There is no historical figure whose arguments are better suited to our timesby Will Tanner / June 17, 2020 / Leave a comment
You may not have thought it, but there are few politicians whose accomplishments are better suited to Black Lives Matter than Robert Peel.
The principles of policing by consent that Peel set out in 1829 are a hymn to our troubled times. His fourth principle of policing actually reads: “the degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.” It is a shameful tragedy that Derek Chauvin of the Minnesota Police Department did not heed those words before he knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Yet the reforming home secretary and prime minister now finds his record traduced by the left and his principles undermined by the right. In his hometown of Tamworth, Peel’s statue today stands entombed in protective cladding. The protestors calling for its toppling appeared to mistake his sins for those of his namesake father, who owned slaves as a cotton trader. Even after acknowledging the mistake, they still refuse to revoke the bounty on his head.
As for the left’s wider plan, it could not be further from Peel’s ideal: the official BLM fundraising page demands politicians “defund the police” entirely, a preposterous idea that undermines their wider cause.
Meanwhile there are growing calls from those who proudly call themselves conservatives to undermine Britain’s model of policing by consent from the right. On Saturday, Henry Hill wrote on the ConservativeHome website that the “answer” to violent protests in the UK could be to replace civilian public order policing with a militaristic force similar to France’s Gendarmerie Mobile. France is not a country usually known for peaceful civil protest or efficient riot control.
The US experience is another cautionary tale. The militarised version of policing which arguably prompted the Black Lives Matter movement has its roots in the race riots of the 1960s. Then, like now, black communities filled the streets of Los Angeles after an altercation between the police and a black suspect. Looting and violence broke out. The response of predominantly white police forces was to abandon community policing and adopt counter-insurgency tactics from the Vietnam War. The animosity and the tactics have only grown since.
In contrast, the relative success of the last 200 years of British policing reveals how a tradition of consent generally fosters trust. To use Peel’s phrase, “the police are the…