There is something inherently wrong with a law and order system when certain sections of society feel that it is not fair to them. We have a problem with trusting the police here in the UK. It may not be in the same vein of other overseas countries, but just the same it’s a problem. As a writer who has a number of friends who are serving members of the police force in various areas of the country, it is a bit of a mixed bag having to write this, as inevitably some of the assumptions and broad strokes around policing will include them. In the interests of balance I think it important to raise the points anyway.
The recent police inquest around Mark Duggan and it’s findings created a major debate around the use of guns in the UK. Mr Duggan was not the first person to die in such circumstances and such a case only reinforces the fears of many who are worried that police have guns in the first place.
For many of us we are still trying to get our heads around the verdict that it was a “lawful killing”. Whether one sides with the argument that as a “known gangster” then if you lived by the gun it was almost inevitable that you would die by it as well or the opposing argument that “shooting an unarmed citizen is never acceptable”, the whole case through up a lot of doubt around the safety one feels around police, especially those who are armed.
There are those who would strongly argue that the reason this happened was because he was black. I find this a bit disconcerting and wonder how his mother and aunt feel whenever he is referred to in this manner. He was of mixed racial heritage but much of the news debates and media output focused on the gang link and either alluded to or directly suggested race played a part in this. Given the amount of deaths in custody of people of colour and the fact previous major riots were police shot someone were caused by this link it is not surprising. Whilst I personally don’t think it was a race issue, I do think it is important not to dismiss it being part of the overall picture. In the same vein when John Charles de Meneze was shot in Brixton, there was an assumption by the armed forces who killed him that he fit the profiling of a terrorist suspect. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what kind of profiling they mistook him for.
The picture around guns is somewhat bigger and is more around how the police seem to have gotten away on every occasion with not being guilty. Take James Ashley, suspected drug dealer shot in 1999, while naked. No prosecution of the officer who shot him. Or Harry Stanley, whose table leg in a bag was mistaken for a shotgun. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing but the officers who shot him were exonerated. Or take Cherrie Groce whose 1985 shooting and subsequent paralysis sparked the Brixton riots, the officer who shot here was cleared of all criminal charges.
The fact remains that whilst the fatalities or serious injured to people by police with firearms are few and far between, that in almost every cases it has happened the police are not charged is cause for concern. Of course the police should be armed but when they cock up, they should also be held accountable.
The thing is this. Whenever we have a criminal incident we expect the police to be there to sort it out.
From car accidents to fraud, robbery to burglary, dealing with antisocial behaviour we would expect the force to be there. What we do have problems with as a society though is when those who one expects to protect are complicit in destroying evidence, framing potential suspects, being intolerant to certain class or racial groups – both within and without their workforce and especially when they are lying.
The recent Plebgate case of the three police officers who lied about the Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell being abusive towards them was the tip of an iceberg. Those who we expect to protect and serve and by rights have the law on the side to protect them from abusive behaviour from members of the public told bare faced lies and were almost successful in destroying the livelihood of one of of the most senior members of government.
He was sacked. First consumption of the news painted a picture of a wealthy, privileged stuck up brat on a bike. Only after uncovering further evidence did we realise that the corrupt behaviour of certain police officers knew no bounds. Now truth be told although this almost damaged him, most of the British population don’t have powerful politicians and journalists who would stand their ground and defend such a person to the hilt. If this was Andy Smiff in a council estate in Eltham the outcome may have been very different.
It is already problematic that a large swathe of young people in my sphere of influence are growing up with a major distrust of the police. Refusing to report crimes committed on them or ones they are aware of because of a lack of faith. Such cases only go to reinforce the idea that they are beyond reproach. That is a very dangerous place to be.
The perception of the police, especially the Metropolitan Police in London as a big gang is nothing new.
In 2011 after the first days of rioting over Mark Duggan’s death I was part of a group of youth workers and educators who took part in an event hosted at Westminster Central Hall. One mother got up and shared the story that her son was stopped by police one afternoon and asked to tell police who the local gangs were, whether they were involved in the riots and where to find them. She mentioned that he was too scared to go out now, especially as they told him that they were watching him and lest he forget they made up the largest gang in London.
In 2012 as part of a campaign to challenge gangs in North London a group of young men where invited to Wood Green Crown Court to address issues around gang violence. On finding that some of the young meaner weren’t taking it as serious as he would like, the Chief Inspector Ian Kibblewhite of Enfield police was picked up as saying
“Is it funny?” he shouted, glaring at a couple of sneering gang members. “You may think you belong to a big gang, you may be 50 people, even 100, but we have 32,000 in our gang. It’s called the Metropolitan police.”
There are countless other stories that corroborate the MPS being seen as a gang. I wonder if some actually believe that they are. A gang somewhat above the law and not accountable to any one else save politicians intervention through a Royal Commission.
This is not to say all police are corrupt. Whilst there is evidence to suggest there is wide spread corruption and racism on an institutional level, it doesn’t bode well for the public to not have faith in the police. Those who serve and protect, whether carrying arms, or filing reports should have our confidence. We should be able to walk past all police officers safe in the comfort that we don’t have to second guess them if something did go awry. If not all we are left is with a gun toting gang in uniform that no one trusts. That is essentially one step short of anarchy. Fodder for conspiracy theorists but worryingly scary for those who actually believe that at its very heart, in principle at least, the police are a force for good.