More cops, more weapons and more powers to use them and detain people. That’s what cops and commentators are demanding after Khalid Masood’s attack on parliament on Wednesday.
There have already been calls to arm more police after the attack, including from Tory MP Theresa Villiers. Armed cops have been seen patrolling in towns and cities across Britian. And the Met has deployed huge bombproof vehicles on the streets of Westminster.
It comes as newspapers whip up suspicion against Muslims, and areas with large Muslim populations.
Yesterday, Saturday, former Met Police commissioner Ian Blair said cops should get powers to monitor encrypted messaging services such as Whatsapp.
Masood had allegedly been active on the mobile messaging app two minutes before the attack.
“The police and intelligence services should have that power,” Blair said. “This will become a crucial part of all intelligence efforts to defeat Isis.”
But the changes aren’t about defeating Isis. They’re about stepping up surveillance on ordinary people and giving more power to the cops to use against everyone.
The British state has consistently used attacks like Wednesday’s to increase its repressive powers. Blair’s calls echo similar demands after the London bombings on 7 July 2005.
Just over a week after the bombings the government announced that “armed police officers could be given more aggressive shoot to kill orders, telling them to fire at the heads of suicide bombers”.
Seven days later armed police fired seven bullets into the head of a wholly innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, at Stockwell tube station, killing him.
As Met commissioner at the time, Blair misled the public over the circumstances surrounding de Menezes’s death. He claimed Jean Charles was acting suspiciously before he was shot at point-blank range.
Blair has since been given a knighthood. The officer in charge of that operation, Cressida Dick, now has his old job at the top of the Met.
Giving cops more powers today will lead to further racist scapegoating and political harassment.
The number of black people stopped and searched under anti-terrorism laws rose by at least 322 percent after the 2005 attacks. The number of Asian people stopped under the same laws has rose by 277 percent.
And since 2001 a slew of “anti-terror” legislation has increased the state’s ability to lock people up without trial.
The 2001 Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act allowed detention without trial of foreigners suspected of terrorism. It was later declared illegal.
The Terrorism Act of 2006 gave cops and security services the power to detain people suspected of terrorism for up to 28 days without charge. In a typical pattern, the Labour home secretary Charles Clarke made it clear the plans had been considered before the 2005 bombings. In the new atmosphere they could now be pushed through.
Looking back even further, the government responded to the Birmingham pub bombing of November 1974 with a Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act.
This effectively made all Irish people suspects. By 1993 some 7,000 people had been rounded up, the majority of whom had to be released without charge.
Although the 1984 Prevention of Terrorism Act nominally shifted the focus to international terrorism, the real target was still Irish people. Some 96 percent of arrests made under the legislation were in relation to Northern Ireland affairs.
One of the people detained under act said at the time, “It’s quite obvious that what the authorities are using the thing for is to simply to keep an eye on political opponents and they keep an intelligence dossier on all sorts of people who are involved politically.”
Increasing police powers does not prevent terrorist attacks. But it fuels racism—and it gives the state more power to harass, spy on and brutalise ordinary people.
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