Police racism – enshrined in practice

Police racism – enshrined in practice


Written by: Jon Burnett

Police indifference to BME community concerns perpetuates racial violence, according to ongoing research by the Institute of Race Relations.

The police have been forced to acknowledge the racism embedded within their own ranks recently, primarily as a result of the quick-witted teenager Mauro Demetrio, who surreptitiously recorded a PC telling him that ‘the problem with you is that you will always be a n****r’ and who has since claimed that he was effectively strangled after being arrested. In the aftermath, a flurry of high-profile allegations have emerged about police brutality, and overt police racism has been brought to public attention in a number of cases.

What these have exposed is an ongoing reality of police harassment and violence normally hidden from public view. And rightly, there has been outcry from community activists and civil liberties groups demanding that those responsible are held to account. Amidst this furore though, police racism in a different guise has continued unabated with almost no acknowledgement. This racism stems not from the abuse and bullying which is meted in the back of police vans, but from their inertia (verging on downright refusal) to respond to BME community concerns. Still, years after allegations were made by organisations like the IRR in the 1970s, cases of racial violence are still not investigated and allegations are not taken seriously.[1] And it is a torpor which gives a green light to ongoing campaigns of harassment.

In Peterborough last month, taxi-drivers made this clear in a meeting with the police, where they expressed fury over the handling of an assault on Gholam Hussein, who was viciously beaten in an unprovoked, sustained attack leaving him hospitalised, with one eye socket broken. Despite a witness being able to point out at least one of the perpetrators, nothing was done.[2] It was also made clear by Seymour Pantry, the chairman of the Barnstaple Residents’ Association, disabled and with a prosthetic leg. Mr Pantry’s teenage brother was killed in a racist attack in 1980, and he himself was beaten to the ground earlier this month by a man who screamed racist abuse at him when he was prone on the floor. The police’s decision to release the offender with a caution – partly on the basis that he admitted the attack straight away after being arrested – has left Mr Pantry angry, stating that they ‘did not do their job’.[3]

Such ineffectual responses make a mockery of the 1999 Macpherson Report which included a searing critique of the police’s response to racist attacks. They also fly in the face of claims by the police and some politicians that since the report, the police have undergone a process of steady and largely uninterrupted reform. In March, the sons and son-in-law of Shah Alom, the owner of the Bengal Fusion restaurant in Somerset, were arrested. This happened after they tried to protect themselves and their business from a group of people who smashed windows and shouted racist abuse. None of the attackers were arrested when the police arrived, and the restaurant owner has since stated that the combination of vandalism and the police’s response to it has forced him to consider leaving the area where he has lived for the last twenty-two years.[4]

Experiences such as Mr Alom’s are not one-offs. On the contrary, police practices which ignore the realities of racist attacks, whilst simultaneously criminalising self-defence, are leading to people across the UK being hounded from their homes, work-places and schools, often fighting against the system which claims to safeguard them. In Northern Ireland, Charles Awoyelu and his family were forced to flee their home recently after a prolonged campaign of racist abuse which included having a rock thrown through their 8-year-old child’s bedroom window as she slept. The family were lucky enough to have short-term access to a rent-free property through contacts at their local church, but when that came to an end their application to have their home repurchased under a special scheme for people who have been intimidated, was rejected. Eligibility for the scheme is reliant on the local Chief Constable signing off that the police think the victim’s life is in danger, and as a result of this decision the family face having to continue paying the mortgage on a house they have been hounded out of.[5]

In Bedfordshire, meanwhile, an elderly Muslim man instigated legal action against his housing association last month because it will not relocate him, despite a three-year-campaign of racist abuse which led to his wife leaving the country and his children living in fear. The local police acknowledged receiving ongoing calls from the man about the harassment, but nothing appears to have been done. Nothing, that is, aside from him being handed with the bill for the damaged property by the housing association.[6]

Responding to the recent allegations of police brutality, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard-Hogan Howe has pledged to become the ‘implacable enemy’ of racism in the police, promising to root out those engaged in overt violence and abuse. In echoes of Lord Scarman’s description of a few ‘bad apples’ three decades ago, these grandiose claims perpetuate a portrayal of racism as something confined to the prejudices of a few rogue officers in an otherwise benevolent institution. The examples above (only a snapshot of the realities of policing for many BME communities) expose the fallacy in such a view. Police racism is not just a matter of prejudice or individuals over-stepping the mark, it is also significantly entrenched in policing priorities, practices and procedures.

