16 Jun 2020
Patriarchy’s Role in Police Brutality Needs to be Addressed
The recorded execution of George Floyd, on 25th May 2020, erupted worldwide outcries of condemnation. Our digital age, along with the underlying disregard for black bodies, enabled the video of his murder to circle the internet for all to witness. Since the implementation of global lockdown and social distancing measures, in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, social media usage has increased exponentially.
Havas Media Group’s COVID-19 Media Behaviours Study reported a 21% net increase in respondents using social media and a 16% net increase in respondents watching BBC News, as of April 2020. Undoubtedly, these more sedentary times, on an international scale, have also contributed to the recording’s virality. This deadly incident sits among the list of 1252 black people who have been shot and killed by police in the US, since 1st January 2015 (not including deaths in police custody or murders via other methods). This figure exists within the context of black people making up just 13% of the US population, yet accounting for twice as many deaths as white people, who make up 72%. In the UK, the proportions are startlingly similar, with black people being more than twice as likely to die in police custody than any other group.
Racial discrepancies in treatment have, naturally, spearheaded conversations relating to police brutality in the West and Latin America. Non-American activists have been tirelessly working to expand calls for accountability beyond a US framework, with organisations and campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter UK, Black Lives Matter Brazil and ‘The UK is Not Innocent’ taking centre stage in global protests. When you consider the historical context of the police force, in addition to our contemporary understanding, the reason why race is such a pertinent issue becomes even more disturbingly clear.
Slave patrols were introduced in the South of America, during the 1700s, with the specific intent of controlling slave populations. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the federal military and state militia later took on the key responsibilities of the earlier slave patrols, utilising even more violent policing methods on both slaves and ‘free blacks’ during the early 1800s (read here). Although the first official police force was introduced in London, in 1829, previous initiatives seen in America are widely regarded as the first formal attempts of policing. Furthermore, the first American police force was assembled just nine years later, in Boston, which was a hotbed for the slave abolitionist movement during the 1800s. This fact is a clear indication of the institution’s perennial investment in policing blackness.
But while the issue of police brutality is evidently linked to anti-blackness, white supremacy and all the hierarchies that exist in-between, racism is not the sole facet of the phenomenon. Cases of abuse of power and brutality cannot be explained away by attributing them to solely racism in homogenously black countries, the same way it can be in places where black people are racial minorities. Certainly, anti-blackness is global, permeating even African infrastructures and socio-cultural values, especially through the manifestations of colourism and Western imperialism. However, it does not offer the same structural function in black-majority countries as it does in others. With this in mind, it is not a leap to also point to patriarchy and the systemic male violence that its institutions enable, as critical components of this epidemic.
Majority black countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, have seen huge spikes in murders caused by police, since the lockdown period, with more civilians dying at the hands of police than of COVID-19. As of April 2020, for example, 18 Nigerians were killed by security forces while just 12 deaths were attributed to the virus. In both Nigeria and Kenya, female participation in law enforcement is extremely low, sitting at just 4% (as of 2010) and 11% (2013) respectively. Additionally, Nigerian women made up only 24% of judges in federal court from the years 1999-2015 and, as of 2019, just 7% of elected positions. This is despite making up just under 50% of the electorate; the country accordingly ranks 146th out of 152, in having the largest gender gap in ‘political empowerment’ (2020). Kenya, while faring better, still sits at an unsatisfactory 86th place, with only 23.5% of those in political positions of power being female. Incidences of excessive force by law enforcement towards civilians, as well as State corruption, are correspondingly higher here than in countries where female participation in institutions of authority is much higher, such as Rwanda.
‘Feminist activists in Africa have recently been speaking out against their respective countries’ police and political powers, amid heightened cases of gender-based violence towards women during this quarantine period’.
The #WeAreTired campaign, for instance, is a call for justice for female victims of police brutality and sexual assault in Nigeria. This comes as a direct response to the death of 16-year-old, Tina Ezekwa, who was shot dead by a male police officer.
In light of this exploration, it’s evident that police brutality is not just a manifestation of systemic racism, but also a result of structural patriarchy. There is a strong correlation between female occupancy in administrative systems and crime rates, leaning again to Rwanda as a model of an economically developing country, which still maintains a high safety level rating, according to Numbeo.
Worldwide, and throughout history, the arrest rate for women has been lower than men for virtually all crimes, besides prostitution. This is especially the case for violent crime. In the US, for instance, 77.8% of aggravated assault crimes and 98.9% of forcible rape cases are charged against men. Sex-based differences aside, it is clear that the global system of patriarchal control emboldens male violence in the arenas of both crime and policing. Practical steps such as defunding the police, disarming the police and implementing more systems of State welfare can all help to reduce police inflicted violence internationally. Disabling practices which encourage crime, as well as police impunity, have been proven to decrease overall crime rates and cases of police brutality. More ideological processes involve dismantling harmful systems of oppression, such as racism and patriarchy, which serve to exacerbate state-sanctioned violence against the most vulnerable.