Spray Can

Spray Can – Roy Lichtenstein

Medium: lithograph, framed and glazed Date: 1963 Edition: 2000 Dimentions: 33.5cm x 26.5cm Estimated price: £800 – £2.000

Public signs Part I: Street Art

photo taken on Saturday, September 5, 2020 at Hackney Wick canal path East London.  Artist unknown.

I regret leaving my spray cans in The Netherlands. I was never part of a “street art” scene, but I (did) appropriate some of its features. I am working on cut-outs and stencils on cardboard right now. Some days ago, the online Dutch art magazine Mister Motley published an article written by artist Tom van Veen (the Netherlands, b. 1995) titled; Graffiti geeft tenminste nog het idee dat de publieke ruimte voor iedereen is (Graffiti still gives the idea that public space is for everyone).

My relation to public space changed a bit the last couple of months as I found myself walking up and down the canal paths in East London. Tom talks about his experience in Athens. Mount Lykavittos, a tourist location of Byzantine and Greek stories to be exact. Graffiti covers the marble walls. Southern European cities are known for their lively and present graffiti in the street scene, Tom van Veen writes in conversation with Jasper van Es, co-founder of the creative agency PAPERJAM. “Italy has a bigger understanding about what art can be.”1 says Jasper, as he’s located there at the time of writing.

But graffiti (/ street art) doesn’t have the same value all around the world. There’s some impressiveness about the skills some graffiti artists have; thin and thick lines and many different application techniques, a.o. depending on the amount of pressure and endurance painters apply to the nozzle of the can. I don’t know much about it to be honest. Spray paint has its own aesthetic, which is very different from a brushstroke. These are skills that I don’t own, things that you don’t learn in an art school. Some pieces are graphic, illustrative, like graphic-designer-word-art-text, some activistic and political, where I would describe other artists as plain commercial.. or vandals. It is difficult to explain something that you don’t quite understand. 

“You have activists picking up the spray cans and you have aerosol users picking up activism.”2 says Jasper. Graffiti and Street Art are different things. Street Art is often more political, and political messages can, at the same time, be used to create a character, an image, or alter ego. ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) can just be an ego play. 

After the death of George Floyd -and many others, among them Belly Mujinga from London-, Black Lives Matter pieces appeared on lots of city walls. “Graffiti is a way to reclaim public space for discussion”3 (Nicholas Mirzoeff, 2016) It connects people but, at the same time, is a form of self-representation. It is a game and the ‘rules’ are not fixed. Some are part of ‘the movement’, others (want to) look ‘bad’. Not so different from the art system; street art is a culture of  “me, me, me”. A culture of egos and alter egos.

You can’t stop unless you want to be forgotten. Maybe, it is not so much about fame or exposure, but about the name. The persona that the artist invented in their (art) world, for that to be famous. Tags are much like dogs piss, the people placing them seem to be very territorial.. marking it like dogs. They want to piss everywhere. “Every piece came from tagging like a piece is nothing more than a fat tag with outline and designs.”4

“Where I come from, it’s very frowned upon to go out into the street and write your name. It’s just not cool. If you’re gonna go ahead and take a risk, put yourself in danger, and then you end up writing your name, seriously that’s what you had to tell the world?”5 said Mohamed Fahmy, a.k.a. Ganzeer (an Egyptian artist from Cairo who created work in the street both during and after the Arab Spring revolution 2010-12) during an interview in 2015. He’s located in America right now, where protests that have enclosed the cities, and people are with police violence and tear gas. History repeats itself, but Egypt is not Tunisia. Greece is not Italy. London is not America, which isn’t Egypt either. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (American artist, 1960-1988) painted Defacement after fellow artist Michael Stewart was beaten to death by New York City police in September 1983, America. It was originally painted on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio in the days after Stewart’s death, but Keith had it cut out of the wall and framed. The painting is now privately owned and seldom displayed in public. Basquiat is, as a character, incredibly famous. People know, and enjoy the myth of him; the paint-splattered Armani suits, his friendship with Andy Warhol while dating Madonna. He and his actual work were incredibly political and critical of the art scene, but most people tend to forget about that.

April 8, 2010, street artist and vandal KATSU posted a video online, he allegedly tagged over Picasso’s “Girl before a mirror” at the museum of modern art in New York City. Only a few did believe those videos were real, but a statement formed while trashing the art (system) and criticizing the internet as a profit generator at the cost of the general public. 

Street artists and artists inspired by graffiti started exhibiting in galleries and art institutions during the 1970s and ’80s. Still, given street art origins -illegal, political actions- the relationship between the art world is, in general, a bit awkward. Have you ever been to the street art museum in Amsterdam? It seems like every bigger city has its own street art museum now. Why take it from the streets and put it into a gallery? 

“The city’s the best gallery I could imagine.”

