May 2022: You can't even admit it
Police chiefs make anti-racism commitment, fingers firmly lodged in their ears
It’s been 2 years since the murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States. We’d love to tell you institutional police racism is over, or even just that things are getting better. Instead, the constant news of egregious police practices expose an establishment so rotted that it is causing many more people both in the US and here in the UK to realise that the police actively pose a threat to their lives.
But our government – who have expanded section 60 powers and given the green light for volunteers to carry lethal electrical weapons – think it’s officers who need protecting. More discretionary (and fire) power to fuel their law-and-order rhetoric.
We try to keep bringing the stories of those who suffer under proposals like these to peoples’ attention, which is why we will be launching our research project exploring the stop and search experiences of girls and women, to be hosted by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP. Click on the image below to access our Eventbrite page for more details.
This month’s stories include:
The police say they want to tackle racism within their ranks, but refuse to take the first step of naming the problem
And in Terrible tech, Priti Patel wants stun guns for grasses
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
Institutionally in denial
In a month where the long overdue Crossrail transport project finally opened its doors to Londoners, the rest of the British public will now endure an even longer wait for its police force to admit that they are institutionally racist.
First, reports came in of Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Emily Spurrell declaring her force to fit the label in an interview (Policing TV, 04 May), to which chief constable Serena Kennedy and the region’s police federation closed ranks (Liverpool Echo, 04 May), expressing their disappointment at Spurrell’s remarks and categorically denying the tag applied to their force.
Former Merseyside officer Chantelle Lunt observed that the dispute between chiefs lacked… colour, shall we say?
Other PCCs including Dorset’s David Sedwick and Hertfordshire’s David Lloyd also said they did not think their respective police forces were institutionally racist. Nor did chief constable of West Midlands police Sir Dave Thompson, who insisted he was ‘not trying to gaslight black communities’ in refuting the label (Guardian, 24 May). He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
We absolutely do acknowledge that many in the community think policing is institutionally racist, and that’s the environment we have to work in. The position we’ve said is we’ve got to prove that we’re not, instead of being caught in a label that can be quite divisive.
We are more than 2 decades on from the Macpherson report which cemented the term after the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But we have a lot of police chiefs who are still very much in their feelings over the term. Meanwhile public confidence in forces like the Met is sinking through the floor (London Evening Standard, 18 May).
And in Scotland, constable Ashley Tomlinson – one of the officers involved in the killing of Sheku Bayoh – appeared to confuse his understanding of conscious with unconscious bias training in a way that raises more questions than answers over police conduct towards ethnic minorities.
With incidents like this, we cannot be surprised when his sister says she has lost all trust in the force and no longer feels safe (The National, 15 May).
At this point, you may wonder whether the police as an institution will make any effort to combat racist behaviour. Well, do not fear, the Race Action Plan is here! And the very same Sir Dave ‘I don’t gaslight’ Thompson will be leading the charge to turn the police into an anti-racist force. In a foreword co-written with College of Policing CEO Andy Marsh, they mention institutional racism by the Macpherson definition and ‘challenging the policies, procedures, operations and cultures in policing where racism, bias and discrimination exists’. But this simply begs the question: why can’t they just admit what they are? If they acknowledge what they must do to win the trust of people of colour tomorrow, then what does that make them today?
These are probably some of the thoughts on Abimbola Johnson’s mind, who will be leading the Independent Scrutiny & Oversight Board on the Race Action Plan (The Voice, 19 May). As a start, her team may well advise that one solidly anti-racist action the police could undertake would involve actually going after Nazis this time (Guardian, 19 May).
Whatever they want to call the problems they have, the police better do something about it, or else they’ll be ‘doomed to repeat the same mistakes’, as Dr Neville Lawrence warned in the Guardian (24 May). But, as with so many other schemes, we won’t hold our breath. As politically controversial long term projects go, we’re more confident that High Speed 2 will be completed before racist police cultures change significantly for the better.
Deaths in custody
The inquest jury into the death of Ian Taylor, who died after suffering a cardiac arrest whilst being held by the Met Police, found that his death was caused by acute asthma and situational stress (Hodge Jones & Allen, 20 May).
They also found that he died in part because the police’s assessment of the risks to Mr Taylor were not adequate. The coroner will refer one of the officers involved to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for further investigation of his conduct.
The most recent round of public hearings into the death of Sheku Bayoh began on 10 May, 7 years on from his killing at the hands of police officers in Kirkcaldy. Police officers involved in the incident face questions from representatives of Bayoh’s family. You can find out more from the Sheku Bayoh inquiry website.
Other policing stories*
Section 60 safeguards dropped: Home secretary Priti Patel lifts restrictions on blanket section 60 stop and search powers for all force in England and Wales (Guardian, 16 May). In a blogpost for us, Eugene K says Patel has been itching to do this and reckons that even with the expansion of powers, the police would get further in their aim of finding weapons by targeting boot sales. Maryam Jameela argues that announcements like this are exactly why cop watching and legal observers are needed (The Canary, 18 May).
