Patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy have long defined the conditions and visuals of guilt. These power structures project guilt onto working class people, black people, brown people, Gypsy Roma Traveller people, they project guilt onto sex workers, people with mental health issues, disabled people, queer people, trans people. The stereotyping of these people only proves one thing – the violent power of the state, and its ruling punitive hand over marginalised communities.
The Metropolitan Police have successfully created a society where officers are allowed to use their uniforms to act in violent and unmonitored ways. Perhaps a catalytic case will be the recent case of Sarah Everard, a woman kidnapped, raped, and murdered at the hands of a serving police officer. In the early evening, on a major road as bystanders looked on, Sarah was coerced into a police vehicle by Couzens who used his police powers and recently introduced coronavirus law to kidnap her.
Sarah Everard’s case opened the floodgates to countless stories of violence committed by police. One woman a week comes forward to report that their partner in the police is seriously abusing them or their children. There are horror stories of police raping women and abusing their powers for sexual gain.
Horrifyingly, during the sentencing of Couzens’ case, there was a brief point in the sentencing where people were questioning if he might claim diminished responsibility. Diminished responsibility, or ‘claiming insanity’ refers to a defense used by defendants to argue that they cannot be held criminally liable for the law they broke because their mental functioning was impaired by a medical condition – they did not know that what they were doing was wrong.
Using the powers handed to him by the state, PC Wayne Couzens committed a murderous act of violence, rape and misogyny. It is easier to view him as inhumane and question how he could ever commit such a heinous crime than it is to believe he is legally sane. But the fact is, if you drip feed a class of people with hatred, and a permeating superiority complex, rile them up and program them to be racist, sexist, give them the legal right to enact violence whenever they want to, you end up with a police force so drunk on power it ends up with the audacity to murder, to take photographs of dead women, to send sexual text messages about dead women.
As we collaboratively write this text, we are dreaming of an abolition that brings a complete end to state violence. For many of us, mental health practitioners are also cops – working to restrain, contain, working to remove our autonomy. For many of us doctors are cops, as they have control over us in ways we don’t consent to and police our lives often through coercive and violent measures.
In our society, we currently accept a psychiatric model that pathologises our everyday experiences, criminalises our distress, and is violently upheld and enforced by the police, doctors, social workers and other agents of the state. It is this same model that also enables the madman with an axe narrative – a presumption that such abhorrent behaviour is simply the result of a chemical imbalance, a blip in mother nature, a bad apple, a lone monster.
Instead of acknowledging the inevitability of such murderous acts as a logical result of the structures of our society we continue to characterise the ups and downs of life as medically or physiologically abnormal. As John Waters articulated: “If you just broke up with someone, be sad; if you ran over somebody drunk driving, feel depressed. You shouldn’t take a pill that makes you feel okay about terrible things.” The things we view as mental health problems are often understandable human responses to a traumatic experience. How can you not have bad mental health? The capitalist world makes us sick. Structural violence traumatises us and our brains respond, but the psychiatric model makes us believe there is something inherently wrong with us as an individual instead of acknowledging the structures in society that lead us to this point.
The psychiatric model tells the single mother of 3 who is exhausted from her 60 hour working week and lack of sustainable living wage that she has depression. It tells the young person worrying about climate change that they have an anxiety disorder. It tells the older person worried about contracting covid that he has OCD tendencies, the young black man constantly harassed by the police that he has paranoia and the traumatised victim of rape that she has a personality disorder. It is the same model that, up until the 1980s, medicalised homosexuality as medical disorder for the ‘sexually deviant’. And it is the same model that allows us to absolve murderous acts of violence, misogyny, racism, homo/transphobia, ableism and claim ‘mental illness’ as the only logical answer.
Wayne Couzens did what he did because he had power as a police officer that was given to him by the state. The routine violence against women and non-binary people has never been the result of a chemical imbalance, but because of an illness in our society. And for as long as we uphold the medicalisation of human behaviour, and ignore the structures in place that enable and promote this violence, it will never be a safe place.
If you’ve been following the news recently you’ll know there have been a huge number of protests against the upcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill under the name Kill The Bill. This bill seeks to give police even more powers than they currently have, enabling them to stop and search people with no reason and to arrest people they just don’t like the look of. For many of us this is an immediate threat to our community and an extension of the horrifying SIM programme that has been brought into various NHS trusts – everywhere you turn vulnerable people are being blamed for the violence that is enacted on them.
Feminist abolitionist direct action group Sisters Uncut were at the forefront of many of these KillTheBill protests and have maintained a watchful eye over the metropolitan police force, documenting and calling out the repetitive violence and coercion performed by serving officers. As a result of this never ending stream of news they have decided to help skill up communities across the UK via a series of ‘CopWatch’ trainings. These trainings focus on bystander intervention and pose the question, how different could things have been if people had intervened with Sarah Everard.
Up to 4,500 people in mental health crisis were unlawfully held in police custody in England and Wales in a year. Our community is and will continue to be harassed and affected by the state unless we begin to find ways to hold the police accountable for their actions and find ways to protect ourselves and our communities. We keep each other safe! It is only through beginning to implement abolitionist approaches in our lives that we can start to change these numbers, that we can make sure there are no more Sarah Everards, no more state violence against the most vulnerable – or even just those walking home.
Liv Wynter is a live artist, writer, and organiser. Liv has been performing internationally since 2015, making live art that centres around radical action, community, and power. Their most recent work, ‘Rise of the Refrain (Aug 2021)’, posed the question, what happens if a Greek chorus forms a direct action group? Their anarchist musical theatre debut, ‘And So The Choir Gathers, Before It is Too Late (Nov 2019)’, explored the history of two tone and antifascist skinhead culture and sold out over 5 nights at The Bunker. Liv has gone on to cause chaos through their personal practice, as well as their commitment to antifascist, antisexist, and anticapitalist organising at a grassroots level. During 2020/21, Liv was a peer support coordinator at Hearts & Minds, and a support worker at The Outside Project, later becoming part of the team that opened STAR Refuge. Liv is the host for time out award winning Queer House Party. Quit your job, join a band, start a gang.
Ros is a writer, mental health service survivor, trainer and organiser. Ros can often be found lifting heavy things in the gym or punching people in the ring in order to prepare for the revolution. Ros has lived experience of the criminal justice system and the mental health system and is dedicated to working towards the abolition of both these structures. They love reading and learning and being inspired by the abolitionist organisers they’re surrounded by, while patiently waiting for everything to be burnt down.