JR  (French artist, b. 1983)

June 1 2020, 5art Gallery was looted in LA. The gallery represents international pop, urban street artists like Banksy, KAWS, Invader, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons. They are known to sell to international art collectors and celebrities. At the same time, a lot of graffiti was sprayed on walls and statues. “To some people, graffiti is destruction; evidence of criminality that goes hand-in-hand with looting and property damage. But in truth, graffiti is an artful form of communication that’s been an important part of the grand tradition of American dissent.”6 read an article in the Observer three days later. Spray paint can be washed away – even when difficult-, but human lives can’t be revived once lost. Their graffiti became glossy. Are they aware of the contradiction of self-promotion and blue-chip representatives? Is it as easily ethically to go commercial? And the bigger question is really, does your art lose meaning once you start selling what you’re doing?

Artlords (established in 2014) is a group of artists and volunteers painted almost 2,000 murals in Afghanistan. Some of their work is commissioned by UN agencies to highlight political messages. Their independent pieces are painted for a political debate, with messages of peace and social justice, targeting government corruption. Other groups want to evoke happiness and fun. Expressing oneself is the most important reason.

“To me it’s about inclusion and social justice. My intention is trying to be as educated as possible, but also being fearless about expressing myself.”7 said Shepard Fairey (American street artist and graphic designer, who’s most famous for his brand Obey and Barack Obama “Hope” posters) in an interview with the Guardian in 2017. Even though his statements and values are very inauthentic and mainstream; “racism is wrong, we should take better care of the environment, women deserve equal rights”, it’s the packaging -design- that matters.

In the pictures from the Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992-93) series taken by  English conceptual artist Gillian Wearing (1963-) strangers photographed holding a self-written sign. These signs are honest and personal. We don’t know the strangers’ names. Their anonymity is perhaps the reason Egyptian artist Ganzeer said that conceptual art is useless for the – Egyptian – revolution.8 The Occupy Wall Street signs, on the other hand, were personal and received honks from passing cars, likes and reblogs from the WeAreThe99% Tumblr even when the author stayed anonymous and when they weren’t shared in any Art spaces. Occupy Wall Street is years ago, today there is COVID-19-, Black Lives Matter-, Anti-racism- Defunding Police-, other days it is Extinction Rebellion; people eventually get tired of protesting. We have to pay rent, buy food, sell out… most people go home and things return to normal. Cardboard signs are thrown away and Street Art is overpainted. But they resonate within the public space.

The London Mural Festival started this September. There’s no topic or theme but is meant to brighten up the city’s streets. It is privately funded and showcases work from artists including 1UP, Camille Walala, Dale Grimshaw, Marija Tiurina, Gary Stranger, Mr. Cenz, Mad C Pref, Zabou and Seb Lester.

1 Tom van Veen, Graffiti geeft tenminste nog het idee dat de publieke ruimte voor iedereen is, Mister Motley https://www.mistermotley.nl/art-everyday-life/graffiti-geeft-tenminste-nog-het-idee-dat-de-publieke-ruimte-voor-iedereen-is September, 2, 2020

2 ibid

3 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World, an introduction to images, from self-portraits to selfies, maps to movies, and more (UK: Penguin Random House, 2016) Chapter 7: The Changing World

4 Kings And Toys, a SKINY film / docu, U.K’s Channel 4 – 1999, accessed through https://vimeo.com/170782956 4 September 2020

5 Bucky Turco & Aymann Ismail, The BANKSY of Egypt: Ganzeer goes “all American”, Animal New York http://animalnewyork.com/2015/banksy-egypt-ganzeer-goes-american/ January 29, 2015

6 Helen Holmes, Graffiti Is Important to the Tradition of American Dissent, the Observer https://observer.com/2020/06/graffiti-protests-american-dissent-art/ June 4, 2020

7 Janelle Zara, Shepard Fairey: ‘I’m not going to be intimidated by identity politics’https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/nov/14/shepard-fairey-new-exhibition-la-damaged November 14, 2017

8 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World, an introduction to images, from self-portraits to selfies, maps to movies, and more (UK: Penguin Random House, 2016) Chapter 7: The Changing World p. 161

Egyptian Horror Story

Egyptian Horror Story – Ganzeer

The print is a comment on back when the Egyptian people were coerced into choosing between the conservatism of Morsi and his Brotherhood, and the brutal dictatorship of Sisi and his military.

Material: digital print (paper/other) Date: 2013

The Battle of Orgreave

The Battle of Orgreave – Jeremy Deller

During the re-enactment of the 1984 miner strike the original strikers became actors in “historical” play, were they, with about 800 historical re-enactors and 200 former miners who had been part of the original conflict staged the battle that occurred within living memory.

Medium: re-enactment Date: 15 June 2001 – 17 June 2001 Location: Orgreave, Yorkshire (UK) Commissioned for: Artangel

In the Near Future

In the Near Future – Sharon Hayes

The piece, the Near Future is a 13 projector, 35 mm slide installation build from a series of iterations of actions that took place at locations of current or historic public speech or protest – Brussels, London, New York, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw – from 2005 to 2009. The actions involve the artist holding protest signs. The slogans on the protest signs are from past protests. 

Medium: performance based/multiple-slide-projection installation with 13 actions, 13 projections and 1,053 35mm slides Date: 2009

Sergeant June Ackland, Police Constable Kate McFay and Police Constable Jamila Blake

Sergeant June Ackland (Trudie Goodwin), Police Constable Kate McFay (Maxine Peake) and Police Constable Jamila Blake (Lolita Chakrabarti) –  Dawn Mellor

Three of the twenty works in Mellor’s Sirens series; paintings depicting female police officers from popular long-running British crime and detective TV dramas. 

