DISCLAIMER: NPMP understands racist policing to be an institutional problem. We focus our efforts, not on reforming the police through greater representation or training, but through educating, organising and empowering our local communities. While this platform supports all those who have suffered at the hands of police racism, the views of our blog contributors are not always those of NPMP.
In this blog, J. Chambers reflects on his experiences of racist policing, and where we might go from here.
As we strive to move forward in the age of multiculturalism, the topic of policing still divides us based on our experiences. Now a 28-year-old black man who grew up in the predominantly white suburbs of North Manchester, I have encountered my fair share of racism from the police. Due to the demographic of people I was around however, my plight was never quite understood. I often wonder why people find it so hard to empathise with others whose experiences differ from their own. Lack of understanding shouldn’t constitute a lack of empathy. In 2018, when the issue is increasingly visible across social media and other platforms, why is racism within the police force so difficult for some of the white population to understand in England?
A lot of my friends tended to have positive experiences with police officers. I on the other hand always received different treatment, from being stopped and searched to being the prime suspect following complaints of antisocial behaviour to my school. The relationship between BME communities and the police in Britain is mainly comprised of complete distrust due to factors such as abusive policing, lack of representation within the force and the outcomes of the justice system.
From the Moss Side Riots of 1981, which started at the local police station to protest the insufferable racial profiling and abuse at the hands of police, to the Brixton Riots of the same year, the police have always been a source of apprehension to black people. The level of caution that is exercised by the black community in the mere presence of the police is passed down generationally. I can remember stories from my family telling me about their experiences with the police despite never breaking the law. For my protection, they felt it necessary to ensure I knew my legal rights from a young age and knew how to manage the variety of emotions experienced when inevitably being stopped. From Christopher Alder and Edson Da Costa to Rashaan Charles, we have been repeatedly reminded that our lives can be taken if we are perceived as being non-compliant.
In my most recent experience of police discrimination, I was in a car with my two friends (one a property manager and the other a semi-professional footballer), driving through Manchester. Suddenly two unmarked police range rovers box manoeuvred our vehicle and four officers brandishing firearms demanded to search our vehicle for suspected transportation of firearms. I expected that this was based entirely on racial profiling but gave the officers the benefit of the doubt. What followed was an unapologetic and humiliating public interrogation, even after the background checks showed we were not the suspects they were seeking. The behaviour, demeanour and language displayed by the police towards us was a demonstration that the police believed they had power over our lives.
Research conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has shown that black people are four times more likely to be the victims of force at the hands of police than their white counterparts. There needs to be active training in the police force to help dispel negative pre-conceived notions that some officers hold about different cultures and communities. And there is no surprise there is mistrust given the lack of representation of the BME community within the UK police force. According to data collected from the 2018 Police Workforce Diversity Census, 3.3% of the national metropolitan police force is made up of ‘Black or Black British’ officers, with Greater Manchester Police being made up of 6.9% BME officers. With statistics like these, is there any wonder there is disparity in how the issue of race is handled? I would hope that BME officers would be able to offer an alternative perspective to the beliefs that may be held by some officers about the black community.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen countless victims of police brutality receive no justice for the pain they suffered. Edson Da Costa died at the hands of the Metropolitan Police aged 25 years old on the 21st of June 2017. All five officers involved kept their jobs, despite being shown to be responsible for the loss of a person’s life. If you aren’t protected by the service tasked to protect you, where do you go?
Although the issue of race is being discussed more between people in my generation, how much has really changed within institutions? Are the police really having similar discussions and acknowledging failures or are they still operating on the safety of tokenism – employ a small number of officers who represent minority communities and have them address these issues in the media? As a black man, I eagerly await the day when I can see an officer in public and I don’t have to feel those moments of anticipation which I expect them to approach me. For Britain to really be Great, we need equality for everyone in the UK, and addressing failures by the police towards the black community is imperative. The system still has a long way to go in restoring faith for me and my community.