#TrustYourInstincts say Metropolitan Police without a modicum of self-awareness. They want us to trust our instincts to help them clamp down on troublesome individuals who might be involved in terrorist-y activities. I might be wrong but Britain’s a funny old racist at the best of times. Britain instinctively blames the weakest whenever it’s in a spot of bother, whether it’s all them braaaahn people taking all the jobs or the sick and disabled after an easy ride, I wouldn’t trust Britain’s instincts to boil an egg without a timer.
My instincts tell me not to trust an authority with as much coercive power as the police. My instincts are somewhat better informed than your average Josephine in that I’ve worked closely with the police and know how it feels to stumble into a copshop canteen minus the blue uniform. As a child I would instinctively reach for the phone and dial 999 whenever I felt the people around me couldn’t do anything. We had the emergency services visit us at school, as small children you are frequently reminded of what to do if you feel unsafe. But working with the police initiated a shift in my instincts. I instinctively knew the bits of information I had to keep from them. Emotions mainly, they couldn’t understand how a woman beaten by her partner could still be in love with him. I would instinctively withhold such information because I knew they would judge my client differently. They wouldn’t be as prepared to go the extra mile or as I like to think of it, the bare minimum of human decency. I instinctively distrust an IPCC investigation because let’s see, it’s hardly independent. I instinctively distrust a shootout between the police and a member of the public; after Jean Charles De Menezes this is hardly surprising.
I’ve been thinking about and discussing the role of the police a lot recently, especially in my work and in my role as a woman working for women. There were many success stories and without the cooperation of the police, these would have been impossible. Thanks to organisations coordinating the joint efforts of agencies, there are more systems in place to make all accountable. But they don’t police inappropriate interaction between agencies, especially when there is an unspoken belief in keeping the other ‘sweet’. Despite this I spent a long time advocating for the police with people who believe them all to be bastards. “But what about all the clients they’ve helped?” and “What about the time I got burgled?” I even wanted to be a copper once upon a time, in the vain hope that I could be the bridge between the brown people in my community and the white people in power. And yeah, they did these things, they helped get some of my clients into safe houses, they were sympathetic during a rape exam, there was a feeling of solidarity whenever a prolific perpetrator went down. But it’s only recently dawned on me what I would need to do in order deserve cooperation. And the reaction I would get if I ever dared complain about inappropriate conduct.
There was a lot of flirting and I was banned from saying I was a feminist working for a feminist organisation. One copper would tell me he wouldn’t employ because at age 27 I was only liable to get pregnant. Also, it was really funny that I used the turn of phrase “kettle of fish” cos it was a really British thing to say (what the fuck am I if not British?) Another would always refer to me as madam but not in the hierarchical copper way but more like a sleazy you’re-a-female-and-one-that-thinks-she’s-a-princess-therefore-I’m-gonna-make-a-point kind of a way. At another one of my agencies, the DS used to call me up for a chat every coupla days and sometimes turn up unannounced at the safe house just so he could give me a lift to the station (5 minutes down the road). Despite all this, I was convinced the police were a force of good. I just wasn’t radicalised enough yet, I guess.
That all changed during the counter demo against the EDL in Walthamstow. “Who protects the Nazis?!” “The police protect the Nazis!” That chant will stay with me forever. I had a bruise on my arm where I was grabbed and pushed along for unfurling a banner. What the fuck kind of threat am I? Their instincts tell them to use aggression against me, 5ft1 and 55kg. But the skinhead, swastika tattooed coked up meatheads of the EDL got themselves an escorted tour of a town they have no business being in. A particularly scary cop in a blue cap threatened to do me for using the word “fricking”. That’s a word I use when I don’t want to swear. His instincts were to arrest me. What was the justification there?
I have an instinct that the police maintain the patriarchy. Every time they issue a press release and use language to describe a child victim of statutory rape as having had sex with a perpetrator, they are reinforcing patriarchy and its use of women’s bodies. I have an instinct that the police only see black and white and none of the bits in between and that black is usually troublesome whereas white is to be believed. My spidey sense is on high alert when perpetrating police types are routinely acquitted of crimes they have committed but then sacked for gross misconduct because a member of the public was in fact killed, or given appallingly inadequate sentences for using their immense powers to pervert the course of justice. Ryan Coleman Farrow being case in point.
What do your instincts tell you about the Alfie Meadows trial? Does anyone remember what actually happened to him?
Instincts are dangerous, they are biased.
Instincts are personal and they are bigoted.
And so are the police.