A retired black police chief inspector whose great nephew died following contact with police has said that relations between the police and the black community in London are worse than at any time in almost half a century and are continuing to deteriorate due to stereotyping.
Rod Charles’s comments come on the third anniversary of the death of Rashan Charles, and in the wake of a series of incidents involving the Metropolitan police and members of the black community and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Charles, 56, who still has connections to the Met and has been training police recruits in the last couple of months, spoke to the Guardian to mark the death of his great nephew, Rashan 20, who died in Hackney on 22 July 2017. He was restrained by a police officer in a convenience store.
An inquest jury found his death was an accident and that the actions of the police officer who restrained Charles and brought him to the ground was a justified use of force.
As in the case of George Floyd, soon after his death CCTV footage of the incident was circulated widely. The incident sparked protests in the area.
Charles said that although some individual police officers were doing a good job, the actions of officers behaving in a “reprehensible” way meant that the gulf between the police and the black community continues to increase.
“Police need to focus on crime and criminals, not on aligning types of people to types of crime,” he said. “That’s how you end up with stereotyping. Policing needs to be intelligence-led, not going into communities to identify people who fit a stereotype.”
He warned that the impact of deteriorating relations, relations that he believes are worse than the situation in the 1970s and 80s, will have a lasting impact.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the bottom yet. We still have a long way to go. The effects of poor decision making by the police won’t just lose us a few months or a few years, it will lose us a generation and there are some parts of the community who are lost who I don’t think we will be able to get back.”
He added: “We are stereotyping the community wholesale. We do not want to alienate hundreds of thousands of black people simply because they share the same pigment. If we had genuinely intelligence-led policing rates of stop and search would plummet.”
He expressed particular concern about the actions of the Met’s Territorial Support Group, which has been involved in recent Tasering incidents.
He condemned the actions of the TSG in an incident in May involving 24-year-old Jordan Walker-Brown, who said he had his back to the police and was running away when he was Tasered. He fell from a wall and has been left paralysed. He said he was running from the police because he was carrying a small amount of cannabis and believes he would not have been stopped if he was not black.
“The TSG, like its predecessor the SPG (Special Patrol Group) should be disbanded. It is tainted. Where people are using violence that is dangerous I stand with police officers when they take action. But the cases I’m concerned about are where individuals are not threatening police officers or using force against police officers. If a person is running away you should not be Tasering them.”
Charles said people should not end up dead, as in Rashan Charles’s case or paralysed as in Walker-Brown’s case, for the type of offence of which they were suspected.
“I was a former TSG officer. It is an exceptionally needed cadre. But if these units attract such negative attention we will have to go back to the drawing board for a successor.”
He criticised the attitude of the police as hostile and defensive and taking a “batten down the hatches” approach.
“We need to do something to recover ground and restore confidence. Police need to accept feedback, engage more and be less intransigent.”