By John Pegram, case worker, public speaker, founder
When it comes to communities and the police of late, it has most certainly been eventful. We’ve headed from cultures of denial and deflection to clearly bitter acceptance by the police that something is most definitely wrong within their ranks and try as they might there’s no escaping the fact that institutional racism, misogyny, homophobia, and general bigotry are a deeply rooted problem within not just the Met but locally here in Avon and Somerset too.
In fact, we noted much to our surprise that Chief Constable Sarah Crew has seemingly embraced the organisational problem that has blighted the police not just for the past few years but for decade after decade. If you don’t believe me, just check history as well as statistics and facts the chairman of the Police Federation Mark Loker seems reluctant to admit exists.
In fact, Loker claims taking a degree of ownership and accountability of the much loathed term is quite simply “virtue signaling.” despite acknowledgement of major issues in particular with the policing of black communities and rapidly eroding trust Loker seems determined to deflect and deny what so many of us have known exists for years.
“Avon & Somerset Police must have difficult conversations about the issue of racism, but the force is not institutionally racist, and making declarations that it is does nothing to drive change or amend culture.“
However when a Chief Constable makes statements like this
“Not being racist is no longer good enough, not for me and not for any of us. It is no longer okay to be a bystander and do nothing, to be part of a system that disadvantages one group of people over another.”
It catches the attention of not just the general public and the communities who have been on the brunt of institutionally racist policing for decades but of course independent police monitoring groups such as ourselves.
It may be a long time coming but for many anti-racist campaigners seeing a Chief Constable show accountability and ownership for such a deeply rooted problem within her police force was almost like a breath of fresh air.
I say almost like a breath of fresh air because right now it’s very difficult to forget that Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol Council were found to be institutionally racist in 2017 following the brutal and racist murder of Iranian refugee Bijan Ebrahimi in 2013 It’s fair to say that since the findings of the IPCC Avon and Somerset Police have learned nothing.
In fact, living on the edge of the community where the murder took place I can say from my own experience and my work as a volunteer caseworker the notoriously racist Broadbury Road police are still the same notoriously racist Broadbury Road police of old. As Desmond Brown has quite rightly pointed out
“Rhetoric isn’t enough until communities can see that their streets are being policed in a fair way, it doesn’t matter what she says.”
it’s very common to hear seemingly benevolent senior police officers make assurances and promises to the general public and in particular to communities that are over-policed and subjected to discriminatory and often corrupt practices that things will change for the better.
If Chief Constable Sarah Crew really wants to demonstrate “common sense” policing she should probably distance herself from far-right tropes such as the fear of “political correctness ” and “wokeism” She should apply common sense and start to deal with the issues of racist policing starting at street level where it impacts us the most, in fact watching what can be best described as institutional bickering between the Police Federation and herself speaks volumes about the police’s complete failure to engage with communities and form those lasting bonds where trust lives.
She should address the mounting issues with stop and search and rethink the police’s current operational strategy of armed police patrols and risk scoring “offender management” apps free of public scrutiny. You see, we are not statistics. We are not numbers you can crunch and debate and assess. We are humans. The second-class citizens. The wretched of the earth. Our trauma is real and how we are policed is so very wrong.
This time around we want to see change, not just acknowledgment, and we want to see positive results that truly honours the memory of Bijan Ebrahimi, of James Herbert, of anyone and everyone who has experienced state racism and discrimination, police violence, and the deeply ingrained institutional racism of Avon and Somerset Police.
It’s good to see the PCC Mark Shelford and Mayor Marvin Rees support the Chief Constable but it would be better to see an open community forum free of police oversight that allows us to voice our concerns and where promises of change are not just made but actioned where it counts the most and in the end “not one rogue cop” isn’t just a hashtag or banner but our truth.