UK police officers have been instructed about the “engaging effect” of taking a knee before protesters, and alerted about the drawbacks if they refuse to do so, triggering shocked and confused reaction from the British public.
The advice on kneeling was part of a recent operational briefing the officers received in the Hertfordshire Constabulary in southern England. The memo, cited by the Mail on Sunday, noted that although the gesture is “optional,” those who refuse to bend the knee “may become the focus of the protesters attention.” At the same time, kneeling “has a very positive and engaging effect,” and draws “a positive reaction on the protest groups.”
Officers choosing to take a knee are advised to “be cognizant of the operational circumstances and to their own, colleagues and public safety,” the document said.
The controversial memo unsurprisingly received some backlash from officers. A senior detective quoted by the paper called the advice “absurd” and wondered whether police are now expected to “make similarly appeasing gestures at political events – far-right protests, for instance?”
Commenters online were equally baffled. Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage wrote on Twitter that the constabulary wants its officers to “surrender to anarchy,” which is “insanity mixed with cowardice.”
Others labeled the idea of on-duty police officers kneeling in front of the protesters disgraceful. “That’s not equality, it’s pandering and not a way to command respect. It’s also demeaning to the officers concerned,” one person wrote.
Another commenter quipped that the next internal memo will advise that “arresting people for committing a crime might lead to angry reactions so maybe think twice before enforcing the law.”
Some argued that while on duty, police officers must not participate in any political gestures whatsoever, regardless of their message, saying there’s “no room inside a police uniform for religion or politics.”
Ever since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police triggered a global wave of anti-brutality protests, activists have been encouraging officers to take a knee with them in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.