On October 17, a man posted a video on Twitter of a street in his East London neighborhood. There was a Turkish restaurant, a Dominos, graffiti—and lots of Palestinian flags.
“Look at this crap here,” the man, known only as John A, is heard saying. He has a working-class, Scottish accent. “You let them into the country, and this is the shit they come up with.”
Two weeks later, on the night of October 31, police officers showed up at John A’s apartment.
“The reason why we’re here,” one of the officers can be heard saying in a separate video, “is on the 17th of the 10th of 2023, in Bethnal Green Road, at 10:04, you were witnessed as saying, ‘Why are they over here, etc.? We let them into our country, etc.’ ”
The police then arrest John A on suspicion of a “racially aggravated offense,” a violation of the Public Order Act of 1986. (David Atherton, a journalist who spoke with John A, tweeted that John A “does not have a criminal record & was not arrested for breaking bail conditions, as some have suggested.”)
As John A is led to a police van, his wife—now battling stage 4 cancer—wails at the cops.
“Fuck you!” she screams.
It’s one of many cases that have led—among others—Suella Braverman, Britain’s home secretary, who oversees security and immigration, to accuse London’s Metropolitan Police force of a “double standard,” saying “pro-Palestinian mobs” go “largely ignored.”
Tim Cruddas, a former sergeant with the Metropolitan Police who is now at the Free Speech Union, agrees. He blames the “massive recruitment of new people” as a factor that has “weakened and diluted” the force and led to an uneven enforcement of the laws.
“They’ve recruited 20,000 police officers across the country but they’ve lost a lot of experience, officers with gravitas and old-school police officers. The young officers have also been given a lot of social justice–style training. This is not really old-fashioned, proper policing. They’re obsessed with policing the internet and policing what people are putting on Twitter and stuff.
“The average constable on the street is far less prepared than they were because they don’t even go through a training school anymore the way that we used to do. When I joined in the ’90s we would have 20 weeks training at a specific school before you went anywhere near a police station, but they don’t do that anymore. They go straight into the station, and they do their training on the job. So they have an extended probationary period where they go out with other coppers and they learn stuff. That is not sufficient.”
Critics claim this modern approach to policing has led cops to make unwise decisions in London and elsewhere in Britain in recent weeks, including:
Police forcing a Jewish nonprofit to stop showing digital images of Israeli children who had been taken hostage by Hamas and were being displayed on vans driving through central London. Police said the images were “breaching the peace.”
A Manchester police officer tearing down posters of Israeli children who had been taken hostage. (Manchester’s chief constable later said police officers had responded to complaints about the posters, but “got it wrong.”)
A leadership coordinator, Amina Ahmed, at Scotland Yard—the headquarters of the London police department, or Metropolitan Police—posting on her LinkedIn: “if anyone openly agrees with the war in Gaza, they should be called out as Islamophobic and inciting hatred against Muslims.” (The message was copied and pasted into a tweet; the LinkedIn account has since been deleted.)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Trafalgar Square roughing up Arul Velusamy, a Christian preacher and journalist in London, and “the cops just stood there—they did nothing,” Velusamy told me.
A huddle of aging veterans being told by police to remove their Union Jack flags from barriers meant to maintain crowd control. “And yet,” one of the veterans says in a video, “when they march down with hundreds of Palestinian flags, you won’t say a word.” “We can try,” a police officer replies, “but there’s way more of them.” The veterans seemed mystified—and angry.
They were angry not only because they couldn’t wave their flags the way they wanted to, but because for the past four weeks, all over the UK, police have stood by in the face of agitated and sometimes violent protests led by people chanting “Intifada” and “From the river to the sea”—and, in at least one case, punching and kicking a 78-year-old veteran in Edinburgh selling poppies, the symbol of Remembrance Day.
Remembrance Day, Britain’s version of Memorial Day, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I, is on Saturday—the same day that pro-Palestinian marchers have called for a “million man march.” The head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley, has signed off on the march—much to the chagrin of countless Britons.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Rowley have openly quarreled over what to do about the march. On Wednesday, Sunak said the pro-Palestinian protest could go ahead as scheduled, but added that it is “disrespectful” and “offends our heartfelt gratitude.”
It is not much of a surprise—to Britons, at least—that the police can arrest people for expressing the wrong opinion. The Public Order Act of 1986, a response to the race riots of the 1970s and 1980s, has given cops extensive powers to bring protesters under control. The Public Order Act of 2023, which targeted far-left climate change activists who had taken to blocking traffic in central London, gave police even broader powers to reinstate order. And the Online Safety Bill, also adopted in 2023, was expressly designed to ferret out dangerous speech, clamping down on pornography, trafficking, animal cruelty, and terrorism, among other problems.
The question is: Why are so many cops—who comprise 43 independently run departments across the country—using these tools on behalf of an angry and sometimes violent mob that seems to hate the West? Or, at least, turning a blind eye when they could just as easily not?
There appear to be two reasons:
First, it’s a lot easier to zero in on a handful of peaceful demonstrators who have provoked the far more numerous pro-Palestinian protesters than it is to go head-to-head with the larger group.
