The Guardian view on race and the Met: making matters worse

The Guardian view on race and the Met: making matters worse thumbnail

Last year the Metropolitan police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, said that the confidence of black and minority ethnic Londoners in the force was improving, two decades after the Macpherson report described it as “institutionally racist”. Plenty of people disagreed at the time. But with one recent poll showing that 77% of black people believe the police to be racist, and a growing list of incidents in which they stand accused of bias that goes beyond the disproportionate use of stop and search, the claim is now demonstrably false.

Reports this week of the failure to investigate a violent racist assault in Queen’s Park, north-west London, last December have yet again raised troubling questions that cannot be dismissed on the grounds that police are overstretched due to cuts. The Met has now apologised over its handling of the incident, which the victim, Niyad Farah, believes resulted from discrimination by officers. She and two friends were insulted by a woman, then physically attacked by seven white men who approached them from a van. Ms Farah, who has Somali heritage, described being dragged, punched, repeatedly kicked and racially abused. She said she thought she would die.

The police were called, and took her to hospital. But Ms Farah says questions asked by officers suggested they believed she had been trying to buy drugs. No statement was taken for two months, CCTV footage was not collected, and the investigation was closed without any arrests. Not until this week, on the same day that the BBC’s Newsnight broadcast a segment about these events, did the Met refer the incident to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Nor was the crime, or any ongoing risk to the public, discussed with the local MP or community, a serious omission given the 10% rise in recorded hate crime from 2017/18 to 2018/19, with rate hate accounting for 76% of the total.

Ms Farah’s account is all the more alarming coming just months after police in the same borough, Westminster, stopped and handcuffed the athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos, when their small baby was in the car, and with officers under investigation for alleged racial bias. Add to this the fact that in neighbouring Brent (whose officers were also involved in Ms Farah’s case), two officers were arrested this summer after allegedly sharing photographs of a murder scene. In that case, too, race was alleged to be a factor, with the boyfriend of one of the victims, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, having searched for and found their bodies after police did not. Mina Smallman, their mother, said the disrespect shown had taken the family’s grief “to another place”.

The Met chief said then that she was “dumbfounded”. But confronted with yet more evidence of the force’s failings with regard to racism, and in a week when a leaked memo revealed that body-worn video footage showed frequent officer errors, it is time for Ms Dick to admit what is staring her in the face. Institutional racism may have lessened since Stephen Lawrence’s murder. But it is still with us.