The story of Barry Thew, the Manchester man jailed for wearing an anti-police t-shirt on the day two officers got shot, has attracted quite a lot of attention in the press. But two facts about the case have been kept considerably quieter: one, that he was already wearing the t-shirt at the time of the shootings, so his clothing choice only became a crime as a result of someone else’s unrelated actions. And two, he made the shirt because of an ongoing grudge against the police, based on the fact that they’d killed his teenage son. At least, I think they killed his son: I know that he believes they killed him, and he’s certainly in a better position to judge than I am, so I just have to take his word for it, since making a full judgement on the matter would require knowing a bit more about the case, and I’m not going to find that out from the media – even the rare articles that mention the death of his son don’t bother telling us anything about the circumstances. They don’t even tell us his name.
Until reading Stavvers’ article on the subject, I hadn’t even really wondered what Barry Thew’s grudge against the cops was. I wouldn’t have phrased it in exactly the way he did, but the basic sentiment just seems obvious to me. My anti-police views are partly pragmatic: the police’s job is to protect social peace and the existing status quo, so in order for a genuine social transformation to happen, it will become necessary to confront the police and, in one way or another, stop them from being able to do their job. But there’s more to it than that kind of rational calculation: there are many institutions that exist to defend the status quo, but not all of them inspire the kind of visceral hatred the police do. Ultimately, I hate cops because their lives are more valuable than ours, and the case of Barry Thew and his son illustrates this perfectly: look at the amounts of coverage given to the lives of Fiona Bone and Nichola Hughes. Now try and find out the name of Barry Thew’s son, or the circumstances in which he died. When members of the public kill police officers, it’s a scandal; when police officers kill members of the public, it’s just something that happens. Once you’re aware of that, how can you not hate the police?
Perhaps you think it’s upsetting or disturbing that I think like this. Fair enough; I understand it’s not a particularly nice way to think, and perhaps I’d be a better person if I didn’t. But if you’re that upset by the fact that I think horrible things, or that Barry Thew wore a tasteless t-shirt, how much more upsetting is the fact that 333 people died in police custody or following contact with the police between 1998 and 2010, and no-one has been convicted for any of those deaths? If Ian Tomlinson had shoved PC Harwood to the ground and the officer had died, could you really imagine him getting off with losing his job two years later and not facing any other consequences?
As long as the police exist as a specialised group of people whose job it is to control the rest of us, they’ll have to be treated as if they matter more than the rest of us, as if it’s fine for them to use extreme violence against us but not the other way around. And as long as that’s the case, people like me will continue to hate them.