When asked if the police force was “institutionally racist”, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told MPs that she thought that an “unhelpful label.” She denied the existence of institutional racism in her force. Exactly one year later, two police officers were investigated for their alleged mishandling of the case of Richard Okorogheye, a 19-year-old found dead 20 miles away from his home in West London.
Richard’s mother, Evidence Joel, claims that racism was a factor in the delay between her son being declared missing and the discovery of his body in Epping Forest. One officer reportedly failed to pass on the fact that Richard suffered from sickle cell anaemia to the missing persons team after being contacted by his GP. The second officer is accused of failing to account for Richard’s condition when evaluating his risk level.
Racism and the Metropolitan Police are two words which should not exist in the same sentence. Yet both words together never fail to reach a national newspaper headline each month. For the Met, race is an issue that will not go away. People are rightly angry at the low levels of BAME recruitment, the Met’s prioritization of white victims over black victims, and racial profiling at stop and searches. These are all examples of institutional racism.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities established in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests was a government-led attempt to answer the difficult questions surrounding race and British institutions, including the police.
22 years earlier, the Macpherson report, an inquiry made after the Stephen Lawrence murder and the police handling of the case found that the police were “institutionally racist”. This year the commission found that the UK was not. It went as far as to suggest that the country is a “model” for white majority countries. This suggests that the UK has taken a step back when it comes to recognising and tackling racism within its borders. How can the police tackle one of its greatest problems, when it denies that the issue exists?
The Home Affairs Select Committee also published a report earlier this year which was more damning about the Met’s attitude to racism. Whilst it stated that the police force had changed for the better in many areas, there are still “serious and deep-rooted racial disparities”. It admitted that neither police forces nor governments have taken race equality seriously enough for too long.
Certainly, this is the case if you consider the Home Affairs Committee’s estimate that police forces won’t be representative of their communities for another twenty years – that is forty years after the Macpherson report raised the issue and nearly half a century after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. The committee called this “inexcusable.”
A range of culpability exists amongst the Met and the Government. The institutions themselves remain divided over the issue of whether the force is racist. This division itself however slows down police progress in preventing institutional racism. Perhaps, the Met should be reminded that the fight against racism, should be a sprint not a marathon.
The Met’s response to increase stop and searches to “save young black men” has been criticized as a wildly out of touch policy. In 2019 black people were 2.4 times more likely than white people to be searched, a figure which has only increased since. British Olympic sprinter, Bianca Williams, a victim of an aggressive stop and search, accused the police of racial profiling.
When accused of racism, the immediate response of the Met is internal inquiries, writing up a report with the same effort as a 2nd year student writing their summative the night before and denying the existence of racism in the force. Until more practical solutions are instilled like police wearing body cameras, police training, and recruitment of more black and minority officers, the race crisis in the Met will remain unsolved.
Image: Graham Land via Flickr