Britain is certainly not innocent

Terry Conway takes a look at the important NetPol report 'Britain is not innocent' by Dr. Adam Elliott-Cooper.


Dr Adam Elliot Cooper will be speaking at a meeting organised by ACR on June 17 : Abolish the police? Should we? Could we? alongside Dr Nancy A Heitzeg.

No one who has given the policing of Black communities in Britain a second thought will be surprised at the findings of the NetPol report on the policing of the Black Lives Matter protests in the United Kingdom last year – that this was another example of institutional racism. But this certainly doesn’t mean the report, a 60 page document Britain is not innocent by Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper is not worth reading and discussing.

In the video below, Adam repeats many of the key findings of the report – with video footage and stills graphically backing up the force of his argument.  He points out that the Police, Courts and Sentencing Bill will deepen the current injustices by giving more power to the police, by extending the tentacles of the repressive state by forcing public sector workers such as teachers and youth workers to report on young people.

The report comes in two major parts – overall conclusions which quote briefly from first hand testimonies of both protestors and legal observers followed by the full statements from these two sets of witnesses. These accounts of the deliberate provocative and racist policing tactics and actions throughout the summer of 2020 when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its height are shocking even where their conclusions are intellectually not.

The report’s title dialogues with those who suggested that Black communities, that people of colour in Britain, did not have the same reasons to take to the streets here as those in the United States, rising up again last year in response to the murder of George Floyd but with the horrors of a carceral system not far from the front of their minds. Of the more than 2.3 million people in US prisons, jails, and detention centres in 2020, 60 percent were Black or Latinx.

But Elliott-Cooper sets the British context explicitly with an introduction to the history of institutional racism in British policing, including the way that the various government reports, particularly the notorious Scarman report into the 1980-81 urban revolts against police racism downplayed the problem, conceding ‘only that racism in policing was the result of a small number of prejudiced officers’ p9.

And although the 1991 Macpherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence does talk about institutional racism it has not led to any systemic change – which is hardly a surprise given that its conclusions were not ever accepted by the powers that be. Elliot-Cooper rightly quotes the dismissive remarks of the current Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, but one could easily point out that she is far from unique amongst senior police officers.

The report looks at the way the legislation supposedly introduced to make people safer during the coronavirus crisis has been used disproportionately against black people and other racialized minorities; particularly through the extension of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Stop and searches, one of the key ignition points for the 80-1 rebellions, increased by over 40% between April and June 2020 with black people 43 times more likely to be stopped and searched in this context, as distinct from ‘only’ 10 times without this power. Nearly 20,000 black people were stopped and searched in London during the lockdown, the equivalent of 25 percent of black men aged 15 to 24 in the capital.(p13)

Moving to the evidence of last summer a number of key points stand out:

  • Police hypocrisy over supposed concern over Covid 19 is systematically shown by their widespread refusal to wear masks or social distance as well as more deliberate incidents;

“I frequently observed police intentionally standing very close to protestors who were making a clear attempt to socially distance. I saw them use a ‘spit hood’ – a forcibly administered hood that covers the entire face – on one young man being arrested, claiming it was for their safety despite officers not wearing any PPE” p21

  • The frequent use of pepper spray, despite the absence of circumstances where the police themselves say it should be used, of kettling and of charges by police horses
  • The fact that no compassion was shown towards protestors – or indeed to passers by caught up in incidents – injured as a result of action by the police themselves or by the far right involved in counter-protests. The same was true of those for whom being held in a kettle for hours on end could cause serious harm because they were for example unable to access medication.
  • The fact that policing of far right counter-protests was much more sympathetic than that of Black led Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests
  • The targeting of legal observers, disregarding the legally protected role they are supposed to have in order to intimidate them and others. Only two days ago there was welcome news that the Met had conceded that no further action will be taken against five legal observers from Black Legal Support arrested in March and April this year.
  • Within BLM protests it was Black people and other racialised groups who were singled out for disproportionately hostile policing


The report does not in itself seek to argue an abolitionist position. Nevertheless the evidence for that approach is there – and is partially drawn out in places.  Drawing on a Supreme Court ruling of 2018, Elliot-Cooper argues that the police have a duty of care towards those affected by their actions and that this ‘disproportionately affects black and other racialised minorities’ He further argues Providing resources for medical professionals, rather than police officers, is one way in which people who are ill or injured can be cared for and taken to a place of safety. (p30)

Later, in dealing with the ways that the police both themselves breached coronavirus regulations and made it impossible for others not to do so, especially when being kettled, he argues that it was community organisations that provide PPE and encouraged social distancing, concluding therefore: Providing resources for this kind of nonpolice health and safety provision during protests would be an improvement to protest management, particularly during the pandemic. (p31)

Dont forget to book your place to hear Adam alongside Dr Nancy A Heitzeg. on June 17 at Abolish the police? Should we? Could we?organised by ACR

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