The current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being established in law represents a fundamental change in nature and type of policing in Britain and a radical shift in the balance and relationship of power between the state and an increasingly disempowered population.
The British Criminal Justice system (Police, Courts, Prisons) was always forged in its repression of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society, whose experience of the police was almost as an occupying para-military force in the poorest and most criminalised communities, especially those communities and districts largely populated by ethnic minorities.
Policing by consent was usually a privilege afforded to legally compliant white working class and middle-class communities, whilst poorer socially and racially marginalised communities were policed in an almost colonial way, evidenced by the high rates of death in police custody in those communities and the disproportionate use of stop and search powers to harass and intimidate. A huge proportion of the U.K. prison population is composed of young men of ethnic minority origin who were targeted and criminalised by the police at a young age and imprisoned in penal institutions, and their lives are evidence of an institutionally racist criminal justice system and police force that under the guise of ‘law and order’ inflicted violence, death and repression on the poorest and most marginalised communities for the purpose of social control.
So-called criminal justice legislation before the current Police Bill was always focused primarily on a criminalised underclass, the other, and both Labour and Tory governments zealously empowered the state to create an apparatus of punishment and repression in a social and political atmosphere of popularist ‘law and order’, and the replacement of the welfare state with a carceral state in dealing with increased numbers of poor and marginalised people and groups.
Significantly, the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill extends beyond criminalising the usual scapegoated groups and now further empowers the police to criminalise political protest and dissent, and employ an apparatus of state repression against political behaviour once considered a basic human and civil right in an apparent democratic society.
The radical shift in the social and political balance of power in society generally with the virtual destruction of an organised working class and the triumph of neo-liberal capitalism has empowered the state considerably, and the subsequent rise of far-right popularist nationalism has created a political conflict and repression. Without doubt recent demonstrations and protests against racism and misogyny are the reason why included in the current police, crime sentencing and court bill is authority given to the police to decide who will actually be allowed to protest and what form that protest shall take, and in an increasing atmosphere of political repression and police authoritarianism so-called policing by consent is now increasingly replaced by the form of brutal colonial type policing long experienced and suffered by the dispossessed and voiceless.
More than ever solidarity and identification with the struggle of that group is vital for the freedom and liberation of us all.
John Bowden, April 2021