Medium: oil paint on canvas Date: 2016 Collection: Tate Dimensions: 76×61cm

Tatlin’s Whisper #5

Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (original title: El susurro de Tatlin #5) – Tania Bruguera

two mounted policemen in uniform (one on a white horse and one on a black horse) patrol the exhibition space, guiding and controlling the audience by using a minimum of six crowd control techniques

Medium: performance, 2 people + 2 horses Date: 2008 Collection of: Tate

Posse comitatus

(from the Latin for “power of the county”)

Going back in history we learn that policing systems were community-based and implied collective responsibility. Where did this change? The complete story of policing; where, when and how the police system is formed is way too big to summarize or unfold with the little research that I have done so far. Police cultures are a subject of criticism, but most of us (me, myself) might be too quick to judge. Is my criticism justified? Because I don’t know what constitutes police culture. Is that what we read in academic literature and see on tv shows still a reflection of the same attitudes, behaviours and values that we witness in the police service today? Is this view burned into our collective memory that it supersedes all -structural, political, social, technological and economic- changes to policing and all changes to society too? From the American TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Psych, iZombie, Castle, 21 Jump Street to UK’s Broadchurch, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Vera, Marcella the Dutch Baantjer and Scandinavian The Bridge and Forbrydelsen (The Killing) just to name a few… other stories written by John Grisham, Karin Slaughter, Harlan Coben and those about Sherlock Holmes to the writings of Agatha Christie (according to some counts, the best-selling novelist of all time); I wonder what really changed.

Fictional stories that are based on our perception of the policing society are in abundance. Thus, I will only point out some non-fictional (historical) events, but leave many more out. There have been many transitional periods and the break between ‘old’ and ‘new’ is always incomplete. As for “Crime, as an abstract concept, was rarely discussed and the criminal, though a problem, was seen as a naturally sinful figure but not one that posed a major threat to the stability of society.”1 David Taylor, an English historian, wrote in 1998. Crime and criminality are huge concepts, even today, and are submitted to religious, socioeconomic and political processes rooted in morality. It is not always clear that a criminal act is immoral and not all immoral acts are criminal. Acknowledging that crime is -far from being absolute and moral- both a relative concept and a social and political construct, varying with time and place, I start this brief history in medieval England.

All adult men, who had substantially more influence than other groups -women, the poor- were bound together by mutual responsibility to keep the peace and protect their community. This system was called Frankpledge and can be traced back to the laws of King Canute II the Great of Denmark and England (d. 1035). He declared that every man must be part of a hundred, a local unit of government, to put up a guarantee in money for his good behaviour. So, they have grouped tithings headed by a tithingman. Each tithing, in turn, was grouped into a hundred, which was headed by a hundred-man who served as both administrator and judge. Each hundred was grouped into a shire, which was supervised by a shire-reeve.2 This is where the role of county sheriff comes from this name still exists in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United States. 

After England’s conquest by the Normans, a constable was added to the policing system.  This old French word stood for a designated person holding a public office, first and evolved to defining a person exercising a higher form of authority (connétable), its meaning continued to change in England though.

By the 13th century, however, only the unfree and landless men were bound to serve, since a freeholder’s land was sufficient pledge. This Frankpledge system seems not to have been imposed in every part of England though and began to decline in the 14th century. The “watch-and-ward” system in place -the (night) watch- primarily guarded the city gates and their duties later expanded to include lighting street lamps, calling time, watching for fires, and reporting other conditions. Yet, despite the addition of constables, the investigation and prosecution of crimes remained a private matter to be handled by the victims.3 It was everyone’s duty to maintain the king’s peace, and any citizen could arrest an offender.

1361, The Justice of the Peace Act began the process of centralizing the administration of justice in England. A magistrate is appointed on behalf of the crown to deal mostly with minor criminal matters.“Thieftakers” or “common informers” were bounty hunters that recovered stolen property and offered rewards for its return, as, at the time, constables and justices either were not paid at all or earned very little. This fee-based system was subject to abuse by *criminal networks ánd the system was corrupt, especially in the cities.

*Perhaps the most well-known story of exploitation of this fee-based system is the story of Jonathan Wild (c. 1682–1725). He organized the London underworld and systematically arranged to have goods stolen so that he could sell them back to the original owners. If a thief wished to remain independent of Wild’s crime ring he/she was brought to the authorities and sooner or later, hanged. Jonathan Wild’s reign as the “thief-taker general” lasted approximately seven-year. He too ended up at the end of a rope.

1682, the Edinburgh Town Guard was formed to implement and enforce a curfew, to be abandoned in 1817. Glasgow followed roughly a hundred years later with its own policing force. I read that there had been earlier attempts to establish professional police bodies in other cities, but most faded soon after they were implemented. 

1750, brothers Henry and John Fielding, both served as magistrates at Bow Street Court in London. To respond to the high level of crime in London, they decided to create a paid force. The organization was known as the Bow Street Runners.  However, there was no popular or governmental support for the creation of a white-collar, professional police force throughout England at that time.

