Institutional Racism, the Met & Me

Quite a title, don’t you think? A challenge – obviously, as the Met has faced this same charge, of being institutionally racist, periodically over most of my adult life.   When Police officers hear this charge they immediately say ‘not me, I’m not racist.  I dont work with any racists either.  So the charge is untrue and unfair!’  Of course, in the vast majority of instances, this is absolutely true.  And yet not.

I  am going to tell you something which I don’t often speak about.  I recently told this story to my teenage son.  He was not, as I had imagined, proud of me.  He was shocked that I had not done more.  He made me think.  Then yesterday, I exchanged only two tweets with Sophie Kahn which cemented the thoughts that my son had planted.  

Many years ago I was a young WPC in London, in a marked police car being driven by an older PC.  We drove past four black teenagers.  They were walking on the pavement, talking and laughing between themselves.  Just the same as all the other people on the street that day.  Except that the PC I was with turned our car around  and drove back to the group of boys.  He drove really slowly beside them and then, when they were all fully aware that our car was trailing them, he wound the window down and began to wind them up.  I genuinely can’t remember what he said.  I do remember thinking very fast about what was going to happen next and what choices I was going to have to make.  Eventually one of the boys swore at  my colleague and this older more experienced PC told me to get out of the car and arrest the boy.  I said no.  It took a lot of guts and I was shaking.  The PC turned several shades of purple and got out of the car calling for back up to arrest the boys who were by now all abusive and loud.  An onlooker may have seen only the aggression and verbal onslaught of these boys.  They would not have seen why this situation had arisen.  So, more colleagues arrived, the boys were chased and eventually caught and arrested for public order offences (probably Breach of the Peace).  I was taken back to the Police Station and kept well out of the way of the older PC who I could hear loudly shouting to all that he would never work with me again.  The boys were quite quickly released without charge and that was the last I saw or heard of them.  The PC moved to a different unit not long after.  Which may or may not have been connected to what happened.

When I told my son, he was not proud of me for making the stand I did.  He was shocked that I had not taken it further.  Why had I allowed that PC to go back out on the street and most likely do it again?  I thought about my son’s reaction for a while then I moved on.  A week later the Met was accused again of being institutionallly racist. PCs began to be suspended.  Recent complaints were reopened. The new Met Commissioner told anyone who would listen that racism would not be tolerated anymore.  But the truth is that this problem is much bigger than one man in charge of one Police Force (Service?!) as was evidenced on  Twitter over Easter Bank Holiday weekend.  

Sophie Kahn wrote what I am sure she will agree was a very inflammatory tweet which garnered a lot of attention from Police Officers all over the country.  The tweet was about the Met but it was clear that it offended officers from all Forces.  Most people who responded directly to her were clearly upset.  Some took things too far.   A well known Police blog featured the tweet and invited further comment.  The responses to that blog contained some unacceptable personal slurs on Ms Kahn.  I tweeted Sophie myself to welcome her to come and meet my family as we have been Met officers for serveral generations.  Her response to me brought me back to the story i had told my son.  She said maybe we were not racists but perhaps some of my family had stood by and let someone else get away with racist behaviour.  She is right. It was me.

I am standing up to be counted.  I am also saying loud and clear that the problem does not lie with the individual officer on the street.  It lies with the systems those officers have to work within and ultimately it lies with ACPO.   Overt racism IS rare.  But institutional racism is quite different  and  most of us  don’t even understand what  it is.   And that’s the real problem.   

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19 Responses to Institutional Racism, the Met & Me

  1. It must be a very difficult environment to work in. I admire the Police, but I get so disappointed when I hear stories of racism in the police service. I have worked in an academic environment where institutional racism is rare, but bullying is rife. We are all responsible.

    Well done on a thought-provoking first post.

  2. Paul says:

    Very brave and I have to say we have all experienced similar if like me you have been part of policing for many decades. Absolutely I agree, ACPO have a huge responsibility here.

  3. Robert Cragg says:

    What a great first blog. Well written, thought provoking and very honest. It’s easy to sit here and say “I would have …” but would we? In those circumstances at that time? I think to be equally honest we have to say we don’t know what we would have done.

    Well done. Look forward to reading more

  4. Gondtengwen says:

    Thanks for posting that, it was very brave of you both in the current context and in the earlier problem, to be honest though as a junior PC I don’t think you could have taken it further and the fact that the offending PC was moved and not you says a lot.

    However, rather sadly I must add that I fully expect what you say here to be taken apart and used against you and the police by people with obvious biases.

