Black resistance to British policing

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Black resistance to British policing


Elliott-Cooper, A. (2021). Black resistance to British policing. Manchester University Press.

Author and Publication Information:

  • Author: Adam Elliott-Cooper
  • Title: Black resistance to British policing
  • Series: Racism, Resistance and Social Change, Volume 1
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Year of Publication: 2021
  • ISBN: 9781526157072 (hardback), 9781526143938 (paperback)

Intellectual and Historical Context:

“Black Resistance to British Policing” by Adam Elliott-Cooper examines the history and ongoing struggles of Black communities against institutional racism and police brutality in Britain. The book is part of the “Racism, Resistance and Social Change” series, which aims to contribute to the academic discourse on race, racism, and social justice. The historical context includes Britain’s colonial past and its impact on racial dynamics within the country. The book situates contemporary Black resistance within a broader narrative of anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles that have roots in the colonial exploitation of African and Caribbean peoples.

Thesis Statement:

Elliott-Cooper’s thesis is that Black resistance to policing in Britain is deeply intertwined with the country’s colonial history and the persistent structural racism within its institutions. The book argues that understanding and addressing this resistance requires acknowledging the legacies of colonialism and the systemic nature of racism that continue to shape the experiences of Black communities in the UK.

Key Concepts:

  1. Colonial Legacy: The book delves into how Britain’s colonial past continues to influence contemporary racial dynamics and policing practices.
  2. Structural Racism: Elliott-Cooper explores how racism is embedded in the structures of British society, particularly within the policing and criminal justice systems.
  3. Anti-Colonial and Anti-Racist Movements: The text connects historical and contemporary movements against racial oppression, highlighting the continuity and evolution of Black resistance.
  4. Police Brutality and Harassment: The book provides detailed accounts of police violence and the harassment faced by Black communities, linking these experiences to broader patterns of racial control and exploitation.
  5. Community Organizing and Activism: Elliott-Cooper emphasizes the role of grassroots activism and community organizing in challenging police brutality and advocating for systemic change.
  6. Intersectionality: The analysis incorporates an intersectional approach, examining how race intersects with other identities, such as gender, to shape experiences of oppression and resistance.

This introductory analysis sets the stage for a deeper exploration of the themes and arguments presented in Elliott-Cooper’s work, which will be further elaborated upon in the subsequent chapter summaries and discussions of key quotes and their significance.

Chapter Summaries:

Chapter 1: ‘We did not come alive in Britain’: Histories of Black Resistance to British Policing

This chapter traces the historical roots of Black resistance to British policing by examining the connections between anti-colonialism and anti-racism. The narrative starts with the experiences of Caribbean migrants who faced racial discrimination upon arrival in Britain. John La Rose’s speeches and writings highlight how these experiences were linked to broader anti-colonial struggles. Early Black political organizations in post-war Britain, often extensions of Caribbean trade unions, played crucial roles in resisting racial violence and police brutality. The chapter argues that Black resistance to policing must be understood as part of a wider struggle against capitalism and imperialism .

Chapter 2: Into the Twenty-First Century: Resistance, Respectability and Black Deaths in Police Custody

This chapter delves into the transition of Black resistance into the twenty-first century, focusing on the respectability politics and the persistent issue of Black deaths in police custody. It discusses high-profile cases like that of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent campaigns led by his family to expose institutional racism within the British police force. The chapter critiques how state-led anti-racism efforts have often been superficial, focusing on diversity and representation rather than addressing the root causes of systemic racism .

Chapter 3: Black Masculinity and Criminalisation: The 2011 ‘Riots’ in Context

This chapter explores the criminalization of Black masculinity through the lens of the 2011 riots in Britain. It examines how Black men are often depicted as inherently criminal, which justifies heavy-handed policing tactics. The riots are contextualized within a history of racialized policing practices and the societal perception of Black men as threats to public order. The chapter also discusses how media portrayals and political rhetoric contribute to the stigmatization and criminalization of Black communities .

Chapter 4: 2011: Revolt and Community Defence

Focusing on the 2011 riots, this chapter analyzes the community response and the defense mechanisms that were mobilized. It highlights how the riots were not merely spontaneous acts of violence but were deeply rooted in longstanding grievances against police brutality and social injustice. Community defense initiatives are discussed as forms of resistance against oppressive state practices, showing how local communities have historically organized to protect themselves from police violence .

