By Joan Blaney
Like millions of people around the world, I watched in horror as yet again, the life of another unresisting, unarmed black man was being taken away by a White policeman.
While we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the US, for us here in the UK, black people are often subject to police brutality, intimidation, and harassment. Government data show that between April 2018 and March 2019, for every 1,000 stop-and-search operations, four white people were stopped, compared to 38 black people.
As a community organizer some years ago, I had the opportunity to privately meet with a chief of police. I asked him about the unfair treatment routinely meted out to young black people compared to their White counterparts. Surprisingly frank, he admitted that the police were more likely to be lenient with White young people because they could relate to them more easily.
By contrast, when it came to young black people, there was no empathy or even a connection because they were black. I was stunned. For in a rare moment of candour, this police chief shamelessly admitted to the institutional racism that is still rife among Britain’s police force.
In short, white juvenile offenders were often let off with a slap on the wrist. On the other hand, black offenders were likely to receive criminal convictions and a criminal record that would blight their career prospects.
It is no wonder then that black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. According to a Ministry of Justice report, are nine times more likely to be locked up in England and Wales than their white counterparts.
Even within the context of a pandemic, where black people are more likely to die from COVID-19, racial discrimination within the police force continues. A report in the Guardian, one of Britain’s daily newspapers, suggests that the London Metropolitan Police are facing claims of racial bias. This is because figures showed that officers enforcing the coronavirus lockdown were more than twice as likely to issue fines to black people as to white people.
As a nation, we need to examine our part in the situation of police biases concerning different racial groups.
According to findings by INQUEST, a UK charity whose specialist casework includes deaths in police custody, a disproportionate number of people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities die in police custody. Its statistics, covering the period 2002–2012, are striking. Of 380 deaths in police custody in England and Wales (or as a result of contact with the police), 69 were from BME communities, which raises questions of institutional racism as a contributory factor in their deaths.
There have been reports that the Minneapolis Police Department has for decades been accused of brutality and discrimination against African Americans and other minorities. In spite of this, there has been resistance to change from the top.
In our case, multiple reports commissioned after years of deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police, have also called for reviews in policies and procedures. Yet deep-seated racist attitude amongst some police officers remains.
Only time will tell if lessons learned from mistakes regarding restraint techniques, such as the one used against George Floyd, will lead to any real change.
Editor’s Note: Joan Blaney, a plain advocate for the black community in the United Kingdom, is the author of From Kitchen Sink to Boardroom: Realizing Women’s Potential for Corporate Success. An international social entrepreneur, Blaney was honoured with the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen (CBE). She is a member of The PuLSE Institute National Advisory Panel. She contributes columns about the socioeconomic challenges facing Britain’s black community. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute at email@example.com.