I am a black female Police Officer of African-Caribbean descent, currently serving with the West Midlands Police. I speak because I am overwhelmed by the social structures that seek to erode the essence of who and what I am. I am wearied by the social statements and conversations that seek to minimise my contributions to the noble profession of policing and my personal sacrifices to see a cohesive and acceptable level of organisational justice, quality of service delivery and engagement with black communities.
I am often forced to remind myself that I walk the great policing beat for miles and miles with African feet! Policing does not separate me from my black origin or the pain of my community.
PC Andrea Reynolds
Rolling forward towards the end of a policing career, that has seen the impact of historic events and decisions seep negatively into the heart of all communities. These decisions have shouted subliminal messages. Messages that have undermined, eroded and significantly impacted the way that black staff and black communities are perceived, understood, and treated.
In the last few weeks, I have seen the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the United States of America and the outpouring of hurt and grief across the world when the circumstances were aired on video. The feeling of helplessness, frustration and anguish was clear in the protests that followed from all communities. His death has served to evoke memories of experiences past for me as a black female Police Officer, and from the general archives of British policing, which have not been satisfactorily resolved or reconciled. These experiences have changed ambitions and crushed dreams.
We hear the cry from our white colleagues who say, ‘but I am not racist’. I do hear you, and I have worked with some wonderful colleagues. However, there is no getting around the few apples that spoil the barrel. That cannot be denied! However, the white experience is also misunderstood, often seen as ‘just fair’ with little recognition that being born white in the UK comes with a host of benefits not afforded to black people. The shout should not be ‘I am not a racist!’ the shout should be ‘I am actively and vocally anti-racist!’
We have seen the advent of Britain’s call for help from the colonies during the first and second world wars and they got that help. We served, we built, we invented, and we impacted history positively. War-torn Britain was re-built by using the strength and power of black people. In return what has post-colonial and post-slavery Britain done as an expression of gratitude?
They have said ‘get out now, we no longer need you’ in the epic ‘Windrush Scandal’. We see the eradication of the black experience from all aspects of our education system. We embrace the positives but are far less willing to discuss or acknowledge the negatives of Empire and Colonialism which continue to negatively affect the experience of black people today. The result of this lack of honesty for black communities is; lower self-esteem; poorer educational attainment; significantly increased poverty which leads to significantly inferior living conditions; poorer health and ultimately lower life expectancy. The canvass of British society in all areas of political or economic significance is painting a picture that is without colour. I therefore understand the passionate views behind the protests which are farther reaching than the death of George Floyd.
I have served policing under the leadership of five Chief Officers in the West Midlands Police. I believe that the current Chief Constable, David Thompson, wants change because he has by far been the most supportive of black staff, the most innovative for change around the diversity and inclusivity agenda, the catalyst for procedural justice, policy change and attempts to shake up dinosaurian departments with no black staff and it is my view that he has met with significant resistance to change even at threat to his very life! The Chief has had to challenge uncomfortably internally and nationally. Can Chief David Thompson change the West Midlands Police Service on his own? Clearly not! Without the full support of his executive team and middle managers change will continue to be laboriously slow and not felt on the frontline of policing where the quality of service delivery is impacted. It is also the place where bridges should be built with all communities.
How can policing be fair in the context of a ‘structurally’ racist society and country? That is the conversation that we need to have. We cannot approach the circumstances that has led to a significant disconnect between the police and our black communities with denial or a lack of candour. We have to have an understanding that racism and its effects are much farther reaching than policing and farther reaching than the disparity in use of force figures. We need leadership from the government of our time and support for our current Chief Officer to realise the vision of an inclusive force, together. Who knows what we can achieve together as a people united by the same vision?
George Floyd must not die in vain. His murder should be a catalyst for change and a stark reminder of what can happen when the police become juror and executioner. In the same vein the changes fought for by Doreen and Neville Lawrence has to be implemented in British policing before we will see a significant change in the recruitment, progression and retention of black staff.
A start point can be education. Where do colleagues access information about anything in the above discussion? Who represents and challenges for us at important internal meetings? Who advocates for us with a passionate voice? There are not enough black people internally to sit at all relevant tables alongside our day jobs but there are enough of us wanting to see change. I am sad that the reasons for founding the Black and Asian Police Association were relevant at the start of my policing career and continue to remain very relevant reasons at the end of my career, spanning nearly 30 years campaigning respectfully for change. West Midlands Police still have opportunity to be a beacon of light in a very dim world and a national example to all! As well said by Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer) “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”