Racism ‘alive and kicking in UK police forces,’ MPs told

Campaigners call for action more than two decades after UK policing was found to be institutionally racist

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 17 June 2020 15:35
Black Lives Matter billboard unveiled in London

Racism is “alive and kicking” in British policing, MPs have been told as part of an inquiry into the treatment of black and ethnic minority people.

The Home Affairs Committee announced its probe amid Black Lives Matter protests that have sparked calls for renewed action on disproportionality in the UK.

It comes 21 years since a landmark report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence found institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police and other British forces.

Nick Glynn, a retired senior police officer, told MPs that just before he left the service in 2015 he was targeted with a “racial slur” from a colleague.

“Racism is alive and kicking in policing,” he added. “These things are happening on a daily basis and we are kidding ourselves if we think that since the Stephen Lawrence report’s recommendations we have made massive progress.”

Ben Bowling, a professor of criminology at Kings College London, said British policing “remains institutionally racist” more than two decades later.

He accused police of failing to deliver on promises to eradicate racism, allowing “prejudice, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping” to continue driving unequal treatment.

“Black and ethnic minority people are still over-policed and under-protected,” he added.

Following the death of George Floyd, British police leaders have sought to distinguish their model of “policing by consent” from the US, and said they were “appalled” at the killing.

But Katrina Ffrench, chief executive of the StopWatch group, said the UK must recognise its own issues with the disproportionate use of force, stop and search, Tasers and custody deaths.

“Scores of people have died here so it’s incumbent on us to not be distracted by what’s happening in the US but act on the recommendations that have been happening for the past 30 to 40 years,” she told MPs at Wednesday’s evidence session.

In London, the use of stop and search rose to the highest level for seven years in April, Ms Ffrench said. She also questioned whether it was “proportionate” during the coronavirus lockdown.

She has received reports of black and ethnic minority key workers, including ambulance drivers and teachers, being stopped to “justify why they’re out”.

“What we’ve witnessed is people who are key workers, out doing their jobs, supporting their communities, their families, some of the most vulnerable in our society, being targeted by the police,” Ms French said.

“We strongly believe it’s because of their skin colour and perceptions that those people are up to no good rather than law-abiding citizens.”

Ms Ffrench backed calls for an “urgent review” of coronavirus fines, after police data showed they are being disproportionately handed to black and Asian people.

“It’s not just the numbers, it’s the faces and lived experiences behind why these fines were issued,” she added.

“People felt that even in a global pandemic they were still viewed with suspicion and unable to go about their daily lives.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it will publish analysis of ethnicity data from the 43 police forces in England and Wales when it is complete.

Professor Bowling said coronavirus enforcement appeared to “follow a pattern that is evident in other fields of policing over many years, that black and ethnic minority communities have been disproportionately impacted”.

He called policing by consent an “aspiration” that was lived up to in rural and suburban communities, but not in urban areas with high working class and ethnic minority populations.

Black Lives Matter supporters gathered for a rally in Trafalgar Square (Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Asked why non-white people may have been given more fines for violating the lockdown, he said that they may be seen as “out of place” by the rural police forces who have issued the most penalties, because of racial stereotyping.

“The evidence in other police powers is where discretion is broadest you find the highest degree of discrimination,” Professor Bowling added.

“Police ways of identifying people who seem to be suspicious have been shaped by police racism over many years and this seems to be an indication of it.”

Mr Glynn said there was also inequality in stop and search, the increasing use of Tasers and the use of force.

Asked about Priti Patel’s recent claim that British police are the “envy of the world because officers work with communities, not against them”, he said: “We shouldn’t get carried away with the sense that British police are the best in the world, I think we’re kidding ourselves with that.”

Mr Glynn, who now works as a senior programme officer for the Open Society Foundations, was formerly a chief inspector with Leicestershire Police and worked as a firearms commander as well as on stop and search reforms.

Speaking at a press conference last week, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said officers had been “appalled” by Mr Floyd’s death and vowed to tackle racism.

“We know there is more to do, we are still not as reflective of local communities as we want to be and there is still disproportionality in some police tactics and outcomes across the whole of the criminal justice system,” Martin Hewitt said.

“There is a complex set of factors behind all of this disproportionality and many of those lie outside of policing.

“They’re not straightforward things to solve but we want to be part of the change that people want to see on race in the UK, so we are listening hard and thinking carefully about what more we can do, and what we can do faster.”

The government has been heavily criticised for setting up a new commission on racial inequalities, rather than acting on recommendations made by previous reviews including the 2017 Lammy Report.

David Lammy, a Labour MP who conducted the review and is now shadow justice secretary, said the plans were “written on the back of a fag packet” to “assuage” anti-racism protests.

The Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry will continue with evidence from police leaders next week.

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