Chapter 5: All-out War: Surveillance, Collective Punishment and the Cutting Edge of Police Power

This chapter examines the evolution of policing tactics in Britain, particularly the adoption of militarized approaches and surveillance technologies. It traces the origins of these tactics to colonial counter-insurgency methods and their adaptation to manage domestic unrest. The chapter discusses how these methods disproportionately target Black communities, leading to collective punishment and increased surveillance. The role of counter-terrorism policing and its impact on civil liberties is also explored .

Chapter 6: Futures of Black Resistance: Disruption, Rebellion, Abolition

The final chapter envisions the future of Black resistance, emphasizing the need for radical approaches such as abolitionism and sustained rebellion. It critiques incremental reforms and advocates for dismantling the structures that perpetuate racial oppression. The chapter discusses contemporary movements and their strategies for achieving systemic change, stressing the importance of international solidarity and the need to confront both racism and capitalism as intertwined systems of exploitation .

These chapter summaries provide a detailed look into the historical and contemporary issues of Black resistance to policing in Britain, framing it as part of a larger struggle against systemic racism and imperialism.

Key Quotes and Significance & Impact

Key Quotes:

  1. “We are in Britain not by choice or by chance, but because of the historical fact that Britain first came to our countries.”
  • Significance: This quote underscores the idea that the presence of Black people in Britain is directly tied to its colonial past. It challenges the narrative that migration is a random or voluntary process and instead positions it within the context of historical exploitation and forced displacement.
  1. “Racism must be understood in its historical context, and as a way of controlling racialised populations.”
  • Significance: This emphasizes the need to view racism not merely as individual prejudice but as a systemic tool used historically to maintain power and control over marginalized groups. It frames racism as an integral part of the structural fabric of society that perpetuates inequality.
  1. “The only war we will fight is the fight to better conditions, peace and liberty.”
  • Significance: Elma Francois’s assertion during her trial for sedition highlights the intersection of anti-colonial and labor struggles. It reflects the broader resistance against imperialism and the demand for justice and equity, which transcends national boundaries.
  1. “The treatment of NHS workers, who lacked the necessary equipment, had solicited widespread outrage.”
  • Significance: This quote ties contemporary racial injustices to the systemic failures exacerbated by crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. It illustrates how systemic racism manifests in various sectors, including healthcare, affecting the lives of Black and minority communities disproportionately.
  1. “The policing of Black people, in its many forms, has always been a fundamental component of the power and wealth of the British state.”
  • Significance: This statement directly connects the institution of policing with the maintenance of state power and economic interests. It suggests that police violence and control over Black communities are deliberate strategies to uphold the existing social and economic order.

Significance & Impact:

  1. Historical Contextualization of Racism:
  • Elliott-Cooper’s work provides a comprehensive historical context that connects past colonial practices with present-day policing. This historical approach is crucial for understanding how colonial legacies shape contemporary racial dynamics and inform systemic racism.
  1. Intersectionality and Resistance:
  • The book employs an intersectional lens, recognizing how race intersects with other identities like gender and class in shaping experiences of oppression and resistance. This nuanced analysis enriches our understanding of the complex layers of discrimination faced by Black communities.
  1. Critique of State-Led Anti-Racism:
  • Elliott-Cooper critiques the limitations of state-led anti-racism efforts, arguing that they often fail to address the root causes of systemic racism. By focusing on representation and diversity, such efforts can neglect the deeper structural changes needed to dismantle institutional racism.
  1. Empowerment through Historical Memory:
  • By tracing the history of Black resistance, the book empowers contemporary movements by connecting them to a rich legacy of struggle and resilience. This historical memory serves as a source of inspiration and guidance for current and future activism.
  1. Policy and Policing Reform:
  • The book’s detailed analysis of policing tactics and their impact on Black communities provides a strong case for policy reforms. It advocates for a reimagining of public safety that moves away from punitive approaches and towards community-led solutions.
  1. Global Solidarity:
  • Elliott-Cooper emphasizes the importance of global solidarity in the fight against racism. The book highlights the interconnectedness of struggles across different regions, encouraging a transnational perspective that can strengthen resistance movements worldwide.
  1. Abolitionist Perspective:
  • The advocacy for abolitionism in the book challenges readers to think beyond traditional reformist approaches. It calls for a radical rethinking of societal structures that perpetuate violence and oppression, aligning with contemporary movements that seek to defund the police and invest in community-based alternatives.

