I was a UK police officer and systemic racism festers in our force too

Like so many around the world, I felt deep pain and anger watching the killing of George Floyd.

These feelings remain. Watching George calling out for his mother, telling Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who had his knee on his neck, ‘I can’t breathe’ before his eyes closed was a truly horrific experience. It was a modern-day lynching.

Since then, we have seen protests and riots spread throughout the United States with marches demanding Black Lives Matter around the world, including London and Manchester. 

Speaking out about police oppression in America is right but, here in the UK, we also need to get our house in order.

As protestors over the weekend chanted outside Downing Street, white commentators claimed that the British police are not like America’s. But racism is rife within our force. I have seen, felt and experienced it for myself.

I served in two of Britain’s biggest forces as a detective at Manchester and London, and recently wrote a book about the systemic racism within the UK police. Before being forced out in 2012, I fought the police in the courts over racism. They were found to have discriminated, harassed and victimised me because I am black.

During this pandemic, overzealous policing towards black and brown Britons has been brought to the fore, with research revealing that BAME people have been fined more than the white population under coronavirus laws.

I have watched numerous videos of officers around the country, particularly London, mistreat people of colour during the lockdown.

Sayce Holmes-Lewis, who mentors young people in the capital, filmed the drug search of him and his vehicle. Black people are less likely to carry drugs than white people and yet are disproportionally criminalised for drug-related offences. 

School worker Dwayne Francis was handcuffed beside his car while he waited outside a post office on his way to work.

In another incident, a man thought to be an ambulance driver was asked to account for himself and then handcuffed by a Metropolitan police officer using her power in a way that was dreadful to watch.

I understand that it’s easy to point at others’ bad behaviour and much more daunting to delve into, let alone accept, the problems in the UK.

And while I have seen many white people come out in support of black lives since George’s killing, this outrage is not enough – we need action. Only together as allies can we dismantle racism, and that includes in our police force. 

In Britain, even before the coronavirus outbreak, black people are almost nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people and three times more likely to be arrested. Research from the Guardian showed that the Metropolitan police Tasered black people over four times as often as white people, while black people are four times more likely to be detained under the mental health act. 

A disproportionate number of people of colour die in police custody ‘as a result of use of force or restraint by the police’. 

More than half of those in young offenders institutions are black or brown.

This is the ugliness of police racism here that we can’t and shouldn’t shy away from.

Yes, let’s call America out for its horrid race record but let’s look at ourselves as well. We are at a tipping point in the UK and are only a step behind the US with our own national scandal – and widespread protests – for the very issues America is confronting right now. 

Pretending we’ve not got a problem with systemic racism in our police is disingenuous and a disservice to all the good women and men of this country who want to make the force better and fit for purpose, an institution that treats everyone fairly and equally within the law. At the moment, it doesn’t.

The first step to bring about change is to admit this racism is taking place, so that it can be cured.

My hope for the future is a police force that listens and learns, so that no one, whether a police officer or not, ever has to experience the pain of racism at their hands again.

Published by Metro on 2 June 2020.