[1] Institute of Race Relations, Policing against black people, London, Institute of Race Relations, 1987. [2]Police response to be scrutinised’, Peterborough Telegraph, 4 February 2012. [3]Victim of Barnstaple racist attack angered by police action’, North Devon Journal, 24 May 2012. [4] 'Family “a target of race attack” in fight outside restaurant’, Crewkerne Western Gazette, 5 April 2012. [5]SPED rehousing scheme turns down racist intimidation family’, BBC News, 18 April 2012. [6]Race abuse victim is set to sue BPHA’, Bedfordshire on Sunday, 23 April 2012.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

One thought on “Police racism – enshrined in practice

  1. We are an all British family (since my originally Filipino wife who came to UK/Wales on 8.12.01 became British on 13.5.05) with our two sons born in Wales and only ever having resided in our present Mid Wales home, with several criminal damage with intent to endanger human life attacks on our property occupied, in a small village, aince June 2002.
    The Dyfed Powys Police installed three CCTV cameras for approximately six months (after IPCC involvement) during 2004-5 at our home, but “invented” a “500 yards exclusion radius” under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to seemingly prevent any persons living within that radius of our home being held to account for events aimed at us; even my letters, after “Home Office” related paperwork studied by me, proved fruitless until our solicitor wrote a letter to the police querying the “500 yards exclusion” and by then I had been arrested for having sailors’ flares as a member of a local sailing club/windsurfer since 1978, allegedly for needing a “gun licence” on 8.3.05 for the very same items shown to two Professional Standards’ officers on 14.10.04 in my home seeking my agreement to sign a “happy with police conduct note” which I refused to sign. A County Court judge then refused to consider “misfeasance in public office” in the context of a “wrongful arrest” case that I therefore did not pursue, but by then of even more concern has been the bullying/threats/ attacks on our children mainly when at school/on the local authority provided bus since they started school in 2007 and 2010 respectively; our elder son had been called a “Rice Cooker” in the local town approximately one month before his fourth birthday after his first swimnming lesson at a local leisure centre and walked out of his school on his first full day in January 2007 on seeing the “name caller” in his class, but by December 2007 a GP threatened our children could be “taken away” if I continued to report my elder son’s perceptions of bullying events and, by December 2009, after a three boys’ attack at the school on him including by one boy who had threatened our younger son would be “punched to the ground” if he went to such Church in Wales’ school, “designated” as being the nearest to our home, we allowed both our sons to travel an additional approximately five miles each way to a Community Primary school in another town, as even had been suggested by the GP on 11th December 2007 when he delivered the “threat” of the children being taken away possibly, although never confirmed by Children’s Services who, during Core Assessments after my complaints in 2009, noted “anti-Roman Catholic feelings and racism” as factors leading to the attacks. However, by autumn 2010, our elder son had been “stabbed” twice with a pencil by another boy in his class and to this day has been refused “proportionate rights to self defence”, but not by police officers consulted by me ONLY under the school’s own rules allegedly although to date I have no answers on such issues from the Chair of the Board of Governors/Complaints Officer at the school; the Powys County Council’s “School Effectiveness” officer chaired a meeting attended by my elder son/me plus Head Teacher and Education Welfare officer, in January 2012, but still my son received no answers on how the bullying would be effectively reduced and not the subject of phrases such as “they were only playing”.
    As I said to the Liberal Democrat Assembly Member, who had described the local authority’s response in December 2007 as “draconian” when we met in March 2008, “There is a lot worth fighting for in Mid Wales but we need a wagon train mentality and to expect to be attacked”. At least, since January 2012, the local authority has improved safety on the provided contractor’s bus for the journeys to/from school for my two sons with addition of CCTV/”escort” adult (additional to the driver) and does use its limited powers to “exclude” offending pupils (secondary school ages) for limited periods in event of “upheld” complaints of bad behaviour sufficient to cause concerns on reported safety issues.
    In the opinion of my previously attacked immediate family members, aged between six and sixty-three years, there will always be problems as nothing//nobody will ever make people in general like each other, but the laws will never work satisfactorily unless the police/local authorities/courts use their powers objectively, on a “level playing field” basis, not influenced by factors such as “networking” to the disadvantage of those who choose to remain independent of such groups.

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