The Casey Review shows why the Public Order Bill must be stopped

The Casey report has found the Metropolitan Police to be broken – institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic. This will come as no surprise to many people.

A photo of the Metropolitan Police HQ, New Scotland Yard

Jon Trickett is the Labour MP for Hemsworth

It should be of grave concern to us all that predatory behaviour has been “allowed to flourish” within the Metropolitan Police. Police officers are invested with the unique power to use physical force against their fellow citizens. When these powers are misused, the consequences should be extremely high. Yet time and again the Met avoids accountability.

It is 24 years since the Macpherson Report into Stephen Lawrence’s murder first found the Met to be “institutionally racist”. Lessons were not learned and the reforms at the time hardly scratched the surface. Is it any wonder that Stephen’s  mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, has called the Met “rotten to the core”?

In the last couple of years the Independent Panel into Daniel Morgan’s murder found the Met to be “institutionally corrupt” and the Spy Cops Inquiry exposed horrendous abuses against political activists and trade unionists. Undercover male officers entered into long term relationships with female activists and even fathered children with them. Then one day they disappeared into the night never to be seen again. The women described feeling like they’d been “raped by the state.”

Trust in the Met has fallen across the board, but particularly among the communities who suffer directly from the Met’s institutional prejudices. How can we expect people of colour, women and LGBT people to feel safe around police officers of an institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic police force?

It is clear that the Met is not fit for purpose and that the problem is not just a few bad apples. The problems are built into the Met’s foundations, so it will require more than a few personnel changes and mandatory training exercises to address the myriad of problems.

Casey goes as far as saying that some of the most problematic units within the force should be disbanded, but stops short of saying the whole Met should meet that fate. But it is clear to me there needs to be a serious rethinking of the Met’s role in London and the country as whole. This should include discussions about creating a new institution altogether.

However, every time that evidence of the Met’s failings come to light the government sits on its hands. After hearing the Home Secretary’s response to the report in the House of Commons yesterday, I am in no doubt that she will try to avoid implementing Casey’s recommendations. It’s not difficult to understand why this might be the case.

In recent years the government has passed a wave of new authoritarian legislation that gives the police new powers to clamp down on political dissidents and marginalised communities. First we had the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act that gave police the powers to shut down peaceful protests. Then we had the Nationality and Borders Bill which restricts the rights of refugees and the Strikes Bill which places free trade unionism in a vice.

Today, the Public Order Bill is back before the Commons. It will hand even greater powers to the police to restrict the right to protest. This includes the power to stop and search people without any suspicion that they are intending to commit a crime. This is an extremely frightening prospect but is especially sinister in the wake of this report.

Casey found that stop and search is disproportionately used to target black people and called for a “fundamental reset” of the policy. Yet the Tories want to pass a Bill that will massively expand it – consciously and deliberately subjecting black people to even greater levels of harassment. Let’s be clear – if the government was remotely serious about addressing Casey’s findings they would withdraw the Public Order Bill.

This government’s authoritarian turn is a response to the breakdown of consent for the present social order. The living standards of working people have been falling for over a decade and the social safety net has been chipped away by public sector cuts. At the same time, the richest in society are accruing astronomical levels of wealth. Between 2021 and 2022 the richest 250 people in the UK increased their collective wealth by nearly £60 billion.

According to current projections these problems will become more acute over the coming years and, as the climate crisis goes from bad to worse, we will see even further political instability.

Quite frankly, in a society that has become so unequal and unfair –  resistance becomes inevitable. There are two competing ways to address the breakdown in consent: through police repression; or through structural reforms to create greater social justice. The Tories choice is clear. They hope the Public Order Bill will keep the peace, but as Dr Martin Luther King Jnr said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Myself and a number of colleagues will be opposing this Bill in the strongest possible terms, but we cannot rely on Parliamentary votes to go our way. Neither can we rely on the next Labour government to repeal the myriad of authoritarian legislation that has been passed in recent years. It is the task of campaigning groups and civil society organisations to keep the pressure on in the years ahead.

Right now we must all raise our voices to demand the Metropolitan Police is finally held to account. Powerful institutions must not be allowed to act with impunity. Without serious accountability for serious failures, the rot will only get worse.

Image credit: Can Pac Swire – Creative Commons

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