If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of today’s real news story: the United Kingdom is a police state. Squats – social centres as well as homes – have been raided across London by the Metropolitan police ahead of tomorrow’s inane festival of jingoism. I was sadly tied up with far too much to go down and show solidarity outside any of the squats earlier, so I hope offering my analysis here could help in some small and peculiar way.
I don’t like to bandy around the term “police state”. Like Godwin‘s law, it surfaces all too quickly whenever the state acts in a particular way which someone feels to be too gross an encroachment into their daily life. For me it mostly conjures mental images of Daily Mail readers cursing a new “health and safety” ruling over their breakfast. And besides, every state necessarily polices – otherwise it would not be a state at all.
According to the Met, arrests in the “proactive raids” tallied 20 between three addresses – 19 of whom are to be charged with “abstracting electricity.” We know this to be false. A second wave of arrests occurred this evening (this time, it seems, perhaps not even against squatted buildings). And contrary to the Met’s announcement, sources have indicated that a number of those arrested are being charged with various public order offences, unrelated to the warrants to search for “stolen goods” apparently obtained against some of the centres.
In reality the number of arrestees is likely to be much higher and the grounds for arrest much more serious than what the police would have us believe. At least a significant number of arrestees from one squat have been, I am told, detained under counter-terrorism legislation which permits the detention of suspects for up to 28 days without trial. Presumably the intention is to spoil the victims’ Mayday weekends and kill two birds with one stone, as the state sees it.
This is not anomalous. Today’s raids follow on the invasion of two Brighton squats yesterday. Last week the police provoked a riot in Bristol when they raided a squat. On Tuesday six “anarchists” were arrested for public order offences allegedly committed on March 26th – on this occasion the police admitted they were motivated by “fear” that the group could be planning to disrupt the royal wedding.
On the same day it emerged that Alfie Meadows, a student who required emergency brain surgery after being struck by a police baton on the December 9th tuition fees protest, was among a number of young men being suddenly charged with violent disorder. Of course the fallout from this will likely deter all eleven from participating in any political action for quite some time beyond just this week. Most importantly of all, we see in this that the judicial and executive arms of the start are beginning to move in tandem, openly, to strike against the state’s perceived enemies.
The developments this week have truly merited the term “police state”. Without so much of a hint that any sizeable protest or “disruption” would take place tomorrow, the police have all but completed the narrative that they began to write for the royal wedding quite some time ago. As North London Solidarity Federation have pointed out, most anarchists have been planning on taking “a nice day off and avoiding the telly.”
Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens gave the game away today, saying: “We want to make this a celebration of joy and pageantry.” What she really meant to say was: “We will banish The Other so that everyone can intoxicate themselves with their most unsettling delusions of social peace and class harmony. We want to make this a spectacle of anaesthesia and obedience.”
Truthfully, the police probably knew no “disruption” was in the offing, but in rounding up the bad and the ugly (as the media invariably sees them through their lens of blood and soil) a day beforehand, they can only benefit. If the day goes smoothly, the police will be praised and their tactics will appear vindicated. If there is some level of disruption, the police will plead for more money and more power to curb the threat to “public order”. Either way, the police’s discretionary violence against could-be-criminals is extended and normalised. All in the name of the state, and all for its stability.
Is this political policing? Well, yes. But then to the definition all policing is political. The modern police force was founded as a political force of sorts – to protect private property from the hungry masses. Sustaining “law and order” will always ultimately amount to keeping people in their places: protecting the formal “equality” of the law which demands that the exploiter takes no more than he extracts, and the exploited no more than she is given. The most accurate of the police’s claims today must surely be the one that the raids are “routine”.
What has occurred today is one step beyond even this. The theorist Walter Benjamin wrote in his Critique of Violence 90 years ago that “the ‘law’ of the police really marks the point at which the state … can no longer guarantee through the legal system the empirical ends that it desires at any price to attain”. Therefore, the police will “intervene ‘for security reasons’ in countless cases where no clear legal situation exists”. It is ultimately irrelevant to dwell on whether what happened today was strictly lawful or not. The chicanery is clear, and it seems certain that it was no strict legal basis or judicial need for the raids. The police, with their autonomy to conflate lawmaking and law-preserving power, have not so much infringed the rules of the game but abided by them properly.
We have arrived in the territory of thoughtcrime. This is especially highlighted by the simple fact that even those arrested are not being charged with any kind of conspiracy. They are potential threats of disorder, potential denuders of the spectacle. Potential signposts to the world as it should be, reminding us all of the world as it is.