Monday, November 08, 2010
But The Cops was well-researched, and implicitly on the side of the working class people whom the police found themselves in conflict with. The show depicted police men and women without assuming that they should be glamorous, conscientious, or heroic. More often than not, they were anti-working class bigots. In one characteristic scene, set on a deprived estate, two police officers talk about how hated they are on the estate. One looks at a passing mother, with children, and says: "Look at 'em - breedin' like rabbits. I'm sick of them all. Dirty, thievin', lyin' scumbags. I'm sick of 'em." The police hated the programme, and withdrew their advisory role after the first series. Stories like this remind you that it isn't just fiction, and tell you a lot about the attitudes of the police, which are misleadingly described as 'canteen culture':
Hayley Adamson was hit by a police car which had been travelling at more than 90mph in a 30mph zone in Newcastle.
The 16-year-old was killed instantly and the accident provoked a hostile reaction from local youths in the working class area of Scotswood.
The driver, Pc John Dougal, had been pursuing a suspicious vehicle when the accident happened in May 2008.
Dougal was later convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and jailed for three years. The case led to heavy criticism of Northumbria Police.
Shortly after Hayley's death, it was revealed that a 'black box' computer fitted to the car had failed to record details of the officer's driving.
The force were also criticised in March this year after they put themselves forward for a public relations award over their handling of the media coverage of the case.
They later apologised to Hayley's family.
Now it has been revealed that a policewoman at the scene of the accident allegedly referred to Hayley as a 'Scotchie scumbag'.
Scotchie is a nickname for the Scotswood area, which is one of the region's most deprived areas.
As is usual with incidents where police are implicated in appalling, and perhaps revealing, conduct, leniency is sought, and all too often offered, on the grounds that the police have a difficult, stressful job. (There are a few examples in the comments thread below the cited article, among the usual batshittery). This neatly shifts the focus from the question of what is acceptable behaviour by public authorities, and more generally from what examples like this tell us about the authority in question, to the issue of extenuating circumstances, difficulties faced by people 'on the front line'. It also directs us also to instinctively take the side of the police officers in their daily conflicts, where it may not be sensible to do so.
It would be more appropriate to stick with the subject. Why would coppers behave like this, have these attitudes? Certainly, social authoritarianism comes with the job. And certainly, those sections of the working class who don't do what they're told would seem to pose a problem for the police. Their job is administer, to uphold the existing social relations and to ensure that their rules are not routinely breached. They would see their job, in a certain light, as being one of social control on deprived estates which suffer from higher rates of vandalism and property offenses. Because of the increased rate of confrontation between police and local people, especially young people, there is an antagonism and suspicion between them, so that the police are also less likely to get compliant cooperation out of the people on poor estates. The relationship between the police and working class populations thus reflects the broader social antagonism that they're a part of. Here, I don't accept the probably common view that the average bobby belongs to the working class. I think that the relationship of the policeman to the means of production is actually very similar to that of any middle class professional, in that they exert authority over the working class on behalf of the owners. In a word, cops are basically managers, junior managers, foremen and supervisors with big sticks and funny hats.
It is that situation which produces the conflicts that coppers face daily, which leads to them being spat on, yelled at in the streets, and hated by many, and which also leads to them roughing people up, killing people in custody, racially abusing suspects or non-suspects, harrassing kids, and so on. No doubt it is exhausting. No doubt the police man or woman goes home feeling tired, disgusted, emotionally drained, sick to the back teeth of the kinds of people they encounter everyday. No doubt this coarsening, hardening, grinding experience of daily confrontation leads to a certain contempt for political correctness and anything else which could be seen as hypocritical, pretentious or soft-headed. No doubt that is what leads to a police woman referring to a working class girl, killed moments ago by a fellow officer, as "scum". But there's nothing in this that redeems the police woman's motives, or mitigates the offence. Rather, it just calls for the casting of a wider net of critique.