1786, English politicians instituted a standing police force in Ireland, in response to serious challenges to English rule, namely The Dublin Police Act. It consisted of 40 horse police and 400 constables. The creation of the force encountered great resistance because it was perceived to be patterned after the French Gendarmerie Nationale, which it was. The Dublin police force was reformed in 1795 and 1808, but the English were held back to implement it at their own Island. 

1796, the Scottish economist Patrick Colquhoun (who’s considered the architect of modern policing) wrote A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, in which he applied business principles to police administration. And later A Treatise on the Functions and Duties of a Constable. 

1790, London’s Thames maritime traffic was huge at this time. Workers in manufacturing and production houses at the Isle of Dogs were lucky if they were paid any wages, which meant that they had to ‘steal’ small quantities of stock from their employers to keep ongoing. This was rather customary back then. Whether it was warehouse labourers drinking the rum maturing in the storehouses, a printer retaining a copy of every book he assembled, or shipbuilders taking leftover timber for their own use, it was not unlike how a contemporary retail worker might be given a discount on clothing to wear during her shift, or a café waiter given excess pastries at the end of the day. Or a few pints of beer, like I always got after working a shift in a bar. And perhaps some start-up employees get to own a share of the company as part of their salary. Merchants on the other hand mostly saw it as theft. They wanted wage workers that were paid for their time and nothing more. Until that point, London had no police force. There was no professional body of officers under state control and the constables and night watchmen that existed in various areas were unprofessional, underpaid and corrupt. John Harriott was a farmer, businessman and magistrate who came up with a plan for a professional police force. Other police forces had never really worked out before.4 

1798, The Marine Police Office opened as a kind of pilot program, an experiment. Here, officers were paid and uniformed at the wet docks, here they supervised the workers, kept an eye on ships and cargo, enforced working hours, paid wages and brought misbehaving workers to the magistrate. It was successful and Westminster (a London Borough, casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally) was convinced to support the project. And the Marine Police Office came under state authority in 1800, now funded by the public. Colquhoun wrote a lot about this experiment on the River Thames. He wanted to spread his vision of policing, which was deeply bound to economics around the world. His model of surveillance, the spectacle of force and social control offered an economical and effective way of maintaining order. This was to be achieved by a moral transformation that involved the criminalization of idleness and a revision of the sense of injustice that made workers feel entitled to a decent share of the fruits of their labour. Defending the rich against the poor in the pursuit of order and faith in the state to protect people from the threat of disorder. Its role is to create crime (by defining its means) while also preventing it. The Marine Police Office was important.

1829, Sir Robert Peel, a British Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and twice as Home Secretary established the Metropolitan Police. He’s seen as the father of modern British policing. His “Bobbies” patrolled the streets of London as he tried to preserve social order during his time in the colonial occupation of Ireland. This model was deemed to be useful in the newly formed United States of America too, where immigration and industrialization caused social and political disorder and confusion. American elites and their capitalism relied on slavery and needed clearance of the land by its (original) inhabitants. For more background on the American story, I’d like to refer to text written by Alex Vitale and his book The End of Policing. New York and London: Verso. 2017.

(Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images) https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/the-rise-of-the-great-british-bobby-a-brief-history-of-britains-police-service/

1835, The Municipal Corporations Act required the establishment of a police force under the control of a watch committee.

1856, Parliament officially passed the County and Borough Police Act. The uniformed new police force was dressed first in black jackets and tall wool hats with shiny badges and later in blue rather than the military red, but still a centralized, quasi-military hierarchy. The authority of the police shouldn’t derive from politicians but from the crown, the law, and the consent of the citizenry—Sir Robert Peel aimed to distinguish the English police from the military to get the foundation of policing by respect. And should not be armed with firearms. In London, the policemen were identified with the politician who created them that they were referred to as “Peelers” or—as I did earlier—“Bobbies,” after the popular nickname for Robert.5

Every person in a county shall be ready and apparelled at the command of the sheriff and at the cry of the country to arrest a felon whether within a franchise or without, and in default shall on conviction be liable to a fine, and if default be found in the lord of the franchise he shall forfeit the franchise to the Queen, and if in the bailiff he shall be liable besides the fine to imprisonment for not more than one year, or if he have not whereof to pay the fine, than two years.

section 8, Sheriffs Act 1887 (as passed)

This law called posse comitatus, which translates Latin to English “power to the country” originated in the ninth-century in England. It is generally obsolete throughout the world, it remains somehow, part of the United States legal system. Posse comitatus permits the sheriff of a county to call every civilian to his assistance to catch a person who had committed a felony—that is, a serious crime. Fining those who did not comply. The provisions for posse comitatus were repealed by the Criminal Law Act 19676 states Wikipedia. It provided for the sheriff to take “the power of the county” if he faced any resistance while executing a writ, or warrant and provided for the arrest of resistors as well. This part is still in force. It allows a sheriff to call upon the police while seizing the property. 

