Boris Johnson’s latest ‘supremely ruthless’ move could trigger violent unrest

Boris Johnson speech 2018 Conservative conference
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Boris Johnson’s latest claim “to come down hard on crime” has caused widespread concern. Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, for example, slammed his approach as “draconian”. She also warned it had the potential to trigger unrest and riots.

Stop and search

Johnson announced plans to “make criminals afraid” in the Mail on Sunday. In addition to investing £2.5bn for an additional 10,000 prison places, Johnson’s also extending Section 60 (S 60) stop and search powers for police.

Abbott slammed Johnson, saying:

History has taught the Tories nothing. Extending Section 60 powers over the Summer is a tried and tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction.

This draconian approach shows that Boris Johnson’s government has no real plans to invest in policing or a public health approach to tackling violent crime. They have opted to ‘appear tough’ instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.

She further noted that this approach has “only poisoned police community relations”. And she later went on to insist:

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She also called Johnson’s efforts “supremely ruthless”, saying:

S 60 is part of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which was allegedly designed “to provide an exceptional [police] response to anticipated violence”. As policing campaign group StopWatch noted, it can also “curtail people’s civil liberties at a moment’s notice”.

‘Racial profiling’

Even before Johnson’s announcement, June figures showed a “five-fold increase in the number of stop and searches” in London alone. As the Guardian reported:

Searches under section 60 had increased in the capital from 1,836 in 2017-18 to 9,599 in 2018-19

In addition, figures showed a 219% rise in “authorised S 60 orders”.

A disproportionate number of those searches affected Black people, especially young men. As StopWatch chief executive Katrina Ffrench told the Guardian:

Black men are eight or nine times more likely, nationally, to be stopped than their white counterparts, so there’s a racial unfairness in not everyone being treated equally.

‘Racial profiling’ uses “ethnic characteristics to predict whether a person is likely to commit a crime”. It’s fundamentally based on stereotypes and suspicion. And although not an officially recognised policing strategy in the UK, it’s rising. In 2018, for example, figures showed that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people. Amid the ongoing debate about knife crime, it’s taken artists like Akala and Stormzy to tear down the myths about links between ethnicity and violent crime.

Johnson has now extended those powers. A further 8,000 police officers can stop and search people; and they only need authorisation from an inspector, rather than a senior inspector.

Behind the headlines

Abbott is right that Johnson’s government really hasn’t done anything to address the root causes of either the UK’s policing crisis or the rise in knife and violent crime. For a start, promising 20,000 extra police ignores the loss of “20,564 officers between March 2010 and March 2019”.

And as a report from the all-parliamentary group on knife crime found, there are direct links between “cuts to youth services and the country’s knife crime epidemic”. It stated:

Analysis of council youth service budgets and knife crime data since 2014 has found areas suffering the largest cuts to spending on young people have seen bigger increases in knife crime.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said this was “alarming but sadly unsurprising”. He continued:

Taking away youth workers and safe spaces in the community contributes to a ‘poverty of hope’ among young people who see little or no chance of a positive future.

Perfect storm

Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel’s approach to policing and crime is terrifying. Patel said she wants criminals to “feel terror”; and Johnson has now echoed this. This tough ‘law and order’ approach may well hint that a general election is imminent. Yet the impact – especially for young people and Black people – could well create the perfect storm for civil unrest.

These changes threaten everyone’s civil liberties. For communities that have already been broken by years of violent policing, ‘racial profiling’, cuts to youth services, and nine years of Tory-led austerity, this could be a threat too far.

Featured image via screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. There are already too few police to deal with nationwide rioting nor enough firemen to put out the flames, while private security forces will take off their uniforms and say, “Stuff your eight quid an hour”. The anger is so deep over many injustices but especially DWP cruelty, that when the fires start they might not stop until all combustibles have been consumed.

    2. I inadvertently clicked the ‘report’ link when intending to offer a reply.


      I agree that extremely foolish utterances and attempts to put draconian measures in place could bring about civil unrest. Add to that, unrest arising from a ‘no deal’ Brexit and things could turn very nasty.

      You mention poorly paid private security operatives. Johnson ought not complacently assume police and army will rise to his bidding other than to quell the most egregious violence for protection of citizens but not for protection of his government. Indeed, thoughtful elements in those forces may decide the best solution rests with ridding us of the cause of the problem, i.e. Johnson and his chums engaged in organising a putsch, than ameliorating its consequences.

      Meanwhile, given that 10,000 prison places cannot arise overnight It is plausible to imagine contingency plans in place for rapid construction of prison camps with armed guards.

    3. Johnson is already adopting the American approach in readiness for the Crash.
      They have war on everything in America War on Drugs, War on Poverity. War on Crime .War on Whoever.
      It’s their only approach.
      Why listen to Common Sense, and thinking is frightening.
      If you have the BOMB , who cares?? Is this so stupid Washington asks?
      America isn’t Washington D.C. which has been descibed as a ‘Black Hole” by the ordinary people.
      The political class has failed there as well I’d say.

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