by Roxy Legane (NPMP and Kids of Colour)
Nobody ‘deserves’ to be tasered. However, responses to a recent video of a Black man being tasered in Greater Manchester, in front of his young son, show that many believe otherwise. What became clear following the incident on Wednesday 6th May is how progress remains bound by a society that relishes in physical and emotional punishment for ‘crime’. The racist and classist attitudes of the police force are well documented, but what becomes shocking is the reminder that sections of the public accept that someone’s actions could warrant violence, without consideration for whether this will produce a better society. What follows as a result is the police force’s ability to weaponise such acceptance, consciously choosing to exploit the public’s support for physical and emotional harm to over-police and use violence without scrutiny.
Public acceptance of the notion that some people deserve to be subject to state violence is the force’s most meaningful ally. Following the incident involving the man and child in Manchester, Greater Manchester Police were quick to release a list of the man’s charges (concerningly, including his full name and address). His ‘deserved it’ list. It then evoked its expected reaction on social media, acting as a ledger of justification for the use of a potentially fatal weapon, which was used seemingly without warning; in close proximity to a child; and at a petrol station, an environment in which such weapons are a greater risk.
That ‘deserved it’ list is typical police protocol. Today and historically, it works perfectly to help the institution avoid accountability because we live in a country that largely stands by the idea that if the police can ‘justify’ it, it is acceptable, and any misdemeanour gives the police power to do what they want.
When Northern Police Monitoring Project led an event in Moss Side in 2019 on deaths after police contact, there were clear similarities between each speaker’s story, and one specific similarity was key. From Lisa Cole, Janet Alder, Gail Grainger and Germaine Phillips, we heard the same message and the same warning to others: If this happens to you, the police will take the narrative out of your hands almost immediately.
That ‘deserved it’ list will be released to the media almost instantly. They will begin to defame the character of your loved one, to ensure that before you have your chance to speak of the intimate moments you shared, the kindness they had, the things they enjoyed, the public will know them as someone else. The person the public will come to know will be someone you never did: a dehumanised construction, underpinned by ideas of criminality, and no doubt by their race and class. To this day, many will still argue Mark Duggan ‘deserved it’ because of who he was presented to be.
But the ‘if this happens to you’ warnings often land on deaf ears. What is interesting about the way these incidences and following constructions work is the ability for people to remove themselves from any proximity to behaviours shared on the ‘deserved it’ list. Reading through the list of charges shared by GMP regarding the man they tasered, how could people be so certain that this would never be someone they knew? While recognising the risk here in being seen to ‘condone’ certain behaviours, the purpose is to be realistic and eradicate the idea of a flawless majority.
Some public reactions to the list could lead you to believe that every other citizen in the UK has never known someone to have ‘one more pint’ before driving, to do 46mph in a 40mph zone, to not have car insurance, or to leave their home unnecessarily during COVID-19. As videos emerge online of people coming together to conga line in celebration of VE day, clearly breaking social distancing rules, you wonder how many of these individuals would say ‘well he should not have been travelling’. As for those shouting ‘but he resisted’, how many times must Black people, people of colour and campaigners against police violence justify the fear and anger – a product of over-policing – that leads to said ‘resistance’?
The inability of many to see themselves or those they know in a similar scenario is of course significantly aided by race and privilege. In many ways, the ‘deserved it’ list is just bonus validation to justify police action, because for so many, the ability to see this man was Black was enough to wake the racism settled in so many of us (people of colour included) that affirms a base view of ‘he deserved whatever followed’.
A base view supported by a society, with help from its media and politicians, that labels Black men as inherently ‘risky’, consequently framing your reaction to them. Race and class are strong groundings for the ‘deserved it’ list that the police are quick to reveal, they are companions that truly validate one another to construct the notion that this man was ‘taser-worthy’. The police emerge unscathed.
Surrounding this case, the unforgiving rhetoric of sections of the public was a stark reminder of the critical groundwork that needs to be done to shift opinion on ‘crime and punishment’, if we are to make progress. It feels, at times, that those who stand firmly by the belief that no one deserves to be tasered, are a much smaller group of advocates.
That those who want accountability for the fact that a taser is 8 times more likely to be used against a Black person than a White person are fighting an uphill struggle. Those standing on that side will always be vindicated for stating that what an individual has done is, in many ways, unimportant. It is separate to our anger which stems from living in a state in which “wrong-doing” legitimates police violence, where the police are near immune from public criticism, and that the police are armed with weapons that can kill. A state in which the police force is institutionally racist, a key factor in deciding who is framed as more ‘deserving’ of harm.
This article was originally published in Ceasefire Magazine.