The so-called ‘new-police’ force was completed and detectives and inspectors were added. “Problems begin with definition. Paid policing did not begin in 1829.”7 wrote David Taylor. Intention does not always guarantee outcome. “[T]he new police were only responsible to the community in the most generalized and vague manner.” The newness of the new police settled, and they endured, in effectively acting as agents of the ruling elite, re-acting on their behalf. As stand-in’s or proxies they enforce their codes of behaviour and responsibilities to them. Peel was most certainly aware of the function of Police as both bringer of “order and decorum to the streets of London as well as to fight crime.”8 And I’d not prefer privately- over publicly paid forces, so I agree with the establishment as a public service.

“Position of the law through the police in the 19th century wasn’t about the protection of property in person but about the regulation of efficient order and the protection from radical change.” says Lewis Waller in his video called “The Fist of Modernity” on his YouTube channel dedicated to short historical and political video essays “Than & Now”. The term ‘move along’ became the most common thing an officer would say. According to Taylor, the second quarter of the 19th century had “[t]he middle classes soon appreciated the benefits of the new police. They were the most direct beneficiaries of police actions that curtailed political disturbances and reduced the level of street crime. Working-class attitudes were less clear-cut. For the politically active, admittedly a small number, there were obvious grounds for concern. Meetings of working-class radicals were kept under surveillance and infiltrated by police spies who posed a real threat to constitutional liberties.”9

There were continuing attempts to transform the streets of London, while hostility to the police was a part of both urban and rural life. Policemen saw the control of public space as fundamental. Anti-police riots and fights between police and soldiers were not that uncommon. The second quarter of the 19th century constructed the start of ‘new’ policing, but it was only in the second half of this century that a ‘professional’ force was created.

In 1869, the introduction -and later the improvement- of the criminal record system with the use of photography and fingerprinting in 1902.10 By 1903 the English police had two police cars. Six years later they began using bicycles. The number of policemen increased from about 20 500 in 1861 to 54 300 by 1911.11 But “[b]ecoming a policeman was one way of effecting a move to a town, a temporary phase, a bridge to a better job.” and almost always taken by unmarried men in their mid-twenties. For quite some time, “unlike other working-class groups, a policeman’s wife was not allowed to take employment on her own behalf, which permanently limited the couple’s income. The fear was that a policeman’s working wife might be tempted to use influence or be put under pressure because of her husband’s job. Police officers were meant to appear as members of the ‘respectable working class’ (even if their pay was so much lower), and the wives of such men did not work. The first women police officers were recruited during the First World War.” wrote Clive Emsley, the author of The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present (Quercus, 2009). But “in 1922 the Home Secretary, Sir Edward Shortt, proposed the complete abolition of the women’s section of the Metropolitan Police. His insistence that the work of the women police was ‘welfare work … not police work proper’, and that they only kept down crime ‘with the sense in which the schoolmaster keeps down crime, and the clergyman and the Sunday-school teacher’”12 he wrote 18 years earlier (Routledge, 1991, 1996).

Honestly, the most important duty of the police officer was (intensive) patrolling. Civilians had to know that there’s always police nearby. Always someone on the watch. Towards the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries, notably in parts of London’s East End, the Jews were not ‘criminal’ as the Irish had been, but seemed to take the interest of the police just as much. Anti-semitism and racism have always played a part of the police, possibly originating from a superiority on the part of white Britons as creators of an empire. But overall, the police were close to its community and they had become the beloved ‘bobby’. Constables in uniform would walk down the street, observing and being observed by the general public. This changed when they ceased to be part of society and became part of traffic, it changed when they arrived after the fact. This change correlates directly with the rise of crime around that time. The numbers of police officers increased again and again and they were lavished with cash and their tools improved. The number of separate forces went down instead in the name of rationalisation to increase efficiency. 

“In addition to the Metropolitan Police Training School at Peel House, eight district training schools were established in the aftermath of the war to provide a uniform instructional grounding for all recruits.”13 But in the two decades following the Second World War finding recruits was hard. Thus, a fictional English Bobby character was created that went by the name of PC George Dixon. “Dixon first appeared in a feature film, The Blue Lamp, made with the co-operation of Scotland Yard and premiered in 1950.”14 They try to be more convincing with their shiny toys like; (advanced) computers, high tech equipment, better uniforms, helicopters, expensive vehicles and CCTV and so on. If the police officers, Bobbies, were respected citizens in uniform watching out over other citizens just as the character of Dixon -and other on TV characters- which are used as a benchmark against which the behaviour of police is to be measured; why did this need to change if it was so good at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour? Why has there been no backlash to this ‘new’ style of policing? ~complete faith in technology perhaps? The result was that everything took more time and more people power. Yes, you read it right. Technology made policing less efficient, even though it promised more order and less idleness.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35220929

Some other events in British police culture: 

1915, Edith Smith was appointed the first woman police constable in England with the full power of arrest. Her duties were to deal with cases where women were involved, mostly prostitution. She was paid 28 shillings (£1.40 a week), raised to £2 10 shillings (£2.50 a week). 26 June 1923, she overdosed on morphia, taking her own life, five years after leaving the force. 1937, the 999 emergency number was created.15 

1946, Police Act 1946 passed. This abolished nearly all non-county borough police forces in England and Wales. This left 117 police forces.16 

1967, Norwell Roberts became the first black police officer in modern Britain. 

