Black people should not be scared to phone the police when they need help – but I was

  • london
  • August 8, 2020
  • Comments Off on Black people should not be scared to phone the police when they need help – but I was
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When I was young, I was given ‘the talk’ by my brothers. 

They told me to never call the police if I was in trouble, I should call them instead. Their experience was that the police were against us. 

Even if I questioned what they had been through, which I didn’t, I was soon to witness it.  

When I was 18, I was at a friend’s party when a man threw a brick at my car window. He lived nearby so I went and knocked on his door to ask him why, but he came outside with another brick in his hand. 

I ran and called my brother. When he arrived, he knocked on the door and the man came out with a knife. 

Thinking he was going to kill my brother I panicked and called the police. When they arrived, the very first thing they did was arrest my brother. 

I was so hysterical thinking that I was inadvertently going to get my brother killed, so I did my best to tell them that they needed to arrest the white man threatening us with a knife. 

Eventually, they arrested both of them and later my brother was released without charge. The trauma stayed with me and him. I recall writing and complaining and eventually receiving a letter of apology from the police. 

This was the day I realised exactly why he always told me never to call them. 

We are at a time in our history where it is important to discuss the realities of walking while Black, shopping while Black and being policed while Black.  

The brutal public lynching of a Black man by a cold, uncaring white officer in the US has drawn attention to the many worrying incidents taking place on our own shores. 

Incidents like a 12-year-old Black child being arrested and handcuffed for playing with a toy gun in his own house. 

I have heard arguments about ‘why was he up so late?’ or ‘why did he have a toy gun?’ That’s not the point. He was 12 years old, playing in his own home with a toy and armed officers raided his house.

Rapper Wretch 32’s father, an unarmed 62-year old man, being tasered during a raid on his home, causing him to fall down his stairs and lose consciousness. In what training programme was a police officer told that it is OK to taser people on stairs?

British athlete Bianca Williams handcuffed after being stopped while driving home alongside her partner and her baby son. The police said the couple were driving on the wrong side of the road and they smelt drugs, yet neither of these allegations seemed to stack up. 

A man aggressively tailgated and his car window smashed by officers who wrongly accused him of concealing drugs, not long after he had given an interview about racism in the police. Again, no drugs were found and they stripped searched him just to make sure. 

A video of a Black man being restrained while shouting ‘get off my neck’ in Islington, chillingly similar to George Floyd, after an officer had his knee on the man’s neck. 

It seemed like this officer was, quite frankly, a rookie. He looked panicked and completely out of his depth. 

I am pleased that they had apprehended a man with a knife who seems to have a history of violence, but we do not have the death penalty in the UK and policing still needs to be done correctly – it is the law and our human rights. 

And perhaps most disturbingly, in Brent two Met officers were arrested for allegedly taking photos of the dead bodies of two murdered sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and sending them to a WhatsApp group. 

Their distraught mother relives that moment and says that it reminded her of the American deep south where white people would take pictures of Black people who had been hung.

In order to bring about real and long-lasting change we need those at the top to be committed to eradicating it

These are just a handful of recent and worrying incidents involving the Met Police and one thing they have in common is that the people involved are people of colour. There are so many horrific cases from years past that I could mention.

In case anyone doubts the experiences of people of colour, the statistics are stark. The Met are four times more likely to use force on Black people. 

They have stopped and searched the equivalent of one in four young black men in London during lockdown. 

They also increased the use of Section 60 stop and search, with the number of people stopped with no grounds for suspicion having doubled compared with previous year. This all comes in the national context of it being nine times more likely to happen to Black people. 

This is institutional racism in action and it should worry us all. 

The powerful Black Lives Matter movement is thankfully shining a spotlight on systemic racism in society. It is giving people an opportunity to call out the injustices they face on an often-daily basis, and solidarity being shown by so many people is a positive thing. It gives us hope for the future.

But in order to bring about real and long-lasting change we need those at the top to be committed to eradicating it.

It is over 20 years since the McPherson report, which laid bare the extent of institutional racism of policing following the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. The phrase ‘we have made progress’ is not good enough.  

Sadly, I have no faith in Met Commissioner Cressida Dick. 

At this most pivotal time the commissioner thought it appropriate to say that ‘institutionally racist’ is not a ‘useful way to describe’ the force, which is not only unhelpful but offensive. It is quite telling. 

Cressida Dick appears to be incapable of tackling this long-known problem, and incapable of showing solidarity with those people who suffer from it the most, so she should resign.

It is not something I call for easily. I know too that the word racist often scares people, but it does not mean every officer is racist – nor am I calling Cressida Dick racist. It’s the Met Police organisation that is structurally racist and she is in charge of it. We need her to tackle it, not deny our lived experiences or make excuses.

I know that the Met contains a lot of good, brave people, including hardworking officers here in Brent whom I work with closely. They risk their lives to protect the public, so I know these good officers won’t want the bad ones, or a racist system, giving them a bad name. Positive change will be for the benefit of us all.

We desperately need to take action to stop the desensitisation of injustice towards African-Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic people, and take real steps to make changes in the Met Police.

That must start with scrapping the discriminatory and ineffective stop and search, which I will be speaking more about over the next few weeks.  

Only then will we help bring about a truly just and fair society for all.

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