Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, has sensationally stated that the police force is no longer institutionally racist. As a black former police officer, I’d like to say I’m surprised by these comments, which I disagree with entirely, but sadly I’m not. Since her appointment, it has been clear that Dick was never going to be the person to revolutionise the police and bring about real change.
After Stephen Lawrence’s horrific racist murder in the capital, Dick herself told a newspaper that, not only was the Met “institutionally racist”, but it was “very difficult to imagine the situation where we will say we are no longer institutionally racist.” Now, twenty years after the Macpherson report, having ascended the throne as Britain’s top officer, Dick is saying something different. Something that, if you ask a black person on London’s streets like young black boys and men, they are likely to give you the opposite answer to an older white woman in charge of law enforcement.
You only have to do a basic internet search to see numerous articles and videos about racism and the police in the UK. Right now, one of Dick’s own senior Asian women officers, Parm Sandhu, is in the employment tribunal citing racial discrimination. Just a few years ago, the Met was found guilty of racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation towards me. So why is Dick saying all this?
Macpherson hit the nail on the head about the police’s inability to admit racism when he said: ‘There is a reluctance to accept that it is there, which means that it will probably never be cured’. Responding to figures about the disproportionate number of black and Asian people stopped and searched at the time, the Lawrence family’s solicitor Imran Khan was also bang on when he said: “We may have individual officers who have taken on board the recommendations from the Lawrence inquiry – but it has not produced a structural change.”
Either Dick is being disingenuous or wilfully blind to how deep police prejudices run. No wonder London’s young black men feel frustrated. But then again, Dick has also spoken about how teenage thugs should face “harsher” prison sentences to deter other youngsters from turning to crime. Police tactics are one reason some young men of colour join gangs and rebel against society in the first place. They often see no value in themselves, that’s why so many end up hurting each other. More than halfof our young people in jail are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. Many of these young people of colour frame their understanding of, and interactions with, their country through the police.
In my decade of service, I saw entrenched prejudice, open racism and discrimination, but also the police’s lackadaisical response to race equality. In my 11 years on the force, I saw no real intention to stamp out racism and change the culture for the better, but only to suppress it. This is why public statements like those of Dick baffle me, because they are untrue and help no one.
I’m not sure which “utterly transformed”, non-racist police force Dick is talking about, but the one I served up until recently is still very much racist. Of course, not every police officer is a racist, but the institution as a system is. Dick’s views are exactly why I believe that the very structure of the police leadership and archaic culture needs to undergo a transformation as quickly as possible.
Published by The Independent on 12 July 2019.