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Monday, June 15, 2020

Is racism still a problem in UK police forces?

Those of us looking across the Atlantic in horror at the stories of police forces profiling and targeting people of colour, unlawful killings and racist behaviour may well be considered complacent if we believed that none of these problems could ever visit our shores.

Indeed, according to this article in the Guardian, despite years of progress, there is still a long way to go before British police forces can claim a clean bill of health on these matters, and that is one of the factors fuelling the 'Black Lives Matter' protests in our towns and cities.

The paper says that two of the most senior black officers to have served in British policing have revealed that their careers were blighted by racism, and warned that the misuse of stop and search was leading to black men being treated as “property” by officers:

[Victor] Olisa, a former head of diversity at the Met and former borough commander in Tottenham, said his 35 years’ experience in policing and academic training as a criminologist led him to conclude that while the majority of officers were “professional, dedicated and committed”, there was a continuing misuse of the stop and search policy by some.

“There is a growing practice of officers handcuffing young black boys who have not been arrested and are not resisting or showing any signs of aggression, before they start searching them,” said Olisa. “The misuse of stop and search exemplifies the notion of police ‘property’.

“This is a worrying development of a practice that seems to reinforce the stereotype that conflates blackness with dangerousness: black boys are considered ‘dangerous’ and so have to be restrained in a way that is humiliating and degrading, without a rational justification. Black boys are treated as police ‘property’ whilst their white friends that are with them are treated very differently, with courtesy and respect.

“The answer is to stop stereotyping black people as low status, unintelligent, aggressive, dangerous, self-destructive, and subhuman.”

The paper says that s and search rates have been falling across England, but at a lower rate among black people. According to the most recent government data, between April 2018 and March 2019, there were four stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 38 for every 1,000.

They quote Patricia Gallan, who retired as Metropolitan police assistant commissioner and the highest-ranking black woman ever in 2018, as saying: “I experienced both overt and subtle racism – internal more often than external and from all ranks.”

She said that in 2010, she applied for a promotion to join the Met from the Merseyside force. “I recall being asked by a very senior officer to say that the Met was no longer institutionally racist as it was seen as an unhelpful term. When I stated that I could not do that, my response caused consternation. That was not the answer sought, nor was it deemed acceptable.” She did not get the job, but was successful in 2012, by which time Bernard Hogan-Howe was commissioner.

Official figures show the Met is the force that has done best at increasing its numbers of BAME officers, but changing demographics mean it has the biggest shortfall, with 14% of its officers from ethnic minorities, compared with 43% of the capital’s population. It estimates that at the current rate of progress, it could take 100 years to become representative.

In 1999, barely 2% of police officers in England and Wales were from an ethnic minority. Now 7% of officers are BAME, compared with 14.9 of the population.

Now would be a good time to address some of these issues.
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