StopWatch and Liberty are currently in dispute with the Home Office over previous attempts to ditch the safeguards (where are the Equality Impact Assessments?) Expect us to start flexing our litigative muscles in the near future.
Priti power grab: The home secretary has been accused of a power grab after an attempt by the Home Office’s attempt to redefine a protocol that defines where the responsibility lies in policing (Guardian, 16 May).
Patel has also ordered a review of London mayoral powers over the police after Sadiq Khan appointed Lord Charlie Falconer QC to become the first chair of the London drugs commission (GG2, 18 May).
More Spycops revelations: The stop-start inquiry into undercover policing completed its most recent round of interviews on 21 May. In particular, women deceived into intimate relationships by officers were told they will have to wait another 2 years for the inquiry to hold any further public hearings (Guardian, 20 May).
New session, new awful Bill: The government’s new Public Order Bill is ‘another piece of authoritarian anti-protest legislation’ that makes it harder for people to protest their failures, and ‘takes the attack on civil liberties we saw with the Policing, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act one step further’ writes Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP for Politics Home (23 May).
It contains many provisions that were thrown out of the previous Act by House of Lords peers, including extending the grounds for using stop and search powers to include suspicion that someone is going to commit the offence of obstructing the highway (under section 137 of the Highways Act 1980), public nuisance (section 78 of the PCSC Act) or all the new offences proposed by the Public Order Bill itself (Netpol, 17 May).
New force monitoring initiative: 12 Police Encounter Panels (PEPs) – co-chaired by community leads and area police commanders – will review and give feedback on officers’ encounters with the public, including those which ‘may have caused concern’ (Police Professional, 19 May).
The Met promises use of force in every London borough will be discussed regularly, with panel members being shown body-worn video footage where appropriate.
Child stops: The IOPC has confirmed it is investigating the strip search of another child by the Met police, after 2 other controversial cases involving teenage girls (Child Q and ‘Olivia’), who were strip searched by officers while menstruating (BBC News London, 30 May). ‘Olivia’ was left traumatised by her incident and later tried to kill herself, her mother says (BBC News, 25 May). Her family is now bringing a civil case against the force.
The also police apologised for their unlawful use of force on a 13-year-old boy of mixed race heritage (27 May). The officer involved in this incident was found guilty of misconduct. The child’s legal representative in this case, Iain Gould, warned that if the police service ‘continue to act in this manner – namely stopping, assaulting and frankly terrorising youths without any proper grounds for detaining them – then the culture of police mistrust and poor community relations is bound to continue’.
Police misconduct hearings to go public in Scotland? A new Police Complaints, Investigations and Misconduct Bill may give the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner new powers to deal with cases of gross misconduct (Times, 25 May (£wall)).
The Holyrood bill is being put forward in the wake of an independent review of procedures for police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct in Scotland, led by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.
Are the police fit for purpose? The International Criminological Research Unit will host a day event at the University of Liverpool on 15 June bringing together academics, former senior police officers and activists to discuss a variety of cutting-edge issues related to policing. Click on the link for tickets.
* Selection from the Institute of Race Relations Register of Racism and Resistance. Click on the logo below to access the full repository of stories
Section 60 watch*
Leigh-on-Sea (26 May)
* This is not a comprehensive list. See also an example of abuse of the power [link].
Terrible tech: Stun guns for grasses
Special constables will be allowed to use electroshock weapons (TASERs), as part of home secretary Priti Patel’s promise to empower more officers at the Police Federation’s annual conference in Manchester (Gov.uk, 17 May).
Lethal weapons for volunteer cops? Sounds swell, can’t see anything wrong with this.
Metro @MetroUKBREAKING: Volunteer police to be given same powers as paid officers to use Tasers. https://t.co/6SO7jGW9aL
After all, the regular lot are doing such a great job leading by example (Guardian, 21 May). The home sec clearly believes in normalising the concept of armed police on our streets. But it obvious to us that a significant increase in harmful TASER use is the inevitable future of a disproportionate number of Black adults and children, especially those with mental health issues.
If the face fits
Elsewhere, our data protection regulator fined Clearview AI for its facephoto grabs off websites.
A welcome move, in the sense that at least someone is attempting to pushback against the relentless harvesting of our facial data for the likes of law enforcement agencies to exploit. But it may be too-little-too-late: a spokesperson for company gave the impression that they may not even comply with the ruling (Guardian, 25 May).
While we appreciate the ICO’s desire to reduce their monetary penalty on Clearview AI, we nevertheless stand by our position that the decision to impose any fine is incorrect as a matter of law. Clearview AI is not subject to the ICO’s jurisdiction, and Clearview AI does no business in the UK at this time.
As Guardian tech editor Alex Hern notes, in the techbro age ‘plenty of startups are built around the basic idea of quietly breaking rules until you get large enough that you can afford to comply (or even better, until you get large enough that the rules are changed to promote innovation and make what you do legal anyway)’. It’s just what they do. And some police forces (see the Met) have no problem with this bulk theft as long as it helps bolster their surveillance databases. Something to think about the next time you find yourself next to a facial recognition van.
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