ARE’s Meka Beresford and Tara Shah reflect on the launch of the Alliance for Police Accountability, and the urgent and overdue need for deep policing reform to further race equality in the UK.
It has been 24 years since the Metropolitan Police force were first formally recognised as institutionally racist.
In 1999, Sir William Macpherson deemed the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist in his landmark inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But nearly a quarter of a century down the line, very little has changed. Just a few months ago, Baroness Louise Casey found that institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia has continued to persist, and even worsen, in the Metropolitan Police service. The Casey Review confirmed what Black and Brown communities in London have always known – policing is broken.
Despite the damning review, instances of racial profiling, inadequate misconduct measures, and the refusal to fully accept responsibility for the institutional racism that lies at the very foundation of policing have persisted. The media is littered with stories that paint a picture of a force unchanged: from the arrest of a woman in front of her distressed son over a wrongful accusation of fare evasion, to the charging of six former Metropolitan Police officers who sent grossly offensive racist messages on WhatsApp.
These incidents reflect the wider the over policing and mistreatment that Black communities face. It’s little wonder why trust in the police has been completely eroded to the point that only 46% of Black people trust the police, a proportion 18% lower than White adults.
Systemic inequality and harm within policing isn’t just restricted to the capital. We know that institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia permeates police forces across England and Wales.
Nationally, racially minoritised communities are disproportionately policed:
- Black people are five times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
- Black people are more likely than white people to be strip searched by police. 7% of White children were strip searched, compared to 11% of Black and Asian children.
- Police in England used force on Black people at a rate 3x times higher than on white people.
- There are now less than one thousand young people in custody but over half of the young people in Youth Offending Institutions are from Black, Asian, or mixed heritage backgrounds
- Black people account for 8% of deaths in custody but make up just 3% of the population.
In Avon and Somerset, Chief Constable Sarah Crew acknowledged her own force as institutionally racist after applying the framework outlined in the Casey Review.
Unfortunately, few senior police figures are willing to address the institutional nature of discrimination within policing. Instead, there is a focus on the few ‘bad apples’ which have perpetrated this harm. The problem with this thinking is that policing won’t be fixed by removing those bad apples – the system which they’ve thrived in needs to fundamentally change.
At Action for Race Equality (ARE), we have campaigned to address the issues that lead to unjust experiences and outcomes for Black, Asian, and mixed heritage people in the criminal justice system for over 30 years, particularly through our EQUAL project. We have sat on many advisory groups, and even established our own national independent advisory group.
We continue to take action on issues with institutional racism in policing and the wider criminal justice system, but now more than ever we understand just how important and powerful it is to collaborate with other organisations working to achieve the same outcomes as us. That is why we are delighted to be a part of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA).
The APA is bringing together a network of key Black organisations, such as ARE, and individuals with experience in policing. Fostering this co-operation and forming a unified voice for change is essential having influence over something as impenetrable as policing. It also provides a space to share best practices with each other around how to engage with different police organisations, and pooling resources takes the strain off a single group and increases the capacity available to deliver something so momentous.
The APA is also set to conduct one of the largest Black community consultations that has ever taken place. Over the next three-years, the APA will engage and consult with Black communities in various cities around England and Wales – including communities of women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities – to develop Black policing and public health charters, both at a local and national level, that are consented to by those they serve. The project’s goal is to establish local police monitoring groups that enhance police accountability and facilitate community-led public health action and violence reduction networks. The aim is for this to then form indisputable evidence for how police forces need to work in these communities to build up the trust that has been lost.
Taking an intersectional and grassroots approach reflects how ARE carries out all of our work. This approach ensures that individual experiences will be considered as part of the overall project, and rather than a ‘one size fits all’ solution, we will have developed a unique understanding about the varying experiences of discrimination within policing.
ARE is fully committed to supporting the APA’s approach, and being the secretariat has given us a strong position to feedback throughout the programme’s development. When working with local partner organisations, the APA is committed to capacity building them to ensure their sustainability even once this work is completed. This is an approach that ARE champions in all of our programmes and to funders, as a way to strengthen the sector of Black-led community organisations.
The APA recently held its launch event to strong support from a range of audience members and speakers, including Baroness Casey and Mina Smallman – someone who has significant interest in changing the police relationship with the Black community after officers mishandled the investigation into her two murdered daughters. The strength of emotion from the event only exemplifies the desire so many have for an initiative like this to work and that change in the relationship between Black communities and the police cannot come fast enough.
Guest blog by Tara Shah, Project Support Officer and Meka Beresford, Head of Policy