1978–1982, at a total cost of £3 million Operation Countryman was an investigation into police corruption in London. Eight police officers were prosecuted, though none were convicted. 

1984, the time spent at a police station increased after the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). The 1981 Brixton riots and the Scarman report led to the passage of this Act. [see: Protest!] Its purpose was to unify police powers under one code of practice and to balance carefully the rights of the individual against the powers of the police. -I am not necessarily saying this is bad, but it is some bureaucratic shit placed on top of old-fashioned policing. Waiting for (other) police units after making an arrest, booking in, waiting, more waiting, papers, more papers, logging, waiting, searching, evaluating, monitoring… but still, the prison population only grows. There are  currently 150 prisons in the UK, if I counted correctly. England and Wales count a prison population of 83,329 people in 2020.17 Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) is in charge of managing the public prisons, while private companies (including G4S and Serco) run several prisons for the day to day basis since the 1990s too.

HMP Cardiff – 4.1 stars, 16 reviews

HMP Birmingham – 2.1 stars, 14 reviews

(https://www.gosocial.co/the-top-15-prisons-in-the-uk-as-voted-for-by-ex-inmates/) back when Google allowed reviews of prisons 😂

“We can’t fight racism while embracing homophobia, any more than we can fight mass incarceration by embracing a politics of punishment”


Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing 2017

1999, Metropolitan Police are described as “institutionally racist” by Sir William Macpherson, after his public inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder case; an investigation into the black teenager’s racially-motivated murder had failed to lead to a conviction.18

“The foundations of modern policing are based not on justice, but on the punishing of poverty, the imposition of the status quo, the disciplining of the public, the constriction of liberty, and justified as the protection against an ugly, sinful, idle, greedy, and organised criminal class that has no basis in reality.” Lewis Waller explains it so well. I recommend you watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-mD0MCBDs

 1999, Four years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder (1993 black 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in south-east London in a racist attack. His killers remained unconvicted and weren’t locked up until loooooong after) The Macpherson report was published, saying there was “institutional racism” in London’s Metropolitan Police.

2001, The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was created. It investigated crimes committed over the Internet, such as hacking, card fraud and other hi-tech crimes involving the use of computers and telecommunications equipment. It ceased to exist on 1rst of April 2006, when it transferred to the e-crime unit of the UK’s new Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Which reformed and merged again in 2013 becoming the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU).

2002, introduction of Police Reform Act 2002. Introduced Community Support Officers (or police community support officer (PCSO)) in England and Wales only. They are uniformed members of police staff, but not Police Constables although they have certain specific powers of a constable, e.g. concerning lawful detention, those powers vary between forces. In Scotland, PCSO stands for police custody and security officers, also known by the slang nickname “turnkeys”, their job is very different from the community support officers in England and Wales (and I don’t quite know what it entails). Unlike police constables, there is no set training procedure for PCSOs, but it is at least six weeks. Their function is somewhat similar to the BOA in The Netherlands.

2014, Brittan counted 3,000 allegations of police corruption and only half of them were properly investigated.19

2015, have you heard the theory of the ‘total policeman’? Allow me to explain Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe’s theory which he calls ‘total policing’.  Think about sports, about football in particular. It’s the theory of coppers having to play in all positions. It seems harmless at first, but it contains an extremely sinister subtext. Hogan-Howe explained this philosophy saying that ‘no legal tactic is out of bounds’ in the investigation of crime. “Reasonable enough, one might think at first glance, but the problem with this catchy little mantra is that it takes no account of proportionality.”20 wrote Neil Darbshire in 2015. It discards the police from being a service and back towards being a coercive, violent force. And what value has the integrity of the police within this philosophy? If the police top is stretching the law and using their power to bully and intimidate, it encourages other officers to -think they can- do the same. There are plenty of stories out there of whistleblowers being treated not as honourable but as traitors. The total policeman is a culture of power abuse and semi-criminal behaviour that becomes normal.

2016, forces across England and Wales received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain i.e sexual misconduct against 306 police officers, 20 police community support officers and eight staff this year.21

Protest!

Between 10 and 12 April 1981, Brixton riots, or Brixton uprising, were the first large scale racial confrontations between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Brixton, situated in the borough of Lambeth, South London, England. There was a high unemployment rate, bad housing conditions, and in many places in the country, there was racial tension and poor relationships with the police. Sixty-five percent of those unemployed people were black people. During the five days in early April leading up to the riots, there were 943 stop and searches in Brixton infuriating the local population and creating tensions between white police officers and black youths. 

Friday, April 10, 1981, two police officers were attempting to help an injured young black man in their car.  A group of young black men, misinterpreting the police officers’ actions as harassment and attacked the car. The crowd of youths grew larger and more hostile, police reinforcements arrived and they basically didn’t stop patrolling Brixton that night.

