Black Lives Matter protests: UK’s most senior ethnic minority police officer urges forces to ‘stand up to racists’

Neil Basu, head of UK counter-terror policing, urges officers to listen to ‘legitimate anger’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 10 June 2020 14:38
Protestors in London show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement

Britain’s most senior ethnic minority police officer has urged his colleagues to “stand up to racists, to inequality and injustice” amid ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is the head of UK counter-terror policing, called for officers to pay attention to demonstrators’ “legitimate anger”.

“Yes, some people behave badly; yes, a tiny minority are no more than criminal opportunists, but the overwhelming majority are showing solidarity with George and what his death represents – they have a point,” he wrote in a personal message to British police.

“We need to listen to our communities, and our people, and focus on what we in the UK can do better.”

Mr Basu, who has been a police officer for 28 years, said he had “doubts” shortly after joining in the early 1990s when fewer than 2 per cent of officers were from an ethnic minority background.

He said that progress had been made since the damning inquiry into how the Metropolitan Police handled the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

But he admitted: “Despite how far we have come we must confront the fact that with many of our communities – especially the black community – we still have a long way to go.”

Some rank-and-file police officers have voiced anger over violence against their colleagues at Black Lives Matter protests in Britain, where clashes have seen dozens of officers injured and more than 100 arrests made.

On Twitter, where many operate anonymous accounts, many said they felt they were being unfairly “blamed” for Floyd’s death in the US.

Mr Basu said that policing in the UK and US cannot be directly compared because of their different models, but that there was a “huge disparity in young black men” in Britain’s criminal justice system.

“What we are seeing in America, and here in the UK, too, is anger directed not just at police brutality but the racial bias built into the very fabric of our institutions and society,” he added.

The Met’s Neil Basu: Let’s hold our values close to our hearts and be a force for true change 

“This disparity is seen in education, in health, in the workplace – it’s everywhere – and it’s a daily lived experience for many.”

He praised the “restraint, dignity and empathy” shown by many officers policing recent protests and urged them to retain their compassion, and to look after ethnic minority colleagues.

A small number officers have been seen “taking the knee” in a gesture of solidarity with demonstrators.

Mr Basu called the symbol “powerful” and moving, but added: “Personally I see this as a time to stand up – stand up to racists, to inequality and injustice.

“We can be better than this, and we must be better than this. There can be no better sight than watching people of many different faiths, nationalities and colour, standing together in peace against injustice.”

He added: “If we want to honour George’s memory and leave policing in a better state than we found it, let’s hold our values close to our hearts, act them out, and be a force for true change.”

It came after Downing Street said police must make their own decisions on whether to intervene if anti-racism protesters try to pull down further statues.

Police in Bristol were forced to defend their own decision not to stop the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being torn down and dumped in the city’s harbour on Sunday.

Boris Johnson told his Cabinet on Tuesday that protesters who broke social distancing or attacked public property or the police would “face the full force of the law”.

Earlier, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies sub-committee on behaviour said riots could break out across the UK this summer amid concerns about racial and economic inequality.

Professor Clifford Stott said there was a risk of disorder on a scale last seen during the London riots in August 2011 – sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan – if urgent efforts were not made by forces to quell any potential unrest in the neighbourhoods they served.

British police leaders previously issued a joint statement saying they “stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified” by Mr Floyd’s death.

They vowed to “tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it”.

But writing in The Independent, the head of the police watchdog said forces must listen and respond to “real and growing concerns” about racism within their own ranks.

The director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Michael Lockwood, added: “There must be more research to understand issues of disproportionality, as well as assurance and scrutiny around tactics like use of force and stop and search.”

On Friday, parliament’s Home Affairs Committee announced an inquiry on policing and race.

MPs will be taking evidence on issues including the use of force, stop and search and the disproportionate use of coronavirus fines for black people.

Chair Yvette Cooper said: “The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and the subsequent outpouring of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement across the world has rightly shone a bright spotlight on racial inequality and injustice everywhere.

“All of us have a responsibility to identify and tackle racism and injustice wherever we find it.”

In the year to March 2019, 16 per cent of police use of force incidents in England and Wales were against black people, who only make up 3.3 per cent of the population.

Black people were also involved in 25 per cent of incidents involving police firearms and a fifth of “less lethal weapons” incidents, including Tasers.

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