Asking whether we need the police in the wake of Sarah Everard is an important question but comes too late.
Writing by Amy Life. Illustration by Antonia Popescu (@amp_aesthetics).
They’ve said it for years. ‘If only we’d listened’ we tell ourselves, sheepishly looking at our toes. While black women have always known the extent of police violence, the devastating death of Sarah Everard was an awakening for middle class white feminists across the UK. The question is why were we asleep for so long and what happens now we’ve woken up?
Talking to my father who took part in riots during Margaret Thatcher’s reign of terror, I’m dumbstruck by what he tells me. It appears brutal police tactics aren’t new; my dad has seen what happens when the police are employed to protect the state rather than the people. Yet when I point out that if the police aren’t protecting the people then maybe we should consider getting rid of them altogether, I’m met with protest. Similarly, despite knowing the extent of sexism within the police force we still hear women telling each other to go to the police for help and I have to wonder what are we expecting? That suddenly the police will be different? Do their brutal methods and murders suddenly melt away when we’re in need?
White feminism has a remarkable tendency to ignore what women of colour can tell us about misogyny until white women begin to experience it. At which point it's too late and we realise that we should have listened all along. Why is it that it takes a middle class white woman being murdered for us to realise that the police don’t protect us? Because rich white women feel that they are most deserving of protection in our society. The classic ‘damsel in distress’ narrative is hauntingly relevant when it comes to white women’s previous relationship with the police (think Amy Cooper) and is still hauntingly relevant when it comes to how that relationship has changed. Victims once protected by the police are now victims murdered by the police. Sarah Everard’s death was tragic but our inability to recognise tragedy until we see ourselves in the victim is an issue that needs addressing. George Floyd among so many others alerted the world to the problems within the police force and yet abolition was viewed as a step too far only until Sarah Everard. All I can say is that, at least we got here and are now questioning the existence of the police.
For some people, abolishing the police seems impossible, and to others it seems stupid. I would argue that we’re making the mistake of accepting a known evil out of fear of an unknown possibility. We’d rather accept that the police are ruthless, misogynistic, classist and sometimes even murderous than deal with the questions that arise when they’re no longer there. When discussing abolition I’ve so often been asked ‘what about the women who are being abused by their husbands?’ This attempt to tug on my feminist instincts to stick up for the police misses the fact that if I were myself being abused by a partner I doubt I’d go to the police, I’d be significantly more likely to turn to a woman’s shelter. And herein lies the answer. The police have taken on too much and we expect them to be a one stop shop to answer and fix society's problems. Instead of looking at how best to prevent criminal tendencies from a young age or how to actually help survivors of crime, we’d prefer the police to simply lock the problem away. We need to think creatively and we need to centre community in our approach to crime.
Hopefully these new feelings of anger against the police, though well overdue, will give birth to an even stronger movement to abolish the police and put community care at the centre of crime prevention. Instead of imagining a world where criminals run about unchecked by the police, we must imagine a world where crime is almost completely non-existent. A world where everyone has enough to eat, shelter and free access to mental health services. A world free of misogyny, racism, ableism. These are the sorts of changes that will allow us to get rid of the police force. We need to view the police as what they really are, a sign of a broken society.