As police racism unsettles Britain’s tolerant self-image, Black resistance to British policing details the activism which made movements like Black Lives Matter possible. Colonial legacies and newer forms of state power are used to understand racism beyond prejudice and the interpersonal: black resistance confronts a global system of racial classification, control, exploitation and violence. Adam Elliott-Cooper offers the first detailed account of grassroots anti-racist resistance to policing in Britain since the 2011 ‘riots’. British racism stretches back further than Windrush and beyond the shores of the British mainland. Imperial cultures and policies, as well as colonial war and policing, are used to highlight connections between these histories and contemporary racisms. But this is a book about resistance, considering black liberation movements in the twentieth century while utilising a decade of activist research covering spontaneous rebellion, campaigns and protest. Drawing connections between histories of resistance and different kinds of black struggle against policing is vital, it is argued, if we are to challenge the cutting edge of police and prison power which harnesses new and dangerous forms of surveillance, violence and criminalisation. The police and prison systems are seen as beyond reform, and the book argues that to imagine a world free from racism we must work towards a system free from the violence and exploitation which would make that possible.
As this book has demonstrated, black resistance to British policing stretches beyond the shores of the British mainland and long before the Windrush generation arrived in England. Crucially, resistance to policing continues to be a central focus of radical grassroots campaigns in Britain. The summer of 2020 saw some of the largest anti-racist protests in British history, with more radical currents offering a revolutionary vision for a world beyond police and prisons. This revolutionary black politics draws on the anti-colonial and Black Power movements of previous decades, while also offering fresh ideas and tactics for how contemporary campaigns can bring about the social transformations the world so desperately needs.
This chapter provides an analysis of Black Lives Matter, and its most radical vision: police abolition. It pushes the boundaries of how policing can be resisted, and what demands can be made for radical change. The chapter begins with the newer waves of protests and rebellion against police racism. Shutting down shopping centres, roads and transport hubs engenders fresh ways of thinking about protest. These radical forms of protest reflect radical demands made by Black Lives Matter activists, who argue that the police are beyond reform. Whereas the previous chapter outlined the recent growth of policing and prisons, this chapter details how activists are demanding the erosion of police and prison power, alongside the provision of alternative social policies and community-led solutions to reducing violence and harm. This requires a radical vision for a world in which police and prisons are abolished. The final section connects this emergent form of black organising against policing to more spontaneous rebellion against police violence. It argues against the distinction made between peaceful, legitimate protest and the revolts which respond to an instance of police brutality. It is through this wider understanding that we can see black resistance to policing beyond organised campaigns and protests, and into the everyday and the spontaneous, among people who are often not identified as political or activists.
Resistance, respectability and Black deaths in police custody
This chapter investigates the role of women in anti-racist campaigns against policing in twenty-first-century Britain. It argues that imperial discourses about gender norms and respectability have helped to shape how race and crime are constituted in the contemporary period. The chapter argues that the colonial roots of race and gender norms are fundamental to conceptualising one of the key findings of the field research which informs this chapter – that women lead almost every campaign against a black death in police custody in post-2011 England. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with activists, ethnographic observations at protests and scholar-activist participation in campaigns against black deaths in custody, this chapter demonstrates how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century imperial discourses on respectability and nation do not simply contextualise racialised policing in the contemporary period, but expose the racialised and gendered norms that legitimise racist policing in modern Britain.
While many books have been written about British racism, far fewer have been written about resistance to British racism. This book uses resistance to policing, one of the main focal points for black struggles across the world, to investigate anti-racism in twenty-first-century Britain. The book focuses on grassroots movements, challenging racist state violence, and analysing the politics, tactics and issues that different currents of resistance face.
This chapter argues that, historically, black resistance to British policing did not just take place on the British mainland but, vitally, in Britain’s colonies. Drawing on the work of John La Rose and the Race Today Collective, it argues that Britain’s twentieth-century black political movement was connected to global movements against colonialism and imperialism. This praxis necessitated a commitment to resisting capitalism across national borders and among Britain’s racialised divides. The chapter closes with an assessment of the urban rebellions in the 1980s, arguing that the state sought to liberalise, professionalise and co-opt the black political movement, with partial success.
This chapter focuses on how certainties of citizenship are reproduced and naturalised in citizenisation, starting with two of citizenship’s key principles: the wilful autonomous subject and birthright. The chapter unravels how choice and obligation are entangled in ‘birthright’ citizenship that is founded on racialised heteropatriarchal reproductive familial relations that decidedly emplace ‘new citizens’ within the national territory and extracts them from their diasporic belongings, while it presumes a subject who not only chooses citizenship but also who has chosen migration. The chapter further unpicks the ‘value’ of citizenship by scrutinising how the good life, happiness and ‘luck’ function in the idealisation of British citizenship as the source of happiness. The chapter’s final section turns to ‘ordinary’ citizens who reveal how migrants become otherwise throughout the citizenisation process, and ends with Sala, a ‘new’ citizen who untangles the constitutive and necessary postcolonial presence within citizenship, Britishness and the British state. Ultimately, the chapter goes at the heart of the split between becoming British and identifying as other. But this split is not irreparable. When turning the lens of migration more squarely on citizenship, migrant-citizens are actively reconfiguring what it means to become (British) citizen.
This chapter traces the imperial and colonial legacies underpinning current citizenship and citizenisation laws and policies in Britain. This long view of British citizenship reveals a lot about the imperial and racial impulses of Western European citizenships more broadly, while it takes seriously historical developments that are specific to Britain. The chapter argues that Britain is a global institution that has always been part of the international political and economic landscape where citizenship is continuously redefined. The relative late arrival of a specifically national British citizenship was more about citizenising Britain than it was about redressing a historical weakness; it was about equipping the British state with the technology of citizenship in the process of further hardening the borders of British nationality and nationhood.
The conclusion revisits the waiting room of citizenship and the spatial, temporal, affective processes and practices that produce and reproduce old and new inequalities not only at the national level, but on the international stage. It argues for the importance of contextual research on the social life of citizenisation and migratisation for a better understanding of the ways in which citizenship and ‘the migrant’ are naturalised as mutually exclusive. In turn, examining life in the waiting room also reveals the various ways in which this dualism unravels. Forensic examinations of the perpetuation of nativist, sedentarist politics of belonging and entitlement will not only make it more difficult to turn away from the inequalities they foster and reinforce, but that the combined tools of citizenisation and migration help unravel these injustices and find alternatives to citizenship that embrace migration and difference as constitutive creative forces of all social life.
Chapter 3 is concerned with the generative capacities of documents, that is, how individuals engage with, relate and respond to documents as they are produced, exchanged, negotiated, transformed and moved by and between individuals. Following the paper traces and trails as they circulate in the waiting room of citizenship takes us to the broader ‘relational politics of curation’ that position applicants and registrars in different relations to each other and to the state. The chapter reveals the role of documents in making and unmaking citizens, migrants and citizenship itself, which means that citizenisation impacts on the lives of migrants and citizens alike, though with significantly different effects. The chapter concludes with a summary of how the ‘documented citizen’ is fragmentary, contingent, ephemeral and caught within a set of interpretive gaps about the law and its effects, while it is at the same time emplaced, temporal, embodied and affective.