In summary, “Black Resistance to British Policing” by Adam Elliott-Cooper is a critical work that not only documents the history and current state of racialized policing in Britain but also provides a framework for understanding and challenging systemic racism. Its emphasis on historical context, intersectionality, and global solidarity makes it a significant contribution to the discourse on race, resistance, and social change.

Critical Reflections and Broader Implications:

Critical Reflections:

  1. Racism as Governance:
  • Elliott-Cooper argues that racism functions as a mode of governance used to control and exploit racialized populations. This perspective shifts the focus from individual acts of racism to systemic practices embedded in institutions. By highlighting the role of policing in enforcing these racial hierarchies, the book underscores the importance of examining how state mechanisms perpetuate inequality and violence.
  1. Resistance as a Collective and Historical Phenomenon:
  • The book emphasizes that resistance to racism and policing is not a new phenomenon but part of a long history of anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles. This historical continuity is crucial for understanding the resilience and adaptability of Black communities in the face of ongoing oppression. It also highlights the need for contemporary movements to draw on past experiences and strategies to build a more effective resistance.
  1. Intersectionality in Anti-Racist Struggles:
  • Elliott-Cooper’s incorporation of intersectionality provides a more comprehensive understanding of how different forms of oppression intersect and compound the experiences of marginalized groups. By examining the roles of gender, class, and sexuality in shaping these experiences, the book offers a more nuanced analysis that can inform more inclusive and effective resistance strategies.
  1. Critique of Reformist Approaches:
  • The book critiques reformist approaches to addressing racism, such as diversity training and increased representation, arguing that these measures often fail to address the root causes of systemic inequality. Instead, Elliott-Cooper advocates for more radical solutions that aim to dismantle the structures of power that sustain racism. This critique challenges policymakers and activists to think beyond surface-level reforms and pursue more transformative changes.
  1. Global Perspective on Anti-Racism:
  • By situating British racism and resistance within a global context, Elliott-Cooper highlights the interconnectedness of struggles against oppression worldwide. This global perspective is essential for building solidarity across borders and understanding the broader implications of local struggles. It also emphasizes the importance of learning from and supporting movements in different parts of the world.

Broader Implications:

  1. Policy and Institutional Change:
  • The book’s insights into the structural nature of racism and the role of policing in perpetuating inequality have significant implications for policy and institutional change. It calls for a reevaluation of public safety practices, advocating for the reduction of police powers and investment in community-based alternatives. This approach aligns with the growing calls for defunding the police and reallocating resources to address the root causes of social issues.
  1. Education and Public Awareness:
  • Elliott-Cooper’s work underscores the importance of education and public awareness in combating racism. By providing a historical context and highlighting the systemic nature of racism, the book encourages a more informed and critical public discourse. This can lead to greater support for anti-racist policies and practices and a deeper understanding of the need for systemic change.
  1. Activism and Movement Building:
  • The book’s emphasis on the importance of grassroots activism and community organizing provides valuable lessons for contemporary movements. It highlights the need for sustained and collective action to challenge systemic oppression and build a more just society. The historical examples of successful resistance movements can inspire and guide current activists in their efforts.
  1. International Solidarity:
  • The global perspective of the book reinforces the importance of international solidarity in the fight against racism. By connecting local struggles to broader global movements, Elliott-Cooper encourages activists to build alliances and support each other across borders. This solidarity is crucial for addressing the global dimensions of racism and creating a united front against oppression.
  1. Abolitionist Futures:
  • The advocacy for abolitionism in the book pushes readers to envision a future without the punitive structures that perpetuate violence and inequality. This radical vision challenges conventional thinking about justice and public safety, encouraging a shift towards more humane and equitable approaches. It also aligns with the broader abolitionist movement that seeks to dismantle oppressive institutions and build a society based on mutual aid and community support.


Adam Elliott-Cooper’s Black Resistance to British Policing offers a profound and comprehensive analysis of the historical and contemporary struggles of Black communities against systemic racism and police brutality in Britain. By connecting these struggles to broader anti-colonial and anti-capitalist movements, the book provides a critical framework for understanding and challenging the structures of power that perpetuate inequality. Its emphasis on historical continuity, intersectionality, and global solidarity makes it an essential contribution to the discourse on race, resistance, and social change. The book’s insights and arguments have significant implications for policy, activism, and the pursuit of a more just and equitable society.

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