Social and news media hit fever pitch yesterday following the launch of a campaign by Lush. But the public response – including by police officers themselves – shows exactly why the campaign is so badly needed.
In-store displays, created in partnership with campaigners Police Spies Out Of Lives, highlight the abuses by undercover police officers against activists and social justice campaigners. The Undercover Policing Inquiry, which was set up to investigate these abuses is beset with problems. These problems led to participants and lawyers walking out of a hearing in March to show lack of confidence in its chair, John Mitting, and the approach the inquiry is taking.
One tweet, by chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation Liz Groom, went down like a lead balloon. The tweet proudly talked of a Lush store in Peterborough removing its window display after a visit from the police:
One of our officers went and had a polite and constructive discussion with the manager of @LushLtd Peterborough who then removed the display. Seems some of their staff are sensible and care about our feelings after all #Lushpolice #FlushLush pic.twitter.com/SatZFDW4mD
— Liz Groom (@cambsfederation) June 1, 2018
But environmental campaigner Adam McGibbon’s response hit the nail on the head:
This is utterly dystopian. So criticism of the police is going to be met with you making sure it's taken down? Your feelings may be hurt but people's lives have been ruined. You're a disgrace.
— Adam McGibbon (@AdamMcGibbon) June 1, 2018
And other replies highlighted the hypocrisy of Groom’s tweet:
Environmental groups, anti apartheid groups and many other legitimate protest groups were infiltrated. Do you not understand the anger and mistrust generated by #spycops? Can you not see how 'having a chat' with Lush perpetuates that mistrust?
— Aurora (@fellaurora) June 1, 2018
You used your position of power to prevent legitimate criticism of the police? That’s awful. It’s bad enough that Police officers lie and spy on people. It’s rubbing salt into the wound when you tell us not to talk about it.
— Barney Dellar (@branaby) June 1, 2018
If this was any other offended profession walking around asking the same, they'd be told that they won't take anything down, but would pass on the concern to manager/head office.
This does politely demonstrate that police would never abuse their power, though. 🙄
— Will Steward (@Will4Privacy) June 1, 2018
A response by @ARspycatcher pointed out the biggest irony of all. Cambridgeshire’s former deputy police and crime commissioner, Andy Coles, was a former undercover police officer. He resigned as police commissioner when he was exposed as a spycop in 2017:
You have a trained lar in your midst. Tory councillor & former Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambs, #AndyColes was #spycops #ARspies in 90s and had an abusive relationship with teenage female activist. Did he pressure @CambsCops to harass @LushLtd staff in Peterborough?
— ARspycatcher (@ARspycatcher) June 1, 2018
Some people have been defending the police in light of Lush’s campaign. Many responses focus on the good work done by ‘frontline officers’:
@LushLtd am absolutely disgusted with your anti-police campaign. Our police officers save lives everyday and put themselves into situations to protect us all whilst you sit behind your big desks in an office somewhere. I will never be purchasing a Lush product again!#FlushLush
— Emma Johal (@EmmaJohal) June 1, 2018
I use @LushLtd products every day, but I won’t be buying anything from them until this disgusting campaign is removed and apologised for. How dare you make targets of our amazing police force. The whole thing is shockingly misjudged 👎🏻 #FlushLush pic.twitter.com/AX9kcyns9Z
— Little Miss Medic (@Sabielou) June 1, 2018
Even home secretary Sajid Javid took time out to misinterpret the campaign. Although as the Network for Police Monitoring pointed out, this is the first time him, or his predecessor Amber Rudd, have bothered commenting on the case:
Never thought I would see a mainstream British retailer running a public advertising campaign against our hardworking police. This is not a responsible way to make a point https://t.co/dZqF3iMN6U
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) June 1, 2018
These types of responses say more about the public awareness of the case than the campaign itself. The campaign clearly highlights that its focus is the spycops campaign, mentioning it multiple times in the display.
Other people, including journalist James Ball, derided the campaign as a cynical marketing ploy:
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) June 1, 2018
But he was quickly corrected:
they've directly worked with victims on this. Lush aren't like most other companies, they work directly with activists, this is far from being cynical.
— Charlie Phillips (@charliechar) June 1, 2018
Lush continually support many campaigns for human rights, animal welfare & environmental issues. This one is about getting the truth about acknowledged human rights abuses by #spycops & having those responsible held to account.
— COPS (@copscampaign) June 1, 2018
But let’s not forget that many police forces across the country have a history of actions that harm rather than serve the public.
- Revelations show that more than 900 trials in 2017 collapsed because police failed to disclose evidence.
- The charity Inquest reports there’ve been 1,079 deaths in police custody since 1990.
- An August 2016 article by The Canary details extensive police corruption against journalists.
- Police forces are still accused of racism. Figures from the Metropolitan Police show that 22,989 of 62,000 uses of force in 2017/18 involved Black people
- Home Office data from 2017 shows that Black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
- In 2015, a report found that “forces are at risk of discriminatory strip-search practices” against African-Caribbean people.
Seems like there’s a lot of bad apples.
Something to be thankful for
For many, the police hold an almost sacred role in society. One that is above criticism. But there are plenty of cases and evidence showing the police are no less prone to corruption than any other organisation.
What’s different about the police, though, is they wield a great degree of systemic and social power. And that makes holding them to account all the more important. That’s why Lush’s campaign supporting Police Spies Out Of Lives is so important.
Ironically, with their furious response, police officers and spycop apologists have done more to promote the campaign than Lush ever could have done itself. So maybe we should thank them after all.
– Leave Lush a nice review on Facebook. Or better yet, go to your local store and share your support with the staff directly.
– Support Police Spies Out Of Lies, the organisation behind Lush’s campaign.
– Check out more stories about the undercover policing inquiry on The Canary.
– Learn more about a world without police in The Lockdown’s podcast with Alex Vitale, author of “The End of Policing”.