Policing is the Crisis

The Sarah Everard case, and the police crackdown that followed, have shown that police and prisons cannot keep us safe. Now it's time to take action.

6 min read

Two days ago, the Police, Crimes, Sentencing, and Courts Bill passed its second reading by a 359-263 vote with a Tory majority. Sisters Uncut have worked to oppose this Bill since it was first announced. And in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, we led four days of action to #KILLTHEBILL, not only for our collective right to protest and dissent, but because more police powers will place us in even greater danger. Because Sarah and all the other survivors and victims of police violence deserve more than the Government rewarding police officers with even more powers to control and confine us.

The consequences of this bill are far-reaching, and will lead to an increase in the number of survivors being arrested, especially working class women and women of colour. It will give police more power to digitally strip search survivors of gendered violence who report to the police. It will give police more powers to enact sweeping new stop and search powers, to increase surveillance, and to criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities. And perhaps most importantly, it will give police more power to decide where, when, and how we are allowed to protest systemic violence. The police are already drunk on power; giving them more is a grave mistake.

The Conservative Party’s warped vision of safety is an affront to all of us, and only an organised, relentless collective movement can oppose it. We intend to fight this Bill at every stage, because through principled resistance we strengthen and fortify the informal structures that will keep us safe—whether or not the Bill becomes law. The limits of political parties are becoming increasingly clear: when the Government abandoned its citizens during a global pandemic, it was radical mutual aid networks, food co-operatives, and unpaid acts of care that kept people alive. It was a shared belief in a better, more liveable world. This, is what we desperately need—not more police powers.

Through principled resistance we strengthen and fortify the informal structures that will keep us safe

This draconian legislation is intended to limit our right to gather, protest, to collectively organise. It is intended to imprison us, precisely because this is the way to suppress threatening mass movements. Anybody galvanised by this political moment has a responsibility—to themselves and others—to protect one another by any means necessary, and to give time, energy and resources to forces opposing the government at the grassroots. This means knowing your rights and making sure others know theirs, attending organising meetings in your local community, and thinking about ways to help one another outside of the bureaucratic and disempowering arms of the state.

As feminists that critique systems of power, whenever we critique the police, the prison system and the courts, we are always asked: what about the rapists? What about the domestic abusers, the street harrassers, the flashers? And to this we say: yes, what about them? When we are most likely to experience sexual violence from someone we know, what about the way our society is currently organised makes us safer? When the majority of our rapists are not in prison, how are we protected? When police officers subject us to violence, mock us in life and in death, we must acknowledge the truth that these systems do not work in our favour and never have.

When the majority of our rapists are not in prison, how are we protected?

This “what about” line of questioning is used to derail anti-carceral feminist practices. Those who use it opt for the symbolic force of rape because they cannot deal with the reality. The truth is, the police have never kept people safe from gender-based violence. The police routinely fail to investigate rape cases, and similarly take no action to address their own record of domestic abuse against women in the UK over the past 6 years.

It’s clear that the criminal justice system doesn’t prevent violence against women. It incubates it. The claim that only policing and prisons can protect women from violence acts as a righteous smokescreen for the realities of prisons in the UK: 53% of women in prisons are themselves victims of violence, and 19% of women experience self-harm due to traumatic experiences in prison. Women’s safety is being used as a pretext for extending the state’s capacity to police and imprison.

The reality is, when most women experience sexual violence, they are disbelieved, dismissed or retraumatised by the state. They are abandoned. When we boldly propose a different vision, we do so because we are invested in processes and methods that deal with harm in ways that will not expose us to more violence. For example, those who advocate the imprisonment of perpetrators of sexual violence do so in the belief that it rids society of danger. But prisons and policing systems themselves are rife with sexual violence and instances of suicide. This demonstrates that these systems do not address the root causes of violence.

When we boldly propose a different vision, we do so because we are invested in processes and methods that deal with harm in ways that will not expose us to more violence.

Sisters Uncut recognises that policing and prisons are violently racist systems that do nothing to decrease the chances of violence will being enacted on us. What could lessen the likelihood of our experiencing violence, on the other hand, are things such as radical and comprehensive sex education, expansive notions of gender, the abolition of exploitative work practices that condone and encourage abuse, properly funded domestic violence services, scaled-up community intervention, robust accountability processes, and a system of benefits that enables people to live comfortably so that they can escape abuse if they need to.

Evidence shows that investing in public services, spaces of refuge, and in approaches that deal with the causes of gendered violence, rather than merely treating this violence as if it were inevitable, is the only way to reduce levels of harm. The Tory Government wants to sell us a powerful lie: that more police power is the only way to stop our society descending into chaos. But what if we understood police as the agents of chaos? What if we understood that policing itself is the crisis? What if we recognised that the violence of the carceral system is not just a case of “bad apples”, but an inextricable part of the harmful system of policing? What about those communities for whom calling the police means deportation, detention, or death? We stand with these women. We stand with all the women forgotten by a so-called ‘system of protection’, and in doing so, we will continue to draw the connection between policing and peril. More police in our homes means more survivors in prison. More undercover cops means more women spied on and abused by the state. More police power means more silenced women.

After Sarah’s death, the outpouring of stories about women’s experiences of violence—in the home, in the street, at work—showed that gendered violence is an epidemic which structures the everyday lives of many women and gender non-conforming people. It determines the routes we take home, and whether we’re safe when we get there; it affects our safety at work, the clothes we wear, our relationships with our families, our sense of self, and our access to dignity and freedom. It would be impossible to hear these stories and not think that something should be done.

We cannot resign ourselves to the whims of a government that does not care whether we live or die.

But it is not just our stories and the sharing of our trauma that matters. It is what we do next—how we take action. We cannot resign ourselves to the whims of a government that does not care whether we live or die. We must resist. Resistance takes many forms: for anti-carceral feminists, resistance is multi-layered. Often we have to oppose not only the Government, but also certain elements of the Violence Against Women charitable sector, who are invested in the police and an assortment of other government institutions, including the Home Office, as a response to gendered violence. Recent events show that this approach has failed.

Killing the Bill is the first step in a long process to reclaim our power from institutions and violent men, in and out of prison, that place us in danger. Stream our open meeting and follow us on Twitter to be part of this movement.


Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut)

Sisters Uncut is an intersectional feminist direct-action collective that has been organising against Government cuts and state violence since 2014.