LONDON (CU)_Back in April 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager from Plumstead, southeast London, was waiting for a bus in Well Hall Road, Eltham, when he was stabbed to death in what was later identified as a racially motivated attack. The case triggered widespread controversy and heated public debate and its fallout included cultural changes of attitudes on racism and the police.
In 1998, Sir William Macpherson headed a public inquiry into the original Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation, following which it was concluded that the investigation was incompetent and that the force was “institutionally racist”. Nearly 25 years since then, chief constables admit there is still “much to do”, to win the confidence of black people, but vow that they will.
The chief police officers recently admitted that they were “ashamed” of continuing racism in policing, despite a promise of zero tolerance on the matter. Accordingly, they have launched an action plan to address these issues, which includes mandatory training for all officers on racism and black history. They also intend to expand the recruitment and retention of black police officers and improve support for black victims of crime, as part of the new plan.
“We accept that policing still contains racism, discrimination and bias,” the chief constables said in a foreword to the new plan, acknowledging that change has been too slow. “We are ashamed of those truths, we apologise for them and we are determined to change them. We have much to do to secure the confidence of black people, including our own staff, and improve their experience of policing – and we will.”
The initiative is also in response to anti-racism rallies that took place across the UK following the death to George Floyd, an African-American man who was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, two years ago. The protesters claimed that statistics attest to police discrimination in the UK, with black people being nine times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people, and were five times more likely to have force used on them.
“We absolutely accept that many people think we are institutionally racist. We know that through the engagement we’ve done and that’s the reality of where we are,” Sir Dave Thompson, West Midlands chief constable, said. “What this plan is about is us saying ‘ok our job, through this action and through our work, is to demonstrably show people we are not institutionally racist’.”