By Kate Pesenti
We are living through the largest civil rights movement ever recorded. The murder of George Floyd, yet another black man to die in police custody, has led to the unprecedented uproar of all 50 American states and 18 other countries. From the Ben & Jerry’s founders being arrested, to the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston being thrown in Bristol’s harbour, all the protestors are united under the statement that ‘Black Lives Matter’. With the arrests of Floyd’s killers, the re-opening of other police brutality cases and the movement dominating social media, it feels like this time, there might just be change.
[blockquote author=”” ]The police are institutionally racist.[/blockquote]
But as the tweets of solidarity kept growing and Instagram became a hub of activity, there has been a worrying trend. One that won’t end an injustice that has gone on for far too long but will only prolong it. For amongst the police brutality at the police brutality protest (the irony of which is not lost on me), we had the emergence of a new figure: the ‘good cop’. Videos such as CNN’s montage of police kneeling to the viral footage of Flint Sheriff Chris Swanson marching with protestors seem, on paper, to offer us hope in a wider humanity and in a police force that has good intentions really.
I’m here to tell you that’s not true: there is no such thing as a ‘good cop’.
I can already sense some apprehension. Undoubtedly some of you who are reading this have family or friends who are policemen, who you know are good people and here I am insulting them. But hear me out.
The police are institutionally racist. We can’t deny that fact. In the U.S., black people accounted for 31% of police killings in 2012, despite being just 12% of the population. And let’s not pretend it isn’t just as bad in the U.K. If you’re black, you’re at least six times more likely to be stop and searched than a white person in England and Wales. Figures released by the Home Office in 2018 reveal that 12% of incidents involving force were against black people, again with them only being 3.3% of the population. And when force is used, black and other minority individuals are twice as likely to die in police custody than their white counterparts. The list of the dead is a testament to that: Sean Rigg, Adrian Mcdonald, Sarah Reed, Sheku Bayoh, Leon Briggs, Jimmy Mubenga – whose last words, like Floyd’s, were ‘I can’t breathe’ – and tragically so many more. As the protestors put it simply, ‘enough is enough’.
So, we’ve established the police are racist. And we can concede that a lot of the American ‘good cop’ footage was purely for the media, as one journalist reported that “maybe 15 minutes after cops and leadership were kneeling together… the cops were in attack mode.” But you still might think that not all policemen can be capable of such violence. That there are good people in the force who truly believe in the Black Lives Matter Movement. The thing is, at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. Because all we keep seeing from the police is denial.
[blockquote author=”” ]desperation of the police force to blame racist incidents on a few rogue individuals[/blockquote]
No one in active police duty seems honest enough to admit that they are a problem. We can all see that they’re a problem, just in the statistics that I’ve given you. But policemen keep on providing the ‘bad apple’ excuse. Swanson, the viral Sherriff and marcher, proclaimed that protestors shouldn’t “think for a second he [Derek Chauvin, Floyd’s killer] represents what these cops are”. But Chevin represents exactly what cops are: an institution that was designed to target black people. American law enforcement’s origins literally stem from capturing runaway slaves. The denial is a British issue too. In fact, Scotland Yard chief Cressida Dick insisted last year that the Metropolitan police are no longer ‘institutionally racist’ and described it is a ‘toxic thing to say’.
This persistent denial is something that stems through white culture. I get it, no one likes being told they’re complicit in racism. The desperation of the police force to blame racist incidents on a few rogue individuals shows that. But white people, we need to stop wallowing in guilt or anger, or instant rejection at the idea. We need to stop pointing to ‘bad white people’, ‘bad apples’ or literally anything else to avoid the blame being shifted onto ourselves. Because by refusing to solve our ignorance, black people are suffering. And they’re leading this movement partially by writing informative and eye-opening articles, many of which have inspired this comment, which testify to them being victimised by the police force as a whole. The least white people can do is to stop, look around and educate ourselves on how we are contributing to black oppression. And crucially, we have to speak out against it.
American cops and British policemen are not exempt. You say there are ‘good cops’? Show them to me. To be truly good, you have to face responsibility. For the police, that means acknowledging their role in a racist system. Yet I’ve seen nothing but the Met condemn the ‘violent criminality’ of the UK protests. I’ve seen nothing but various America police forces tweet about household objects being thrown at them, trying to paint themselves as victims as they fire back with rubber bullets. The police are failing us by refusing to recognise their complicity. They are not fighting racism but upholding it. Don’t forgive them by posting footage of ‘good cops’. They’re not the heroes you’re looking for.
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Image: Geoff Livingston. Available via Flickr.