Tim Cruddas, who retired from the force four years ago, said: “At the end of the day, there’s 100,000 protesters against probably less than 1,000 coppers, so 100 to one. So there’s only so much you can do on the day, without causing quite a lot of a disorder.
“A young and inexperienced police officer, one who’s not come across large, angry crowds before, would find it obviously very intimidating. . . . If you do step in and try and arrest someone or stop someone from doing something in that atmosphere, you will get beaten up. It’s not an irrational fear.”
What’s more, the crowds demonstrating on behalf of Gaza are not motivated by a desire for peace or justice, said Simon Myerson, the chair of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. They celebrated the murder and raping and beheading on October 7—before Israeli forces had had time to count the bodies—and they were dangerous, he added.
“Would I walk down there with my kippah?” Myerson said. “The answer is no.”
He continued: “It feels like a group of people who are barely in control.”
Hayley Ace, a pastor outside London who had tried to organize a prayer vigil on behalf of the Israelis but was “strongly advised” by London police not to go through with it, agreed. “I feel like we were the path of least resistance,” Ace told me. “The police couldn’t keep the peace, so it was down to us.”
The other reason police appear to be supporting the pro-Palestinian faction is they’re pro-Palestinian, said Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union, which champions free expression in Britain and whose members have criticized left-wing illiberalism. “They’re not impartial,” Young told me. “They prioritize protecting the feelings of Muslims over protecting the feelings of Jews. I think that’s pretty indisputable.”
Increasingly, Young said, the police are acting as if they’re “the paramilitary wing of The Guardian.”
Young traced the bias inside Britain’s police departments to the late 1980s, when cops nationwide—responding to race riots in south London—sought to purge their ranks of “institutional racism.” (The 1993 murder of a black teenager at the hands of two white cops outraged many Britons and greatly energized that effort.)
This entailed hiring diverse cops and bringing in “activist advisers,” Young said, to forge better relations with minority communities. At the time, that meant mostly the Afro-Caribbean community, including Jamaicans and Trinidadians. Over the years, it has expanded to include any number of Muslim communities from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, and elsewhere.
Then, in 2014, the College of Policing, the quasi-governmental body that advises police departments across the country, introduced the concept of the “non-crime hate incident,” which compels cops to record, Minority Report-style, any incident deemed hateful by anyone. “The victim,” according to the guidelines, “does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.”
In a strange twist, Harry Miller, a former cop in Humberside, in northern England, was accused of a non-crime hate incident, or NCHI, in 2018, after he posted a few tweets needling transgender activists. (These included: “I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis species me.”) Noting that he has fewer than 1,000 followers and rarely gets any likes or retweets, Miller told me he was surprised when the cops called him to say they had received a complaint. “ ‘We need to check your thinking,’ ” Miller recalled the police officer on the other end of the line telling him.
(In 2020, Britain’s high court found that police had acted unlawfully in issuing him an NCHI.)
Cruddas, 59, points out that the Metropolitan Police used to be called the Metropolitan Police Force, but now it’s called the Metropolitan Police Service. “They changed the name because they thought the word force was a little bit too aggressive,” he said. “So it’s a much softer word and it’s reflected in the fact they started to think they’re not just there to uphold the law and use force to do their job, but they’re there to provide a service and that’s when the rot started. It all started to become a bit softy, softy. They lost sight of the fact that most of the public want the police to uphold the law and arrest offenders.”
By this point, police departments, Myerson said, are basically outsourcing their decision-making to the activist-advisers counseling them on, say, how best to handle crowds of young, angry Muslims waving Palestinian flags and signs declaring “We Are All Hezbollah.”
Myerson added: “I don’t like to use the word capture, but it’s very difficult for the police to know that the people they’re dealing with are reliable. They have no reliable check. You can be infiltrated.”
Case in point: Attiq Malik, who chaired the London Muslim Communities Forum, which advises the Metropolitan Police.
On November 4, a 2021 video emerged of the Luton-based lawyer leading a crowd in the now-infamous chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Soon after, there was a public outcry, and the police severed ties with Malik.
For years, sources said, Britons have refused to push back against those whose values were diametrically opposed to their own, and they had insisted that by doing so, they were actually strengthening the cause of British democracy—British pluralism.
But viewed through the lens of late 2023, that seems absurd.
“There are a whole host of ways in which Islamist groups and Hamas supporters can be made to feel the pressure,” a senior government official told me. He said it was time, for example, to start deporting people. “I accept that some are uncomfortable with those things, but I’m not very comfortable with 100,000 people coming out in the streets and chanting in a way that would make Jewish people in this country feel unsafe, so I’m willing to accept that trade-off. We’ve been too standoffish for far too long when it comes to the clash of values question.”
He added: “I’m absolutely sure that we’re building toward something worse. It feels like a pressure cooker right now.”
Simon Myerson shared his trepidation. He said that, if his parents were not alive—they’re both 95, and they live 200 yards from his house—he and his family would move to Israel. “You can see from France that it doesn’t take too much to push it over,” Myerson said. “I think we are probably a couple really unpleasant incidents away from a shitload of people going.”
The senior government official went on: “I think that the time for hedging our bets and trying to chart some kind of middle ground that makes everybody feel comfortable and righteous is probably over. We’ve got to survive as a state. That means we’re gonna have to get in the fight.”
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