Socialist Worker

Why are police officers so prone to bigotry?

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2298

The racism scandal sweeping the police has smashed the notion that bullying and bigotry are confined to a small number of rogue officers.

Suddenly the routine harassment that young black and Asian people face is visible to all—and everyone seems to understand that this is the tip of a very large iceberg.

So why is racism endemic among the police? And why does it grow there while being forced to retreat elsewhere in society?

The answer lies in the very function of law and order in capitalist society.

Despite all the crime-busting cops on TV, the primary role of the police is not to solve murders but to protect the property, power and privilege of those at the top of society from those at the bottom.

That is why all of the most prejudiced and backward ideas in our society are to be found in the greatest concentration among the constabulary.

From their earliest days in training to their long hours in the station canteen, officers learn that there is a hierarchy—and that the young, the working class and those with darker skin colours sit at the bottom of it.

From there they absorb the hateful notion that black youth in particular are “predisposed” towards criminality.

The job of the police is to keep black people “in their place”—and to issue beatings to let them know what happens if they disobey.

That’s why black people are 30 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales. As far as the cops are concerned, black youths “fit the profile”.

This is why police, including senior investigators, assumed that Stephen Lawrence was involved in gang violence after he was murdered by racists in 1993.

Chief constables are now desperately trying to distance themselves from the grunts on the ground.

They are terrified that their efforts to present the police as a “modernising institution” have turned to dust.

But if top cops genuinely wanted to bring an end to this roll call of shame, they could make a start by putting an end to stop and search—and by sacking any police officer implicated in racism.

Yet they refuse to do even this. That tells us the solution to police bigotry and racism will never emerge from within the force’s ranks.

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