Sep 192014

In the second article of an ongoing series, the racism permeating the UK’s police forces is examined. By Suzanne Kelly.

Police line pic2 Justice is often depicted as blindfolded as she weighs the evidence in her scales, her sword clutched to dispense an impartial, fair sentence.

The evidence suggests a different reality, one wherein suspects, victims, even police officers who are not white males still have the cards stacked against them.

Perhaps there is a clue to race relations in the mix of police officers? If we are meant to believe that police forces in the UK have worked on their well documented ‘institutionalised racism’ over the years, there is absolutely no sign of this in the 2013 Scottish police equality mainstreaming report:


“The percentage of minority ethnic police officers was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic police staff was 1% at 31/03/2010 and remains static at 28/02/2013.

“The percentage of minority ethnic special constables was 2% in 2010 decreasing to 1% in 2013.

“Note: Minority Ethnic figures throughout the document include those who have self-classified their ethnic origin as Mixed Ethnic Group, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian Background, African, Other African Background, Caribbean, Black, Other Caribbean or Black Background, Arab, Other Ethnic Group.” 

The same document reports that in 2013 there were 17,830 police officers, 7,411 police staff and 1,371 special constables. Therefore, there were 1,783 minority police officers, 741 minority background police staff and a mere 137 special constables were from minority backgrounds.

If there is reticence in certain communities to joining the police forces, perhaps the tale of former police officer Gurpal Virdi has some bearing. Virdi was accused of sending racist hate mail to himself. The police claimed that he was disgruntled at being passed over for promotion. It was demonstrated he was not around when some of this mail was sent.

This historic case in England is an interesting contrast to today’s Aberdeen story of DC Duthie, cleared of breaching data protection. Someone used his user name and his personal password, illegally looked at personal data pertaining to Duthie’s ex partner and her family. But he’s been found innocent this week; it was apparently too difficult to prove who else had his password who would have had a motive for this breach.

As the Scottish Police Federation’s website reported on 17th July of this year:

“Police Scotland is under ­scrutiny over how it investigates its own officers after it emerged that out of hundreds of complaints of racism against the force, fewer than 10 had been upheld. New figures reveal that, of almost 300 formal complaints of racist behaviour against police officers in the past five-and-a-half years, nine were upheld, two of which led to misconduct procedures. Since Police Scotland was ­established in April last year, one of 78 complaints of racist behaviour has been upheld, with the matter “concluded by explanation”. In the same period, 47 of the complaints were not upheld, with the remainder abandoned, withdrawn or still being investigated.”

This is a damning indictment of the system.

Since the UK police forces demonstrably tolerate internal racism (and certainly seem keen to cover it up, as the SPF’s website reports), then how are the police behaving towards citizens?

Stop and Search operations – a Black and White situation.

If you are not white, you are more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the UK than if you’re white. In some parts of the UK, the figures are staggering:

“Black and Asian people are still far more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales, a report has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in some areas black people were 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Overall, black people were six times as likely as white people to be stopped.

The commission said the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high.   … The figure for these searches fell to 1,137,551 in 2011-12 from 1,222,378 the previous year.”

These alarmingly high figures demonstrate that some police officers are arbitrarily using the controversial stop and search policies in a racist way – this sad fact is undeniable. Scotland is also searching young children – but the way in which the system treats children will be the focus of a future article.

The high profile cases of the recent past make it clear that racism can have fatal consequences.

Jean Charles de Menezes.

The police shot dead Mr de Menezes as he sat on a tube train. The excuse seems to be that:

a. it was shortly after the London tube bombings and
b. he had a backpack. (It is frightening that the police thought shooting someone on a crowded tube who might have had a bag loaded with explosives was wise – they risked hundreds of lives had the pack been a bomb).

We know the police testimony about the surveillance, the log, and what happened on the tube train was deeply flawed; the log was altered, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Commission give a chronology in their finding report which opens with the dates of the tube bombing and the failed bombing.

This, in the eyes of many, taints the entire report: millions of people used the tube the day de Menezes was executed by multiple police gunshots – he and his murder had absolutely nothing to do with the bombings except in the overactive imagination of police, who decided that the detection of potential crime meant to kill the suspect.

As the BBC reported:

“The report says 17 witnesses said they had not heard officers shout a clear warning before opening fire.

“The report makes 16 recommendations for change, and says the Met has already begun acting upon them.

“It also says police radios deployed on the day did not work underground, a problem that was first identified in the 1987 King’s Cross fire.

