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Editorial: After Sarah Everard we cannot accept Boris Johnson's 'trust the police' act

BORIS JOHNSON’S appeal to “women of all ages to trust the police” is part of a concerted Establishment effort to shore up an institution disgraced by the murder of Sarah Everard.

It follows former justice secretary Robert Buckland’s sneer that “police bashing ... is not going to restore trust.”

The Prime Minister’s claim that the police “are overwhelmingly trustworthy” is not just a bid to avoid the growing clamour for an inquiry into institutional misogyny as demanded by Shami Chakrabarti, the former Liberty director, who notes that we need an interrogation of police sexism as far-reaching as that into racism which followed the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

It is a bid to sweep under the carpet a far longer list of police outrages — and to suppress opposition to his own government’s legislation increasing the power and reducing the accountability of police officers.

Chilling accounts of how murderer Wayne Couzens used his warrant card and handcuffs to arrest Everard in order to rape and kill her have sent shockwaves through the country almost as much as the murder itself, which brought tens of thousands of women out in protest in the following days. The recent murder of schoolteacher Sabina Nessa, also killed as she went about her daily business in her own neighbourhood, has only added to the anger.

Like the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, this terrible crime drew attention to an ever-present context of oppression — racism and its lethal consequences for black people in that case, sexism and its lethal consequences for women in this. 

The situation is at crisis levels. A man kills a woman every three days in Britain. And as the National Education Union warned at last month’s TUC, sexual harassment and abuse of women and girls is at frightening proportions in Britain’s schools.

That is why the debate now rages not just around police violence, but the low conviction levels for rape and what they say about the normalisation of male violence.

Both the Tories and the Labour leadership are trying to use public outrage to promote a “law and order” agenda that not only fails to address the systemic character of the oppression but actively empowers the coercive instruments of the oppressors. 

Hence Labour’s focus on longer sentences while the PM trots out the old excuse that “a few bad apples” might exist in the police but they are “overwhelmingly trustworthy.”

Were the police who conspired to falsify witness statements to smear the Hillsborough dead “overwhelmingly trustworthy”? 

What about those who duped women into long-term sexual relationships, even fathering children before disappearing without trace once their assignment — to spy on people engaged in entirely legal campaigning activity — was up?

What about those who colluded in illegal blacklisting of trade unionists over decades? 

What about those who assaulted picketing miners at Orgreave? 

The best we can say is they were as “overwhelmingly trustworthy” as the government that deployed them in its determination to smash working-class organisation in Britain and the BBC that reversed the footage to insinuate the miners attacked the police when the opposite was true. 

As that example shows, the issue is not whether or not officers are nice people but the role of the police in class society as an instrument of ruling-class oppression.

Justice for Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa means more than punishing their killers. It means a mass movement for societal change to challenge patriarchy, sexism and male violence, one which the labour movement must throw itself into helping build.

And in the immediate sense it means stopping the government from actively increasing police powers. We must kill the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and see the Spycops Act removed from the statute book. Pressure to do so must be built up in every community and directed at those in power wherever they are found.

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