  5. JP, wirral says:

    An honest blog from someone who obviously wants to show that not all Police Officers are racist, and generalisations should not be applied.
    However, I cannot help but notice that you have paraphrased Sophie Khan’s response to you as saying “Maybe” you were not racists but “perhaps” some of your family had stood by and let racism occur. I find that a stubborn response, lacking in the flexibility to take each person as an individual. Why not just take your conciliatory guesture in good spirit? Why respond back to you in a way that failed to accept that you are not racist, simply because you may have worked in an organisation that has had / has issues (as I’m sure other organisations also do).
    I would encourage you not to beat yourself up too much and not allow others to reframe how you feel about what you did. You did a good thing. You are not a racist because someone else claims they would have done something differently.
    That older PC abused you as well as those young men. There are plenty of occasions in life where we don’t have the power to do what we know what should be done. Yes, it would have been a good thing for you to have reported him, but all of us – Ms Khan included – sometimes fail to do the heroic. You can’t individually shoulder the blame for that man or those colleagues – *individual* colleagues – who don’t behave as they should.
    Be proud of yourself and your family. You cannot apologise for the actions of others just because you have a conscience.

  6. stuart says:

    Well written and thought provoking. However, let me make some observations. (I’m assuming the PC was white as it doesn’t make sense otherwise) The PCs behaviour undermines the efforts of the hard working majority. But why is it racist ? He’s a bullying disgrace who needs dealing with, but you didn’t say he used racist language. Nor did you mention history, reputation or other background. So how do you know what his motive was ?
    As soon as race is even suggested all sense of proportion is lost and it becomes nigh on impossible to deal with the actual situation. Education and openness are more effective than some sort of modern day witch-finder “burning” the accused on the merest whiff of suspicion.

  7. Fabulous first post, thought provoking…..well done!

  8. Me too says:

    You have prefaced your story with, “many years ago”. I wonder how many years ago the incident happened and whether the institution has itself changed since then.

    While I have no doubt there is room for improvement, the Met has done probably more than any organisation I know of to eliminate discrimination.

    Whereas I’d be delighted to learn more from you and your experience, I see no point in meeting with Ms Khan. She needs to grow up and stop making incendiary tweets about all police being “retarded” before any of us can take her seriously.

    • Totally agree. Cate, I don’t know how long it is since you left, but diversity training across all of the strands has broadened officers’ understanding. That said, no amount of training will cause a racist to change his/her view. It may lead to them being more guarded over their actions or comments for fear of being found out, but the truth will out eventually. However, individuals do not make other individuals or for that matter, organisations racist. Some may lack the courage to challenge racism when they witness it, but neither does that make them racist any more than a bystander who witnesses an assault is guilty of that assault for not intervening. It merely means they lacked the courage to deal with it. Some people just don’t like confrontation and that includes some police officers.
      You witnessed an incident and from that you ask us to accept that it is possible that racism is more widespread that we’d like to believe. I can see your point. Sophie Khan on the other hand did something much wider reaching than that; she inferred that ALL police officers were racist. I messaged her myself to try to make her understand what she had done only for her to infer that if I did not accept, in its entirety, what her view was, then I must be racist too! I find that grossly offensive. Being called a racist as a police officer in modern-day Britain, is one of the most career-threatening allegations an officer could face. It is an automatic referral to PSD and whether guilty or not creates a stigma against that officer. This is an allegation that is not to be taken lightly. Every single police officer I know detests every officer who is proven to be racist because it causes so much grief for the remainder of us. Sophie Khan, in my opinion, compromised herself. In accusing every police officer of being racist or of covering for racists, she did exactly what she claims to oppose; she judged all the individuals within a group (police) as guilty on the basis of being a member of that group.

  9. I think as our society becomes more progressive, discrimination will eventually become a thing of the past. With the new generation of police officers entering the work place I believe the racism that may already exist within the police will become defunct as younger, more accepting officers replace the older fashioned officers who still have a pre-PACE mentality

  10. PC Lightyear says:

    Cate
    With regard to the story you’ve mentioned in your blog, you say it was a long time ago.

    You also say you don’t remember what your colleague said, do you remember if what he said was racist?

    If it wasn’t then I question what this has to do with institutional racism, surely it’s a case of one officer being, for want of a better word, a prat?

    I assume you’d have been just as disapproving of his behaviour if it was a group of white kids he’d wound up?

    You say your colleagues was heard shouting ‘I wont work with her again’ and was later transferred. you weren’t I think that might say a lot too.

