Policing ‘Crime’ and ‘Violence’

Course lead: Dr Adam Elliot-Cooper & Amit Singh

This module will explore the ways in which modern iterations of the police are inextricably bound up with Britain's imperial project. In particular this module will outline how colonial policing strategies inform modern day police tactics, for instance, through the policing of “gangs” and in the auspices of the “War on terror”. Relatedly we will explore the implications of bordering, gender-based violence and the “school to prison pipeline”. More broadly, this module will examine what policing does in modern Britain, who is policed and why, as well as what the implications of this are for anti-racist activists.


1. Colonial Policing

Dr Adam Elliot-Cooper

Standard discussions of police racism in Britain present it as being a consequence of Britain becoming multicultural, following the migration of African, Caribbean and Asian people to Britain in significant numbers after World War II. These migrants are seen as disrupting a peaceful, united, monocultural Britain. But historically, most of Britain’s policing hasn’t taken place on British soil – it has been deployed in its colonies. Millions of colonial subjects, exploited and controlled for centuries for the enrichment of Britain, required policing. British colonial policing was far more militarised and violent than policing on the British mainland. The racial hierarchy of the British Empire – the racism of colonialism – is what justified the violence and exploitation Britain imposed on the Africans, Asians and Caribbean people it colonised.

2. Colonial Policing Comes Home

Dr Adam Elliot-Cooper

Britain in the 1970s and 80s saw the rise of a new generation of black and Asian youth who, unlike the previous generation, had been born in Britain. They were not migrants like their parents, and demanded to be part of Britain. At the same time, black and Asian youth were a useful scapegoat for a government unable to deal with economic crisis and rising unemployment. Creating the impression that ethnic minorities brought criminality and violence to Britain brought with it two things: 1) Forms of racist, violent policing which had previously been used in the colonies, and 2) Mass resistance and rebellion against this police racism, led by young people in urban areas.