The last few weeks I have been working in conjunction with an educational consultancy and the British Transport police to deliver a series of carousel workshops on conflict resolution. The programmes have been specifically designed to equip young people in years 7 and 8, (aged 11-13), with essential tools and strategies for managing conflict. The obvious concern has been around ensuring that young people don’t get into harms way.
British Transport police, liaison officers and community support officers have been present in most of my workshops, mainly to give clarity around the law (did you know teens can get arrested for swearing?) and also to provide feedback as to how young people perceive them. In the main most have no issue with the police, but many declared distrust and in some cases visible distaste with the police.
I personally noticed that many that had a distaste looked like me. Whilst anecdotal rather than scientific, this response made me really think about why there has been an ongoing mistrust, assumptive or otherwise, between members of the black community and the police.
A Deep Fissure
My best friend is black and is a policeman. I have never been arrested. I have been stopped a number of times in the past when driving high performance cars and also cautioned when I got caught playing knock down ginger. In the main I have never had any issues with the police per se and have even reached out a number of times to work alongside them in helping to protect our young people. From liaising with the Black Metropolitan Police Association to working as mentioned earlier in school projects around safety. Yet my experience seems very unique and indeed the exception to the rule amongst many of my peers living in the inner city and especially with a number of young black people, especially young boys.
It is an incredibly difficult balancing act. I know for a start I want the police to be very visible in addressing street safety but am also alarmed at the amount of disillusioned young men who are stopped regularly. Instead of the Dixon of Dock Green some would like to allude to these young people see them as the Feds, Five 0, Babylon and part of a system against them.
No Legal Recourse
The recent case of Mauro Demetrio the young man who recorded one policeman calling him a nigger and another calling him a cunt only heightens tensions. That two juries could not come to a conclusion on the verdict deepens this fissure. Whether we would side that Demetrio was being goading the officer or that he had actually been arrested on two outstanding warrants is negated when you hear there was evidence he was strangled, verbally humiliated and also was witness to an assault on a 15 year old in the Forest Gate station he was taken to after he was arrested. For many, including writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, this is only one in a series of examples where the police, to coin a phrase, get away with murder.
I spoke to a young man who declared his distaste of the police last year when I questioned him after the riots. Whilst he assured me he didn’t take part in the riots (he fights his battles intellectually) he brought to my attention that the case of Mark Duggan, the man whose shooting sparked the riots, was only one in a line of cases brought against the police since 1978 that have resulted in police getting away with murder. It made me think about Smiley Culture (pictured) a cultural icon who for after a raid by police was allowed to go unaccompanied into his kitchen and stab himself in the heart! You don’t have to travel too far to see where this distrust stems from.
Not just a black thing
The police have been accused of institutional racism. Following the MacPherson inquiry the suggestion that there was an implicit bias against IC3s and IC2s in the force. The optimist in me would like to believe that it can’t be that bad. Yet I realise that some deep-seated mistrust lies in those who we call upon to serve and protect. From student riots to Hillsborough to the current tremor shaking some police forces over the Jimmy Savile scandal.
I challenged the students on the course as to who they would call first in the case of some danger or a burglary or an accident and they all mentioned the police. So much good is done by the police yet it’s so much easier and sensational to remember the negative. Which brings me to my final point. A young white boy in a school in Barnet said to me “The police don’t like anyone. Regardless of colour, religion or background”. I hope that this is not the default for young people regardless of race. It doesn’t make for a nice future.