“It also reveals that investigators had asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to look at possible charges against the two officers who shot Mr de Menezes, and the commander on the day, Cressida Dick. The CPS decided not to bring charges against the individuals.

“The IPCC said the Met had to rethink policies around deploying firearms officers and critical language governing the manner in which they stopped a suspect.

Mr Hardwick said the IPCC’s investigators believed that Sir Ian Blair played a key role in delaying their work.

“The commissioner attempted to prevent us carrying out an investigation. In my view much of the avoidable difficulty of the Stockwell incident has caused the Met Police arose from the delay in referral [to the IPCC].”
Stockwell One – Investigation into the shootingof Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell underground station on 22 July 2005.

The jury were not allowed to put in an ‘unlawful killing’ verdict. Sir Ian Blair refused to resign his police position at the time. No police officers were in any disciplined, although one was to be ‘spoken to’.

The policy behind this man’s death is Operation Kratos policy – a shoot to kill policy meant to deal with terrorists. With more and more police routinely carrying weapons (even in the usually peaceful Scottish Highlands), and with most stop and search policy targets being from minority backgrounds, we may well be on a hiding to a volatile future where race trumps rights.

It’s bad enough that de Menezes was killed. The Institute of Race Relations keeps a list of those who have died in police custody – it is a heady mixture of unexplained serious (sometimes fatal) injuries, lack of medical care, apparent suicides.

The Ballad of Stephen Lawrence.

The sad story of Stephen Lawrence, a bright young black teenager killed by a gang of racist white youths in 1993, is widely known. It was widely reported at the time too that the police were less than meticulous and thorough in their investigation of the suspects:

“Met detective Paul Steed, 49, tampered with key times and dates on an evidence log, it was confirmed. A Met spokesman said a misconduct board demoted a detective from the rank of sergeant to constable and fined him. …A Kent Police inquiry took place into the case in 1997, followed by the Macpherson Report in 1999, which found evidence of “pernicious and institutionalised racism” in the Metropolitan Police.” 

Insult to Injury, and Rights go out the window.

Imagine your son had been held in a tube seat and shot multiple times by police – when 17 witnesses say he had not been warned and had done nothing wrong. Or imagine your teenage son had been killed by racist thugs, and evidence was tampered with. Things couldn’t get much worse. But they did.

Police spies tried to discredit witnesses, and police spied on the de Menezes and Lawrence families and friends. This was done using our tax money, in the name of keeping us safe. Enter the unilaterally acting ‘Special Demonstration Squad’.

This unit allegedly is so important and so secret it answers to no one – not even the most highly placed Met officers, who we are being led to believe didn’t know what was going on. This convenient ignorance might remind you of the famous scene in Casablanca. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is being chastised by the chief of police for allowing gambling at the bar.

A casino staff member interrupts the conversation to give the police chief his winnings. If we are to believe that the top brass have no clue what is going on, then:

a. they are incompetent from the top downwards,
b. they are not in control, and
c. we have a police force that is unaccountable, anarchic, and as demonstrated – racist.

In an excerpt from a Mirror article:

“Yard chiefs were potentially negligent in their “astonishing” failure to monitor the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS).

“A report published today found the SDS [which] had gathered intelligence on 18 campaign groups.

They included those set up by friends and family of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered in a racist attack, and Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in error by police in the wake of the July 7 bombings.

“The family of Ricky Reel, who drowned shortly after being racially abused in London in 1997, were also targeted.

“Relatives of Mr de Menezes said in a statement: “It is shameful that the Met spied on the legitimate activities of a grieving family who were trying to get the answers they deserved.”

“… Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon said … “What is surprising to me is the number of people, the most senior levels in the Met working in covert policing, working in public order command, who did not know about the unit at all.”

“One reference was to an unnamed person planning to go to a funeral, even though “there was no intelligence to indicate that the funeral would have been anything other than a dignified event”, the report said, and Mr Creedon confirmed that there were “more personal examples” 

Summing Up

The police acknowledge their racism, but it seems far from being remedied, going by cases such as Virdi’s and the small number of minorities represented on the force. The police virtually executed a helpless Jean Charles de Menezes, and tampered with evidence which might have helped bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to a swift justice.

The police have had virtually no comeback from any of this. The police do however want more powers and want to carry guns routinely.

We need to talk about the police.

The next article will delve into the world of the SDS and other covert operations, and cases which have removed any pretense the police might make to operating within the law or respecting basic human rights.

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