Over the weekend, posters that looked like ads for the Metropolitan Police appeared all over the UK capital calling the cops institutionally racist.
This post originally appeared on VICE UK
Over the weekend, posters that looked a lot like a Metropolitan Police ad campaign appeared around London. However, instead of trying to convince you to spend your spare time being a community support officer, they pointed out that the force is institutionally racist and unaccountable. As it turned out, some anti-cop activists had replaced the usual adverts in bus shelters outside New Scotland Yard, and in Islington, Manor House, Lambeth and about a dozen other places, with spoof adverts. Nobody knows who put the posters up. Considering the police have cordoned off several bus shelters around London and appear to be treating them as crime scenes, it probably makes sense for them to lie low for a bit.
But we do know their design can originally be found in a copy of STRIKE!, an anarchist magazine. I asked someone from the magazine to tell me more about why they designed the posters. We chatted about what he thinks of someone plastering London with them, and how he is now slightly freaking out that some angry cops might break down his door and step on his throat and/or balls.
VICE: What was the involvement of STRIKE! in all this?
STRIKE!: We created the original design. It was like two months ago that we did that. They were in response to the Metropolitan Police's Local Policing Campaign [a Met PR campaign].
Do you have any idea who put them up and how?
I have no idea who did it. I don't know where you'd get them printed actually—it's got to be someone with access to a really, really big printer. We have previously done a guide to interacting with bus-stop advertising spaces on our website and in our newspaper and that comes from [anti-advertising campaign] Brandalism.
Are you pleased with how many have gone up and the publicity it's getting?
Enormously pleased, yes. Obviously that was sort of the point, part of the reason that we did is that the Met spent £12.6 million ($19.7 million) in 2012, £9.3 million ($14.5 million) in 2013, and that's on propaganda—you know, all PR is just nice lying. We haven't spent any money on this campaign at all, and it seems to have had quite a big impact, which is really nice. We're sort of run on anarchist principles here at STRIKE! so we encourage horizontal, autonomous action, and it's nice to see that has sparked someone somewhere to go off and do it.
Do you hope this happens more?
I can't incite [crimes] in the present, but I think about when change has happened previously. Women have the vote now because women in the past went out and threw rocks through windows at Buckingham Palace, through the windows of Downing Street, so I hope that future generations will be grateful for this present action.
Police abuse of power is in the news at the moment because of what's happening in the US. Do you think that's got something to do with the timing?
People have made quite a bit about the timing, but we've been talking about police brutality, police racism, and police corruption since our first issue two years ago. Since the inception of the police force, people have been campaigning against large men with sticks beating up minorities—whether that's economic or racial minorities—so perhaps it's more the case that more and more people around the world are waking up to the fact that they don't want large men with sticks policing their communities. There's another interesting thing about the timing, that they [the posters] went up on the 13th of the 12th—the 13th of December. 1312 is code for ACAB [All Cops Are Bastards]—it's a bit like 420. It's like international ACAB day. That could be why they chose that particular day.
So they went up on Saturday night?
And how many posters went?
I've seen like maybe 15 or 20, something like that. There are quite a few, and they are quite spread out around London.
Are any still there?
I seriously doubt it. I went out yesterday to see—I heard there was one at New Scotland Yard—and I went out to see if there was one still there and to get a picture of it if there was, and they had a patrol car stationed outside it with its lights flashing. I've seen pictures of patrol cars screeched up outside the one in Manor Avenue and a police officer talking into his radio like he was calling in a SWAT team or something. They turned the one in Lewisham into a crime scene—like, they cordoned it off with crime scene tape and all that. So yeah, I don't know if there will still be any up there. It's making us quite nervous that they're turning it into a crime scene, because it sort of feels a little bit like every cop in London wants to stamp on our throat. But it also feels ironic—if the Met put this much effort into investigating their own crimes and corruption, the posters wouldn't have gone up in the first place.
What do you think about the reaction of the public?
I've been surprised actually that it's been overwhelmingly positive.
The thing that is interesting is that people—I would assume fairly decent people that would not consider themselves racist—[have made] comments that kind of go along the lines of, "I'm not racist, but black people do commit more crimes." Even if twice as many people were being stopped and searched as white people it would be a heinous crime, right?
For us, it's obviously not the [case] that black people are inherently more criminal. There are structural reasons, and some of that is because police both pursue and prosecute black and ethnic minority groups much more than they do white people. There is some ignorance around it, but it's hardly surprising that there's ignorance around it when the Met spend so much money trying to convince people they're not racist. If you ask a member of the Metropolitan police force, "Is the police force institutionally racist?" they immediately go, "I'm not racist, how dare you call me racist!"—they just don't quite get that we're talking about the institution and the structures that are in place in society.
How do you hope the police respond to the posters? Do you think they'll take the criticism on board?
Right now I'm hoping that they don't just come round to my house and stamp on my testicles. That would be my immediate hope for the future.
I sort of feel like the police are neither here nor there—they're actually a symptom of an unequal society. It's not necessarily about what we want the police to be. We want the police to stop being racist, to stop stopping and searching people in a racist manner, but really we want society to be more equal and less racist—the police are just a reflection of our society.
The police are a bit like alcoholics—they're never going to deal with their racism problem until they say, "We do have a racism problem." At the moment if you ask them they say, "Oh no, no, we're not institutionally racist." Weirdly, in 2012 the black and Asian police officers association said, "Yes, the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist," but then the Met racistly ignored that—you know, it's sort of ironically racist to ignore your black and Asian officers when they say that you are still institutionally racist.
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