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In Remembrance of George Floyd

Category: Independent Office for Police Conduct, Anti-racism, George Floyd, Addressing racial inequality, Race Equality and Inclusion, Regional Director

Global Ethnic Majority

Nine minutes and 29 seconds.

On 25 May last year, this was the time it took to extinguish the life of a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A white police officer knelt on the man’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as he lay, face down, handcuffed, helpless, and ultimately killing him. At that point no-one knew who he was.

By the following day the world would know his name, as videos of his murder circulated worldwide.

The horrific murder of George Floyd last year shocked the world and led to global protests to recognise that black lives do matter. Police accountability was put into the spotlight in a way that it hasn’t been for a long time. George’s murder resurfaced longstanding issues concerning the relationship between black communities and the police. The issue of racial discrimination was at the heart of these concerns.

While our system of policing is very different from the American system, what last year has shown us is that we cannot be complacent in this country. The issues about race and policing, are a conversation that policing in this country needs to have.

These are issues which form part of the IOPC’s DNA and work. The need for independent oversight of the police was established during periods in this country’s history where concerns about racial discrimination and policing couldn’t be ignored:

  • the Brixton riots
  • the Scarman Report
  • the murder of Stephen Lawrence
  • The Macpherson Inquiry.

All milestone events, all where race, discrimination and policing intersected.

It’s often said we have a policing by consent model, but what does this mean? It means the relationship between the police and the public is absolutely critical. Where the police don’t enjoy the confidence of all of the communities they serve, this affects their ability to retain trust and confidence. Ultimately, without this, their legitimacy is undermined.

In the end, all communities want is to feel they are being treated fairly, and with equity.

We know we have a role to play here. Which is why in September last year, we launched a review of race-based discrimination. Since then we’ve been looking at all independent investigations involving issues of possible racial discrimination opened, as well as any other relevant and recent cases from before this date. This includes looking at relevant cases dealt with locally by police forces that we see on appeal and review.

The areas we are focusing on include those where there is an indication that disproportionality in the use of police powers impacts people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities (including stop and search and use of force) and where victims from these communities have felt unfairly treated by the police.

We expect to publish a report on emerging findings in the summer, and a final report next year.

It’s also important that we use our powers to help improve policing practice in these key areas of concern. That’s why we are currently developing national recommendations to help improve policing practice in the use of stop and search and a review of over 100 Taser cases. Both pieces of work include issues around racial discrimination and disproportionality.  

Police accountability means being open to scrutiny, open to challenge and open to change. It also means listening to people when they raise concerns about discrimination and disproportionality. On this we are starting to see some promising signs.

As an example, last Autumn we made a series of learning recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Service to address concerns in their use of stop and search which we identified in a series of our investigations. The Met accepted all 11 of our recommendations. Through our proactive community engagement, we told communities across London about this work.

We are now starting to see evidence within some London boroughs of communities being empowered by this and monitoring and holding the police to account for the local implementation of the Met’s response to our learning recommendations.

Undoubtedly positive, but we still have a long way to go.

As a person of colour with lived experience of racism I have felt the weight of my role and the responsibility it carries, heavily. Leading nationally on discrimination work for the IOPC has meant being involved in difficult but necessary conversations.

It has meant listening to communities about issues which have been talked about for decades without them seeing meaningful change. It has meant hearing from senior police officers that they are listening to communities and want to earn their trust and confidence. Issues of race, discrimination and disproportionately underpin all of this.

The divide here is clear, as is the solution - that it can only be bridged if policing listens to these communities and most importantly follows this up with action. Without this, from what black communities in particular are telling us, the cumulative effect of this is to further strain the relationship policing has with them. This benefits no-one.

If we go back to those nine minutes and 29 seconds on 25 May last year it marked a catalyst for change.

We can’t and we shouldn’t forget George Floyd. Just like Stephen Lawrence, his death changed history and needs to be viewed as further momentum for change.

As the IOPC we have a responsibility to work with policing and communities to continue tackling the issues this resurfaced and help make change happen, with deeds not words.

Sal Naseem is the London Regional Director and the lead for race-based discrimination for the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Our focus on race-based discrimination was announced in 2020 as one of our priority areas of work.

 

George Floyd

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