, it upset me but I felt out on a limb amongst my peers. I still have almost no interest in violent films and the like which can limit what I enjoy given how much of it there is (obviously a bit of it, in context is fine).

        It has been said for years that we can get worried by sexual content (and increasingly other types of ‘offensive’ material, offensive to certain identity sensibilities that is) but rarely, violence which is generally male and often really extreme and disgusting. There is no doubt in my mind that it would be better if we steered away from so much violence in our cultural choices. We tend to forget also that in society, men are much more likely to be murdered than women but of course, by other men.

        What feminism does not seemed to have helped with so much is how men can retain what I see as part of what they are, i.e. ‘macho’ without all the crap. Machoness is really just another word for masculinity of a certain sort that is a neutral trait but gets so distorted: testosterone is what males are all about, we cannot deny it and it is what women like in men in fact. Not that it is feminism’s job to address this but our society seems to have gone nowhere on the subject since it first started getting serious attention in the 70s/80s. The ‘new man’ is nowhere to be seen and we still don’t know what it even is.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Yeah, ‘macho’ is just Spanish for ‘male animal’, and ‘machismo’ is just ‘masculine pride’ or ‘virility’. In many societies, men choose to express their machismo through violence (the use of superior strength or skill to compel another’s submission to one’s will).

          There’s nothing biologically essential about this, however. Many men can and do express their masculine pride in other ways. Indeed, one of the things I find liberating about LGBTQ pride events (and why I’ve taken part in a few myself, even though I choose to identify as a heterosexual male) is the alternative celebrations of masculinity that men allow themselves there.

          1. Niemand says:

            It all depends on what one sees as masculine and goes back to my own arguments about gender which can actually restrict what is seen as masculine and feminine as it plays so much on stereotypes, which is what gender is anyway, a norm.

            I find it a bit ironic that these pages are full of mostly men displaying machismo in its virile puffed up pride sort of way, endlessly in the comments and and arguments that go on. It strikes me that aggressive behaviour online is the norm, not actually violent but quite violent in its character. Compromise and respectful debate is seen as weak and even a cover for being uncommitted or even bigoted, a fair few women have embraced that form of interaction as well. Viciously attacking one’s opponents in writing is deeply rooted in male aggression.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            Gender and other traits are indeed normative. The question here as on the ‘trans’ thread is whether such norms are better (‘more productively’) viewed as biologically/socially determined or as existentially chosen.

            And, indeed, the threatening tone of much of the writing here is a curious phenomenon – if only because of its ineffectuality. Why on earth should anonymous readers be intimidated by the name-calling of anonymous writers? It’s ridiculous behaviour.

  6. Mons Meg says:

    ‘He is not an isolated case, other police have murdered women, at the rate of about one a year.’

    As of 31st March 2020, there were 192,146 serving police officers in the UK, which is about average for the previous 10 year period. F*ck knows how many former police officers there were in addition to this.

    According to the Femicide Census, 15 serving or former police officers in the UK have murdered women in the past 10 years.

    Seems fairly isolated to me.

    Stop catastrophising!

    1. Chris Connolly* says:

      Those of us who don’t live in London aren’t in the best position to know whether the Metropolitan Police are institutionally sexist but there seems to be a case to answer. The way the women who protested about male violence after Ms Everard’s body was discovered were treated pretty badly, and the Met didn’t exactly cover itself in glory when those two black sisters were murdered last year either.

      If it was widely suspected that Couzens was a wrong un but nobody spoke up, and if his penchant for looking at violent pornography was known to other officers, and if his indecent exposure offences were connived at by his superiors, then Axel P Ulit seems to have reasonable grounds for suspicion.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        Granted. But Axel was wondering more than this. He was wondering whether or not police culture had turned/produced Wayne Couzens into/as a sexual predator.

      2. Axel P Kulit says:

        One thing that irritates me is tat any attempt to understand why someone did something horrible is taken to be finding excuses for them. This is a sirt of logic past experience has led me to associate with Tory voters.

        Getting back to Couzens, understanding what drove (best word I can think of) him to these actions is important in trying to ensure it dies not happen again. He may have suffered from domestic abuse, or there may be some other explanatory cause- but still has to be imprisoned, if not as punishment then for the safety of others, and is still responsible for his actions, unless it is later determined he was insane at the time of the crime. From prison he can be a research subject, like other killers.

        As I said the extent to which the culture in his police force led to him behaving like this then escalating his crimes needs investigation as much as the question of how much of his behaviour came from his upbringing and how much, if any, was innate.

        Only by investigation can we determine what needs to change for the future. Simply condening him as evil will not stop other behaving the same way.

        1. Jenny says:

          I remember the same discussions about the Yorkshire Ripper. Was he perverted by bad mothering, a cold wife, how can we understand this man? Whatever drove Sarah’s attacker to kill, torture and rape, there can be no reservation to the need to punish this killer’s behaviour. And those who tolerated his attitudes in the workplace.
          We need to be thinking about women. The right of women to live without fear of violence at home, at work and on the street. That means changing police culture, legal practice and society. (yes, and the state).

          1. Mons Meg says:

            ‘We need to be thinking about women. The right of women to live without fear of violence at home, at work and on the street.’

            Indeed! And the victimisation of women, such as that perpetrated by the popular narrative of the Sarah Everard case and our salacious consumption of it, contributes greatly to that fear. In that response, we cast women as vulnerable to predators, who are everywhere, hidden in plain sight, and against whom women in their weakness need to be protected.

            The catastrophising evident in our response to the rape and murder of Sarah Everard functions to keep women in their place: terrorised, disempowered, and dependent on the protection of those who are stronger than themselves. It’s all about bigging up men by making women look small.

          2. Chris Connolly* says:

            I’m not convinced that women need to be “cast” as vulnerable to predators. The #MeToo movement has demonstrated that being subjected to unwanted and disturbing sexual harassment is more or less a rite of passage for women, just as being beaten up during your teens is for men. Any such incident has the potential to end in the victim suffering mental trauma, serious physical injury or death.

            That’s not catastrophising so much as accurately describing a state of affairs that can reasonably be called catastrophic.

          3. Mons Meg says:

            I agree that the last thing women need, on top of all the other sh*t* they have to put up with, is to be cast in the role of victim.

            This victimisation – the whole ‘damsel in distress’ narrative we warm to briefly after every attack on a young, white, middle-class woman – just confirms the relative powerlessness of women in society.

            As I said, the threat of ‘suffering mental trauma, serious physical injury or death’ is just another way of keeping women in their place. Whipping up fear is itself a form of violence against women.

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