Saturday, April 11, 1981, was the worst day of riots. The young black men were now joined by young whites and looting began; several attacks on shops and bars, police vans were overturned and bricks, bottles, and petrol bombs were thrown, setting fire to both police and private cars. It kept going on but finally died down on Sunday the 12th. Overall, 7,000 police officers had been involved in those three days. They arrested a total of 282 people, most of whom were black.22 

There were many more protests to come as protesting has been an important way for people to get their voices heard throughout history. Only four years earlier the Battle of Lewisham took place on 13 August 1977. 500 Members of the far-right National Front (NF) marched from New Cross to Lewisham in southeast London. There were various counter-demonstrations and it led to violent clashes between those groups and between the anti-NF demonstrators and police.23 The Miners’ Strike happened a few years later (1984‒1985), it turned violent and was involved with frequent clashes between miners and the police. The Poll Tax Riots (1990) with an estimated crowd of 200,000 counted on mounted riot police that was brought in fueling anger in Trafalgar Square to escalate the rioting; shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, and Covent Garden. Police ordered pubs to close. I’m not even listing The Troubles in Northern Ireland (yet). “Kill the Bill” (1994) demonstrations in London, against The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that introduced several changes to the law, most notably in the restriction and reduction of existing rights, clamping down on unlicensed rave parties, and greater penalties for certain “anti-social” behaviours. Prior and following multiple LGBTQA+ rights protests, anti-war protests and the United Kingdom student protests (2010), concerns over climate change, Black Lives Matter… just to name a few where police use their tactics for controlling large crowds. 

Kettling (also known as containment or corralling) is a tactic whereby protesters either leave through an exit controlled by the police or are contained, prevented from leaving, and arrested. This was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012, but is -still!- often used. Deploying the Territorial Support Group (TSG) -formally known as Special Patrol Group 1961 to 1987-, which is a Met Operations unit of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Who are identified as TSG from the distinctive “U” in their shoulder numbers. Their vans are equipped with mesh window shields and officers are equipped with acrylic glass riot shields, visored ‘NATO’ helmets, shin and elbow guards, along with fireproof coveralls. TSG do their special training every five weeks as a matter of routine at a specialist training centre in Kent. TSG officers are equipped with cuffs, batons and tear gas, like all English officers. Some officers (AFOs) carry a semi-automatic carbine, a Baton Gun (riot gun) and a taser. And the question is if the presence of the TSG caused (more) violence in those protests.24 

copied from the Instagram story of Elle Stanger @stripperwriter/

You, a copper?

When I write about the Police, I write about the organisation and the identity and culture of this organisation and it should not be confused with personal identity (in this case how individual police officers define themselves). Even though this is not always disconnected.

“As budgets for these agencies continuously grow, out of all proportion to the risk to public safety they supposedly guard against, this history helps explain the phenomenon.” writes O’shea in Future Histories. The Government is proposing a total settlement for the policing system of up to £15.2 billion in 2020/21, which is an increase of up to £1,121 million compared to 2019/20.25 This includes £700m for the recruitment of 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021. In most cases, you don’t need a degree to join the police force, a minimum Level 3 qualification such as an A-Level or equivalent is fine. This varies between different forces. With a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) you earn and learn on the job, and you’ll end up with a degree in Professional Policing Practice at the end of the programme, but there are multiple entry routes possible (like the Traditional (IPLDP) route or college/ university courses).26 After two years as a student officer before becoming police, constable officers can specialise in a particular type of policing. The average starting salary is £21,000 a year, and £41,500 when an officer is more experienced. If aged 13 to 18 you could become a police cadet, the fastest-growing volunteering uniformed youth group.27 They volunteer in their community and will not directly make them future police officers.

But there are enough coppers already, I’d argue. England and Wales counted 124,784 police officers in 2019, that means 211 per 100,000 citizens police officers.28 This is not the only way of over-policing. The government (i.e. we, the tax paying citizens) provides £516 million for police technology (including £18m of capital funding) this year. 29 Investing in “sobriety tags” and 24-hour GPS tagging..“Keeping our streets safe is one of the people’s priorities- we are already delivering on this by hiring 20,000 new police officers and building 10,000 new prison places.” said Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor.30 

And with the leftover money the Government wants to provide extra (online) resources for victims of rape and sexual abuse, including a single digital hub. Sounds good you say? After reading and hearing so many experiences from other people that experienced (a.o. intimate partner) violence I too was afraid to be treated as a criminal suspect, instead of questioned as a rape victim. I was afraid of going to the police, mostly because it wás the police. Money won’t fix this and neither would intensifying their use of/ faith in technology. In other cases digital technology -too- is creating new ways to criminalize people, specifically those who are already oppressed. How “they” decide what is “criminal” is much like the eighteenth-century Marine Police Office created their ideas of criminality through its work to prevent crime (by protecting the people with money). By generating technical solutions regarding crime -the state as fictional safety provider-, a category of people are classified as criminal. The police or poling power in place trains us to fear them. Can you, for yourself re-define what it means to be safe? That would be a great alternative to the police. 

Abolish the police

The history of policing helps us understand key aspects of the state’s management and their reasoning behind conducting state affairs in the digital age. We are taught about public safety through law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They tell us what is safe, how to understand and define it, and thus we allow them to use technology in increasingly oppressive ways. We cannot reform our way out of systematic problems. Reforms have been attempted before; implicit bias training, body cameras, the ban of chokeholds, amongst others. These reforms do not work. They are simply surface bandages on a deep rooted issue. 