    Do I think you did think you did the right thing?….. in those days I think you probably did the only thing you could.

    With regards to Khan’s comments on twitter, saying that “Met officers are racist on duty and off duty, they are BNP scum” shows just how lopsided and twisted the racism/equality has become these days.

    Incidents of racism, real proven racism, are rare these days, very rare.

    The recent cases in the media – 20 Met employees being investigated, officers and staff

    that’s 20 allegations, not yet proven, in an organisation of 50,000

    I don’t care what anyone says, that is a bloody good record in anyone’s book.

    But I do think this has a lot to do with society itself changing, and therefore the people in the police reflecting that.

  11. cj says:

    Well written & open account to be commended for publishing.
    We are all biased ! The problem is greater & far more complex than anyone really would like to admit, I have a relative in the force that cannot trust anyone from Wales!
    It can go deeper when religion is involved, yes we all have a tendency to categorise people based on our own conditioning. Perhaps more needs to be done to neutralize this negativety.
    It works both ways though, some people mistrust the Police for no particular reason.
    There are good & bad in every occupation, It’s just a shame that one incident can ruin improvements being made.
    It’s all down to respect, earning it, keeping it & feeling it on all sides, especially from the Government.

  12. Barry says:

    Great blog

    I have to agree as above. You obviously perceived that the motive from your colleague was
    race. Only he will ever know why he did what he did.

    What would your feelings have been if the youths were white?

    I have witnessed colleagues do this time and time again. Escalate situations to the point of arrest. The officers involved weren’t fit to lace the shoes on most of the detainees feet. Suffice to say those colleagues didnt last long in this world.

    My issue with racism is this. A racist incident is classified as such if any persons perceives it to be as such. The police are duty bound to record as such. This counts in terms of crime reports and complaints against police i.e. Pc bloggs was rude to me because I am black/white/asian.

    There does not have to be a shred of evidence to suggest that this is the case. Not a shred. Pc Bloggs may well be a racist but he says or does nothing to suggest that he was rude for any reason related to race.

    The complaint against Pc Bloggs becomes a statistic to quote.

    The law (i.e. the definition of racially aggravated) requires a demonstration of hatred or hostility based on race.

    There are some complaints that will clearly fit this definition i.e. the recent recording of the Met Pc telling a black youth that he will always be a nigger. Shocking, inexcusable and downright racist regardless of what context it was within.

    The example that you give in the blog lacks a demonstration of “race hate”.

  13. Adam says:

    The other day a child in a care home called a member of staff a “monkey”. The member of staff was black. There is a long story behind this but the child had had been particularly wound up before hand. Now my question is this…..did the child say it because she was racist or because it was the first insult she could think of? Had the person been obese would she have called him fat? Had the person been wearing glasses would she have called them speccy/four eyes, etc. Calling names is wrong but our current definition of racist is also wrong. Aside from someone saying “that is racist” what really determines whether something is or not? My own personal feelings is that the only way you can really tell is being inside the mind of the person themselves. That would involve either an admission or telepathy – neither of which are necessarily forthcoming.

    Not that that justifies what your senior PC did. His behaviour (whether it was racially motivated or otherwise) was reprehensible. You took a stand by refusing to arrest and it was the right thing to do. People say things like discrimination will disappear over time. I don’t know if I agree. We have several thousand years of crusades to prove otherwise. What we can become is more understanding. But that is another story.

    For other personal thoughts, I resent that Ms Khan has achieved any sort of a reaction from anyone. Her tweet was unprofessional and incendiary for sure but it was also deliberate. She is the experience PC in your example. It wasn’t necessarily racism but it was focused on causing offence. If none of us gave it the attention it craved it would have just disappeared on the wind. Who honestly cares if the tree makes any noise when it falls in the forest?

    I do like your blog, honestly I do but I think it is a poor example of racism and it certainly proves nothing about any force being institutionally racist now.

  14. Gondtengwen says:

    I note that Ms Khan has been referring people to this blog using the tweet

    “Apart from the reference to offensive tweet pls read” …

    I’m not saying anything about that but I thought you should know

    • JP says:

      yes, please read this blog where even police officers who act with integrity are being pressured into accepting that they must be racist because some years ago they have worked alongside others who have acted inappropriately. But please remember to be selective in what you read – believe only what I agree with, ignore the bits I don’t like.
      Sigh!

    • catemoore says:

      I’m very happy for this to be read by many people with differing experiences. That’s why I wrote it the way I did.

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