By Councillor Mark Blake, Cabinet Member for Communities and Equalities
The protests across the world have galvanised a multi racial coalition of progressive young people to the cause of addressing the ills of racism. The Covid 19 crisis rather than`bringing us all together’ has exasperated inequality and our county’s BAME communities have experienced far higher death rates.
Racism is not an aberration by our Black and minority communities but a reality that is ground into the fabric of our society in education, employment, health, housing and our justice systems that compound the evils of poverty and injustice. I could flood this piece with often repeated statistics but I won’t as my experience within institutions and politics is that they have almost become immune to this narrative. The issue of racism in the UK has to address the denial of its existence particularly in the actions of our countries politicians and institutions. This is at the heart of the rage that we have seen since the death of George Floyd.
If I assert that Brexit has resulted in increased racism (which I do) it does not mean that I believe every person who voted to leave the EU is a racist. Too often serious debate about racism is ridiculed to the level of individual defence systems and negates the fact we are talking about pervasive structures of power and abuse that are centuries old and deeply embedded in our society.
At the heart of the current wave of protests is policing and its relationship with the black community in the UK. This history is a long and pained one and Haringey is right at its heart. To be honest I am tired because i have lived through so many supposed turning points from the riots of the 1980’s through to Stephen Lawrence’s enquiry, the 2011 riots and the Windrush scandal.
I fully appreciate how hard our Mayor, the Metropolitan Police and local authorities work to keep London safe. I also passionately believe that there needs to be recognition and a process to address the long held grievances from London’s black community.
The six recommendations I make below are concrete proposals that would be a good start. Our young people won’t wait for another enquiry. Their energy, determination and idealism sustains my hope.
- Senior Leadership at the Met Police must accept and address the issue of ethnic disproportionality in the use of force and stop and search. Racism within our institutions is not an aberration but a staple reality of life for our BAME communities as exemplified in the disproportionate death rates related to Covid 19. Neither the Met, local government or any government agency are immune to this.
- All taser discharges should be immediately referred to the IOPC for assessment as to whether they warrant further investigation (this is the position in Scotland)
- The use of stop and search powers should be independently reviewed particularly with regards to ethnic disproportionality, its effectiveness in preventing and solving serious and violent crime, the impact on children and their effect on community relations.
- Local Authorities should be tasked with establishing third party reporting structures for complaints against the police similar to those in place for hate crime. This would provide a place for groups such as young black men who tend not to complain to have their experiences recorded and their voices heard.
- Serious Youth Violence in London will not be addressed by more punitive law enforcement. As a society we have to accept that where the supply and distribution of illegal drugs is the biggest recruiter and income generator in our poorest neighbourhoods that presents the biggest threat to community safety in our city. To tackle it demands action on the social and economic ills that create this environment. It means investing in our most disadvantaged young people and impoverished communities and giving them opportunities. These conditions impact disproportionately on London’s black community. After a decade of austerity only a committed radical national government working with local government can address this. Too often the debates around serious youth violence focus on policing responses and do not listen to the voices of those young people from the localities and communities most affected who have the insights to provide the answers.
- Drugs policy in this country has changed little over the past 40 years and has been an abysmal failure, fuelling organised criminality and there is ample evidence that its application is discriminatory. It is now time for a review of drugs policy that will encompass the impartial assessment of options around decriminalisation and legalisation looking at best practice around the world.