Boris, the police and the pre-dawn raid

Heavy-handed, politicised policing leaves our communities less secure.

Boris Johnson with Met police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe in September, outside Scotland Yard
Source: Getty Images

A pre-dawn raid under Operation Hawk saw a mother woken by banging and shouting this week. Officers charged into her flat with rolling cameras, bright lights and none other than the mayor Boris Johnson when she was half dressed. They were looking for suspected drugs on her eighteen-year-old son, and they had brought along the BBC to make a high-profile point about it. Safe to say they didn't find what they were after, and left the South London flat without any arrests.

This raid was just one of over 500 actions taken across London on Thursday as apart of Operation Hawk. Led by the new Scotland Yard commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, the sweeping crack down came with its own Twitter hashtag and fleet of journalists. It was a perfect opportunity for the new commissioner to make his mark and give Boris some publicity in the process. According to the Met's news feed, some progress was made. Over 200 premises were searched with 278 suspects arrested and 39 weapons seized.

But in a number of areas including Peckham and Chiswick, officers brought back little but damaged community relations. As for bringing along Boris, this was a flagrant and dangerous example of politicising the police.

The night it happened I knocked on the door of the raided flat in Peckham and found the mother still shaken. I explained I was a councillor for the area who lived down the road. She talked off the record to me about her experiences, but didn't want to be quoted. She was shocked with the existing coverage as it was. The BBC reported Boris being asked to wait outside her home because there was a "scantily-clad lady" inside.

Power has no idea how humiliating it can be.

But this is not about whether it was justifiable to break into this particular home. It's obvious that raids are sometimes necessary, and they can't always be expected to deliver results. Many of my constituents continue to complain that the police don't do enough. But to bring along a mayor and a set of camera crews on a raid is unnecessary and degrading. It reduces important police work to a press affair for the mayor, who joked about the need to "bring in the heavies" with a coy smile.

"It was disgraceful," one neighbour outside the Peckham block who has lived there for sixteen years but didn't want to be named told me, "We didn't know what they were doing. Boris has never come here before and now his black land rover was parked up with its tinted windows and they were having a press conference outside here."

"I'm not surprised people were frightened. I've never had trouble in this area but coverage like that gives it a bad name. I don't know what they were doing to be honest. I only found out about it by looking at Youtube when I got to work."

I spoke to a number of other neighbours who said the same thing, most of whom were still understandably frightened and didn't want to speak out. A lady living below the suspected flat opened the door a crack and said the raid woke up her small kids. She said she had never had problems with upstairs before, but raids like that begin to breed suspicion amongst neighbours.

Hogan-Howe said the aim was to "put the doors in as quickly as possible, right around London". He said this could have "positive effects" even when they find nothing. But he underestimates just how corrosive such raids can be in areas that are already suspicious of police. Yes some will be pleased to see action being taken, but many will be left with nothing but the story of a bewildered mother and the signs of a smashed door. They will ask why other methods were not used first, and why different areas with less stereotypes were not chosen for a public raid.

What makes all this even more infuriating is that Boris Johnson is presiding over massive cuts to police numbers. In Southwark we are losing our community police officers and being forced to cut safer neighbourhood teams. Presumably we are going to have to rely on these grand, top-down show cases to offer demonstrations of strength, rather than building community knowledge that is better able to handle these concerns sensitively. If you ask me, this heavy-handed image will leave us less secure in reality. And I still want to know who is going to pay for that door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred