Photo by Daniel Leal

Cop out

Calling abusive policemen “monsters” relieves them of accountability

Artillery Row

Yet another news story has arrived about the UK police, in which someone abuses his position of power and engages in deplorable, misogyny-fuelled behaviour. This time, we can look to Greater Manchester, where a student member of the force has been charged with sexual assault, with his trial due to commence in March 2022.

In 2021, it was revealed that approximately 2000 police officers had been accused of some form of sexual misconduct over the preceding four years. As the Guardian reported in 2019:

“Derrick Campbell, regional director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, told the Observer in a statement: ‘Police personnel who abuse their position for sexual purpose have no place in policing[…]’”

This was followed in 2021 with then-Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick spooling out the feeble, and now-infamous, mitigation that such behaviour within the Metropolitan Police could be chalked up to “a few bad apples”.

Calling sexual ‘misconduct’ atypical only insulates police from accountability

The problem with both Dame Cressida’s statement, and Campbell’s contention, that these “bad apples” have “no place in policing” is…they clearly do. It’s the same rhetorical device used when male violence is excused by calling the men who commit such acts “monsters”, thus elevating the behaviour beyond the reach of any functional class analysis.

The actions of murderous men such as Wayne Couzens transcend the context in which they are cultivated, when they are essentially dehumanised — by calling them something non-human. Likewise, peddling this falsehood, that the endemic rates of sexual “misconduct” within the police force is atypical, insulates the police as a social apparatus from accountability.

A growing response involves calls to “defund the police”, or advocating for outright abolition. Given the dire state that forces such as the London Met find themselves in — with officers sending each other messages including “I would happily rape you”, and “Getting a woman into bed is like spreading butter. It can be done with a bit of effort using a credit card, but it’s quicker and easier just to use a knife” — it’s easy to be sympathetic to the idea that the entire system should be razed to the ground.

This is not just the privilege-soaked navel gazing of the Terminally Online. The deconstruction of what is increasingly being viewed as a club of State-sanctioned strong-arm bully boys, as well as the subsequent inevitable path to incarceration that flows from the power vested in them, has a long and nuanced history. Civil rights activist and scholar Professor Angela Davis has written extensively on the issue, stating in Are Prisons Obsolete: “[…]prison and police officers are vested with the power and responsibility to do acts which, if done outside of work hours, would be crimes of sexual assault”; she goes on to say, “Why should it be so difficult to imagine alternatives to our current system of incarceration?”

The issue with viewing this solely through the prism of the justice system and its various officials (and calling for its disbandment), is that it does nothing to recognise that the rot spreading through the police force is also spreading through society-at-large. Women are being raped and murdered at endemic rates, with 2021 recording the highest number of rapes ever. So the unstoppable force of The Discourse meets the immovable object of Reality. Where can women and girls turn to when they are faced with unrelenting levels of sexual and physical violence in the home and outside of it, but then the very group charged to protect them is also awash with those same abusers?

Clearly the issue extends far beyond the confines of the police. It is rooted in a systemically cultivated attitude of entitlement and misogyny. It would be difficult to propose a finite list of concrete solutions that could comprehensively deal with the paradigm of male violence against women and girls, but there are several places to start.

We must commit to tackling the culture of misogyny within the police

First and foremost, and following the seemingly eternally impending resignation of Dame Cressida Dick, the new Commissioner of the Met must not simply be a talking head, parroting the lines required by the Government of him or her (or “them”!). There must be a commitment to tackling the pervasive and deep-rooted culture of misogyny within the police force. No longer can such actions be written off as individual “bad apples”, or with dismissive and myopic statements that such behaviour “has no place in policing”. Accountability and responsibility must not be reluctantly accepted, but actively sought out.

Beyond reforming this culture within policing, we must turn our attention outwards. We must find ways to educate men and boys, and from a young age, about the responsibilities and obligations we have — or rather, should have — towards our female counterparts. This must be decisive and proactive engagement undertaken by men; we must not passively sit by and watch whilst women are compelled to shoulder the responsibility of educating us to “be better”.

We must teach other men that women are not objects to be sexualised and dehumanised in equal measure; we must combat the normalisation of our increasingly-porn soaked culture that encourages men to commodify women for whatever purpose they see fit; and we must challenge this behaviour wherever it arises. It is a neutered and misguided approach to say this behaviour belongs to “monsters” or “bad apples”. It isn’t. The behaviour may be monstrous, but the acts are committed by men. It’s high time we finally recognise this.

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