I want you to envision a world without police, just for a moment. Now imagine you are experiencing a mental health crisis and you are afraid. What do you do? You call +331 and a first responder trained in mental health comes to your door. One hour later you are in a safe place with your consent, with plans for follow up care.

Now imagine yourself walking in Victoria park and you see a homeless person sleeping on a bench. A city employee comes by and checks if they need a place to sleep, food, water, or healthcare. One hour later, those who want another place to sleep have one. 

Now imagine you don’t feel safe in your neighbourhood where incidents of gun violence are rising. A trauma-informed crisis intervention team works with community activists to disarm and de-escalate conflicts. People doing harm are connected to services that address the underlying problem. 

New scenario: imagine someone is behaving erratically and is in harm’s way. You text a number and an unarmed urgent responder trained in behaviour and mental health comes within 5 minutes. An hour later, that person is safe and getting the support they need. 

Or, someone seems to be snooping in car windows on your block. You call your neighbours who are trained in self-defence and de-escalation who help you approach the person. An hour later the conflict is resolved & the person responsible is getting the support they need.

And imagine you are experiencing intimate partner violence and you are able to text a number & a trauma-informed crisis intervention specialist meets you in a safe space. An hour later, you are working together to make a plan that will keep you safe in the long term. 

Now you are driving in your car, and you don’t realize but your brake lights aren’t working. A city employee signals for you to pull-over, says “Hey-how about I replace those lights for you right here so no one gets hurt?”. An hour later, both lights work & you’re at home.

Isn’t this public safety?

I took these scenarios from @melegirma/’s Instagram, text by @conflicttransformation from her Alternatives to Policing flyers. Thank you for sharing these, I hope it’s okay for me to use them in my blog. Please look and listen to BIPOC leaders building alternatives to policing in your communities. Let’s imagine how another world is possible.

Final note:

I think that we can all agree that culture is more than its history and plain facts, especially when we speak of an organisation. The approach of corporate analysts might be that an organisation has a culture, however malleable, manipulable and open for change. Within academia is the idea that culture is what an organisation is, is a common approach. Here, culture -as root metaphor- is not easily changed. I’m interested in the form and function of this culture. A culture of policing that is formed through collective memory, zombie stats, (zombie) collectives and zombie ideas (or brain virus); mental programming. I wonder how these constructs play out in our on- and offline realities. To properly unfold these constructs we’d have to look at both micro- and macro- levels that ground our perception.

1 David Taylor, Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1750–1914 (UK: Macmillan Press LTD, 1998)

2 https://www.britannica.com/topic/police/The-history-of-policing-in-the-West

3 ibid

4 a lot of this paragraph is a summarization of Lizzie O’Shea, Future Histories, What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology (London, New York: Verso, 2019) chapter 3: Digital Surveillance cannot make us safe: policing bodies and time on London’s docks

5 Elizabeth Nix, Why are British police officers called “Bobbies”?, History https://www.history.com/news/why-are-british-police-officers-called-bobbies updated 22-8-2018 Accessed 4-8-2020

6 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/58/schedule/3/part/III

7 David Taylor, CRIME, POLICING AND PUNISHMENT IN ENGLAND, 1750-1914 Chapter: 4 The Origins and Impact of the New Police, p. 72

8 ibid

9 ibid

10  Lewis Waller, The Fist of Modernity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-mD0MCBDs 8 mei 2020

11 David Taylor, CRIME, POLICING AND PUNISHMENT IN ENGLAND, 1750-1914 Chapter: 4 The Origins and Impact of the New Police, p. 96

12 Clive Emsley, The English Police A Political and Social History Second Edition (London, New York: Routledge, 1996) 

13 ibid

14 ibid

15  http://www.localhistories.org/police.html

16https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_law_enforcement_in_the_United_Kingdom

17 https://www.prisonstudies.org/

18 Sanchia Berg, How a 1970s policeman changed his mind, BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35220929 5 January 2016

19 Neil Darbyshire, The shocking truth about police corruption in Britain, The Spectator https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-shocking-truth-about-police-corruption-in-britain From magazine issue: 7 March 2015

20 ibid

21 Jamie Grierson, Hundreds of police in England and Wales accused of sexual abuse, the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/08/hundreds-police-officers-accused-sex-abuse-inquiry-finds  8 Dec 2016

22 Felix Brenton, BRIXTON RIOTS (APRIL 10-12, 1981), BlackPast.org https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/brixton-riots-april-10-12-1981/  13 june 2010

23 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lewisham

24 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_Support_Group

25 HO News Team, Factsheet: Police Funding Settlement 2020-21,https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/22/factsheet-police-funding-settlement-2020-21/ 22 January 2020

26 https://www.joiningthepolice.co.uk/ways-in-to-policing

27 https://vpc.police.uk/be-a-cadet/

28https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_number_of_police_officers

29 HO News Team, Factsheet: Police Funding Settlement 2020-21 https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2020/01/22/factsheet-police-funding-settlement-2020-21/ 22 January 2020

30 Charles Hymas, Criminals’ community sentences will be toughened up thanks to £100m Budget boost, Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/03/09/criminals-community-sentences-will-toughened-thanks-100m-budget/ 9 March 2020