This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Fresh from saying you definitely shouldn't vote, then saying you definitely should vote Labour, then having a bit of an existential crisis after his vlogs didn't swing the election, Russell Brand has come up with another great new way to change the world and this time it's even more zany and unpredictable than before: Let's have a wave of activism to love-bomb the cops. There's even a hashtag: #lovethepolice.
What the cops really need, Brand says, is a little TLC. What would this actually mean is undecided, as Brand wants to crowdsource ideas on the hashtag. Maybe there could be a national cop appreciation day with specially made cards from Clinton's. Maybe Britain's ethnic minorities should live up to their unfair ethnic profiling and up their game in the crime stakes, so the police don't come across so racist when they're stop-searching them. You can have those ideas for free, Russell.
Brand posited this idea in his new Trews episode. This will be, Russell enthused, a new wave of Trews activism, unprecedented in human history and unlike anything which had come before. The inspiration for it, Brand told his legion of online followers, was how police officers he had spoken to, mostly from London's Metropolitan Police Service, had repeatedly told him that they were dissatisfied with bum deals on pensions, pay, overtime, and outsourcing. "They are disenfranchised and disillusioned," as Brand put it.
That's perfectly true, but what came next was pretty weird. "The young people of London, the young people of Britain, from whatever background... Muslim, young black people... We should all come together in public spaces and squares and noisily, loudly, creatively protest for the rights of the police and then we'll see how the police respond to that," he said.
The idea of riot cops teargassing a rowdy demonstration called to protest for the rights of the police is intriguing, but it also goes to show how fatuous this idea is.
"I'm interested particularly in people who would typically identify as enemies of the police," says Brand. But why would those people want to do that? Let's take the young black people he mentioned. The numbers speak for themselves, with research in 2012 showing that if you are black you are 28 times more likely to be stop-and-searched than if you are white and four-and-a-half times more likely to be found guilty of drug offenses if you go to court. The situation is so bad that even complaints from BME cops about racism fall on deaf ears, with over 2,700 complaints of racism against the Met between 2005-2011, internal as well as by the public, leading to only two officers losing their jobs.
Even when there is overwhelming evidence for racism, nothing seems to happen. In 2011 Mauro Demetrio was told by PC Alex MacFarlane that "you'll always be a nigger." Despite Demetrio secretly recording MacFarlane saying those words, the CPS initially stated there was "insufficient evidence" to bring a charge of racial abuse against the officer.
A few weeks ago I heard Janet Alder, sister of Christopher Alder, tell of how she had only recently discovered that as many as 17 undercover officers had surveilled her for the crime of trying to get justice for her brother who died in police custody in 1998. Officers present at the time of Alder's death refused to take part in the initial inquiry while at the subsequent inquest, where they were called to give evidence multiple times, they refused to do so on more than 150 occasions, citing coroner's rules about self-incriminating evidence. Following an unlawful killing by that inquest, some of those officers went on trial but were cleared on the orders of the judge.
Maybe Janet Alder and Mauro Demetrio should get involved in Brand's "creative protests"? Maybe some particularly pretty placards will reverse years of institutional racism?
It seems beyond belief that Brand could be so oblivious to the well-chronicled racism of British policing. More than that, Brand also seems to have an odd understanding of what they actually do. "The police force are our police force, ordinary working people trying to do a job," he says. History tells us otherwise.
Maybe Brand should read David Whitehouse, who argues that the police were only created in response to the first striking workers in Britain, urban riots in the north of the United States and increasingly frequent slave insurrections in its rural South. Their true role is evident from the policing of the miner's strike, in particular the "Battle of Orgreave," where they tried to fit-up 95 for rioting, to the Hillsborough Disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died—followed by a cover-up which implicated some of the very highest elements of the service. "Is it their fault that they have become the henchmen of the establishment?" Brand asks. That's the point mate—that's what they've always been.
A 2013 report by Jenny Jones for the London Assembly made the case for abolishing the Territorial Support Group—London's riot cops. Writing for the Guardian last year, Labour's Owen Jones said that the Met should in fact be abolished altogether. From the shooting of Mark Duggan to undercover officers stealing the identities of dead children, the police's crimes are so many and at times so grotesque that it's hard to disagree. While the idea may seem radical, it is becoming reality in Spain. The new mayor of Badalona, Catalonia's third largest city, just abolished its riot squad.
For too long, Brand has been saying that all we have in common is a sense of collective frustration and an uncertainty about what to do next. For many, that's not the case—rather than getting frustrated, we've been inspired by successful movements in other parts of the world. Spain is seeing radical politicians at the forefront of a mass democratic movement that includes sex workers, housing activists, and ethnic minorities winning public office. In Britain meanwhile, a celebrity is telling us to hug a plod, and I've never been more sure that he's got nothing substantial to offer.
Follow Aaron Bastani on Twitter.