This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of the 1981 Brixton riots. To some, this was an uprising. What sets this disorder from latter examples was that the police were the target as opposed to protecting some other institution. It can be argued that there was open drug dealing on the streets of Brixton that certain groups sought to protect from police intervention, however this was countered by overt racism. Young black men were routinely beaten and fitted up by an overwhelmingly white police force.
The legacy of the Brixton riots is that the police can no longer claim victim status with any degree of credence. The police cannot claim mistake or error without being accused of racism or violence. Mainstream broadsheet newspapers still run columns accusing the police service in general of horrendous bigotry and discrimination. I would imagine that if such articles were presented to editors in the 1970s, the journalist would be laughed out of the newsroom. Without the Brixton riots, the Macpherson Report would never have come into existence with it's allegations of institutional racism within the Met Police. This conclusion was eagerly devoured by police leaders seeking promotion from their political masters, and the definition of a racist incident became 'if anyone says it is, it is.'
I am institutionalised. I will admit that. I recognise my influences. I have been in the police service for nearly twenty years, and understand that many of my views are shaped by this experience. I try hard to engage with the many different people I meet on a daily basis, to socialise with friends outside the police, and to read widely, often from sources I would normally avoid. We remain shaped by our environment. I am certain that the racism of the police force is in terminal decline, and has been since the riots. The police officers of today grew up in a multicultural society, they schooled alongside black and Asian children. It is hard to hate those you know personally.
Summary beatings have gone. People are no longer battered in cells and police vans. Whether this is a cultural change, or the result of increased CCTV and the fact that victims of police brutality are more likely to be believed is a moot point. Although Friday and Saturday nights are awash with violence across the country, general violence has lessened in the last 20 years throughout society. People no longer beat their children, nor do teachers.
The police will always be viewed in some quarters as violent racists. There are too many vested interests to allow for this situation to change, too many pressure groups, radical lawyers and crusading journalists to allow for their cash cow to be taken away.
I intend to leave the police in the next couple of years and go into teaching. I imagine my world view will change, and I may question some of my old viewpoints, but I still believe that the police service is in better shape than it was in 1981. It remains a political football, with senior managers who are not fit for purpose, but I believe that the majority of the general public support the police. If I didn't believe that, I'd leave tomorrow.
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