‘Defund the police’ may just be seen as another catchy slogan, but it’s never been more imperative
Chris Kaba, an up-and-coming rapper from the London drill group 67, was killed by the Metropolitan police on Monday, September 5, 2022. From the Guardian to the Independent, every major piece of reporting on this case stated that a man was “shot dead by police”. The word ‘murder’ is never used in the reporting, though all these killings of Black people – armed or unarmed – are precisely that.
Kaba – who was 24, engaged and about to become a father – was killed after being chased and shot by armed officers. In a statement shared on Wednesday evening (September 7), the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the armed officer attempted to stop Kaba’s car because it was supposedly linked to a “firearms incident” – but clarified that no “non-police issue firearm” had been found at the scene of the crime, either in the car or surrounding area.
This murder comes shortly after the killing of Oladedji Omishore by the Metropolitan police on June 4, 2022. Omishore, who was going through a mental health crisis, was tasered with an electric stun gun delivering a shock of up to 50,000 volts, before falling from Chelsea Bridge into the River Thames. He died later that day of his injuries. The Met stated the public called them in because a Black man was causing a disturbance and was supposedly carrying a screwdriver. In actuality, Omishore was carrying a firelighter, which his family said he used to light his cigarettes.
In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Labour leader Keir Starmer remarked that the Black Lives Matter Movement was just a “moment” and that “nobody should be saying anything about defunding the police – that’s just nonsense”. Calls to defund the police have been made to seem like an unreasonable demand, and police brutality like a uniquely American problem; something that British people should empathise with but not necessarily understand. America is the one with the gun violence problem, right?
But let’s be clear: police brutality is a British issue too. From the murders of Cynthia Jarrett in 1985, Joy Garder in 1993, Roger Sylvester in 1999, Jimmy Mubenga in 2010, Mark Duggan and Cherry Groce in 2011, to Sarah Reed and Dalian Atkinson in 2016 and Simeon Francis in 2019, Black people die in this country disproportionately after contact with police. Our criminal justice system cannot operate without racism because that is what the Metropolitan police is founded on.
The Metropolitan Police Force was established in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel in response to Britain’s industrialisation. In this stage of early capitalism, where the British Empire was growing and cities were emerging, crime started to develop, and the rich became fearful. The upper classes and the state were making a lot of money off slavery and colonised land and wanted to protect their assets – these are the conditions in which the Met police were founded.
Peel and his commissioners established nine key principles of policing. Rule seven states that the police must “maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police”. The imagined public Peel and his peers were talking about serving, protecting and maintaining a relationship with were not Black people. The Slavery Abolition Act didn‘t even happen in Britain until four years after the establishment of the Met police.
The Met police was created to discipline and control women, the working class, people of colour and everyone outside of their imagined public (the white, the elite etc.) We were never intended to be protected by them – not then, and not now.
We have reached a point in 2022 where we expect Black people to be targeted and killed by the police, but the police are, for the most part, an accepted and unquestioned part of the fabric of society. Last week, the New York Times argued that the movement to defund the police was “dead”, and a poll published by the Pew Research Centre in October found that support for reducing spending on UK police has fallen from 25 per cent in 2020 to just 15 per cent in 2021. It puts into question what it will take for us to relinquish consent from the police, especially since they don’t prevent crimes from happening. If we’re being honest with ourselves, they’re the ones who carry out crimes in the guise of protecting society.
But there is hope. In the UK, confidence in the police has decreased significantly. In March 2022, YouGov announced that confidence in the police has fallen from 75 per cent to 53 per cent in the past two years. From the death of Sarah Everard at the hands of Met police officer Wayne Couzens in 2021; the arrest of two Met police officers after they took inappropriate pictures of murdered sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry; the strip searching of the 15-year-old girl Child Q and so much more; the Metropolitan police have shown us time and time again that they are so incredibly evil and useless.
So while “defund the police” may just be seen as another catchy slogan, we need it more than ever. We desperately need to defund the police and abolish them. To abolish the police, and to abolish prisons, is to attempt to abolish racism. We must look into and invest in creating safer alternatives to policing so we can genuinely keep each other safe.