Boris Johnson is whipping up white, middle-class fear to enforce a racist policing agenda. It must be resisted

The prime minister’s vow to ‘come down hard on crime' is just code for the further policing and criminalisation of working-class black communities

Kuba Shand-Baptiste
Monday 12 August 2019 13:17
Boris Johnson seeks to keep ‘dangerous criminals’ in jail for longer with sentencing review

We’re living in terrifying times, according to the current government. Which, to be fair, isn’t entirely untrue. British politics is becoming more incomprehensible by the day; ever-unattainable climate emergency measures have cast a shadow over our already tenuous future; migrants are dying in droves at the hands of world leaders; we seem to be edging closer towards the threat of a global recession with every reactionary move authoritarian politicians make. And, of course, with the announcement of ever more divisive policies and political manoeuvres over Brexit, there is that grim reminder that Boris Johnson, Boris Johnson, is prime minister.

To the voters the Conservative Party is trying to appeal to, however, nothing is quite as scary as the prospect of the faceless, fearless, hooded menaces the government has wasted no time branding public enemy number one. To the minds of those voters, these youths, or, taking a leaf out of Hilary Clinton’s book – “superpredators” – are the real reason the country is going down the drain.

And those are precisely the people Johnson’s vow to “come down hard on crime”, with an announcement of an extra 10,000 new places in prisons and the extension of stop and search powers, will woo. Even if the man for the job is in the midst of doggedly tearing apart the very fabric of democracy with his ruthless pursuit of no-deal Brexit.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the prime minister expressed his wishes to “reverse the balance of fear. I want the criminals to be afraid – not the public.”

But given the number of black people disproportionately targeted by police through stop and search, it’s not exactly clear who the prime minister thinks the “public” really is. What is clear, is whose fear the government takes seriously over others.

Last year, The Independent reported black people in England and Wales were nine times more likely than white people to be searched, while months earlier, deaths in police custody reached a 10-year high, with many of those who died having had “mental health concerns”, according to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. These are literally matters of life and death – that have only been exacerbated by the Tories and who are now promising to harden their stance even further. It seems the people affected by these injustices aren’t worth listening to.

The faceless “thugs” Johnson alludes to in his article, are supposedly the real issue to tackle. They are “insolent”, apparently, roaming around by the dozens, brash and cocky, taking over entire cities and defacing public property with their graffiti. They are polluting the air with their violent drill music, stabbing random members of the public and police officers at will as meek, white, middle-class Britain cowers from the relative safety of its homes.

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To these “upstanding” people, the ones who overwhelmingly balk at the idea of having a Muslim prime minister – those who care not about the “significant damage to the UK economy” that a no-deal Brexit will undoubtedly cause – the only way to deal with this onslaught of criminal activity is to go nuclear.

Never mind the evidence that proves doing so does nothing to curb it. Never mind too, the wellbeing of the young people caught up in that violence, most of whom will not remotely benefit from being targeted by the state as well as the threats that await them on the streets.

The prime minister’s preoccupation with fear, like Priti Patel’s – “Quite frankly, with more police officers out there and greater police presence, I want [criminals] to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences” – is interesting, given Johnson’s derision of “the agents of Project Fear” during the 2016 Leave campaign.

Apparently, when it comes to winning votes, the only anxieties that matter are the ones based on fabrications and galvanised by racially and ethnically coded language. Imprisoned people who are already grappling with worsening conditions, overcrowding, increased rates of self-harm and a lack of support once they’ve left the criminal justice system, need not have their fears respected. Even if being consulted about addressing issues in prison leads to improvements, as the Prison Reform Trust has shown can be done.

The notion that longer sentences, which Johnson has also proposed, haven’t already been steadily climbing over the years, is bogus too. As are pretty much all of the proposals we’ve seen over the past few days, from 20,000 extra police officers, to an extra £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service to tackle the crime rate the new moves will drive up.

It was the eighth anniversary of the end of the London riots over the weekend. The fact that Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has warned about the potential for a repeat in light of Johnson’s announcements, should not be taken lightly. She’s right.

Still, the stage is set for a war on those whose lives are already ravaged by crime. And, frighteningly for some of us, our prime minister and his cabinet of masochists are only just getting started.

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