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Power is About Structures, Not Individuals

Cold, complacent, and complicit; after Dick, we must demand institutional, not individual change.  


Hiring more female police officers is often presented as a solution to misogyny, violence against women and girls, and overall woeful response to female victims of crime.  


Cressida Dick, the first female and openly gay commissioner, presided over a police force with a rotten culture of misogyny and hate. Not only that, but she also actively denied its existence. The day before Wayne Couzens was to be sentenced for a life order for the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, Dick said there was an 'occasional bad 'un' in the Met.'  


Not only did Dick consistently deny the existence of institutional racism within British policing, she actively championed policies that knowingly disenfranchised Black and Brown Londoners. Despite being one, she had a tin ear towards minorities.  


There are many cases, showing misogynistic, racist, and discriminatory actions of the police. For instance, the killing of ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson by a police officer, who kicked him in his head twice, and with such force, there were imprints of his boot on Dalian's face. PC Benjamin Monk was handed a custodial sentence of 8 years for manslaughter. This was the first time a British police officer was convicted for either murder or manslaughter in three decades.  


Another example is the degrading strip search of academic Koshka Duff, who only recently received compensation and an apology. Police officers strip-searching Duff made jokes about the smell of her knickers and bodily hair. Police officers were also told to treat her like a terrorist.  


Or, consider Sheku Bayoh's killing at the hands of the Scottish Police, where officers conspired and concocted a fake story that Bayoh had a knife to try and justify a police killing.  


Or the discriminatory and often illegal stop and searches of young Black children.  


Or the child sexual exploitation scandal in South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, where young girls were referred to as 'child prostitutes.' A police officer told a young girl being raped would teach her not to hang around the wrong crowd.  


Or the shameful strip search of an innocent Black school girl known simply as Child Q.  


Research from the Centre for Women's Justice demonstrates how police perpetrated domestic abuse is less likely to result in a charge, prosecution, or conviction than the general public. Police officers often cover up for their colleagues when accused of domestic abuse and help their fellow officers remain employed in the police service.  


All of these acts of police abuse of power or brutality had female officers either present or directly involved.  




Academic research questions whether hiring more women and racialised minoritised officers is beneficial, as it can simply allow minoritised officers to uphold the same oppressive structures that disenfranchise marginal and minoritised populations.  


Across the pond, American police forces have many female and racialised police officers, but this has never stopped the wickedness of police violence toward Black Americans. Female officers on both sides of the Atlantic often knowingly participate in this culture or are complicit through silence.  


Officers are either ostracised or bullied out of the police service when they speak out. Frighteningly, female officers fear that officers will not answer their calls for backup or they will be assaulted. As such, they never speak out against police wrongdoing.  


Former Chief Constable Sue Fish of Nottinghamshire has spoken candidly about her experiences with sexism within the police force, which include two sexual assaults by senior male officers. Fish has spoken about the toxic culture she witnessed in policing and the feeling that officers who try to do good can become complicit in toxic cultures.  


Female police officers and racialised officers speak about the feeling that they must assimilate when joining the police. Former senior police officer Brian Paddick, who was once the Metropolitan Police (MPS) most senior gay officer, said he was told it was okay to be gay, Black, or a woman in the police service, provided you act like a straight White man.  


We must remember that women and racialised people have been within the British police force since the 1960s. This did not stop the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) from releasing a report earlier this February exposing a vicious culture of hate within the MPS. Black officers, especially Black female officers, have spoken about the sexism and misogyny that they experienced within the police service and how it, in their opinion, has gotten worse, not better, over the years.  


Former commissioner Dick was often supported by her male officers, specifically those within the police federation, due to her fierce defence of the police and her dismissal of institutional problems within the MPS. Dick saw problems in the MPS as the existence of a few bad apples rather than institutional. Dick was always unable to fully see the issues that plagued the MPS, itself indicative of the problem.  


Loyalty to officers was stronger than a sense of justice. After Dick's resignation, the Metropolitan police federation, in retaliation, declared it had no faith in London Mayor Sadiq Khan. An act that many viewed as deeply juvenile and a clear indication of the MPS' problems.  


It is naïve to believe that individuals do not hold up oppressive structures in institutions that they themselves are a part of. It should be no coincidence that the first female and openly gay commissioner denied institutional misogyny and racism within the MPS. As one moves up the ladder, they pull it up behind them.  


What Londoners needed was a commissioner that placed them first and gave all people a voice, more than we needed a gay woman who was complicit in sexist and racist policing practices and cultures.  


Representational politics needs to understand its limitations. If all we are fighting for is greater ethnic or female representation, but without an understanding of what it is for, we shall end up with photo opportunities and not equal opportunities.  


We must be reminded that women uphold sexism and misogyny in the very same way racialised minoritised people uphold White supremacy. We must understand that oppression is about structures and not individuals, and Cressida Dick's career is a clear example of that.

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