By Courtney Ismain
A recent investigation by the Independent newspaper found that more than 3000 police officers in the UK currently have complaints being made against them for alleged assault, with a large majority of the complainants being black or Asian.
This research follows the intensifying racial tensions in the USA after a devastating number of African-American fatalities at the hands of white police officers, which has served to sever relations between the authorities and the black community. The furious and determined activism taking place across the Atlantic in reaction to these deaths has certainly heightened people’s social awareness here, although ironically this Americentricism has also deflected attention from our own issues. Like the USA, the UK has serious racism to confront, and when it comes to activism it wouldn’t hurt to take a leaf out of America’s book.
On July 13, 28-year-old African-American woman Sandra Bland was found dead in a police cell in Texas, in what the authorities insist was a suicide. The circumstances have since invoked suspicion and anger, and Bland’s death is unfortunately one of many in the past year highlighting the USA’s struggle with the diminishing trust between ethnic minorities and law enforcers. Others that have made the news include the shootings of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. Yet with the American authorities attracting scrutiny from critics here, the UK’s own issues seem to have fallen under the radar. The Independent investigation reveals that black and Asian people are over three times more likely to allege assault by police officers than white people, demonstrating a lack of trust that mirrors the situation in the USA. It also reports that almost all of the officers currently under investigation are still on duty. It seems easy to sweep these figures under the carpet when compared to the most powerful country in the world; yet when one considers that the Metropolitan Police was found to be ‘institutionally racist‘ as recently as 1999, it is necessary to once again reevaluate our treatment of ethnic minorities. Reevaluate, and act. Despite it being common knowledge that ethnic minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in the UK, social media is much too quiet on this matter. It has been happening for so long that now it is accepted – it is old news. Or rather, it is an uncomfortable issue too close to home and it is much easier to ignore it. This is why Americentric civil rights activism has aroused a detached realisation of racial inequality in 2015; we allow ourselves to observe and criticise events from afar whilst being blinded to the problems on our doorstep.
In May 2013, black student Julian Cole was left with a broken neck and brain damage after being detained by Bedfordshire police outside a nightclub. However at the time it received none of the coverage that the aforementioned cases did, despite the details of his injuries bearing many similarities to those of Freddie Gray, a man whose death sparked livid protests in and beyond Baltimore. Why was this the case? Julian Cole was detained just prior to the wave of police brutality incidents in America, when the #BlackLivesMatter movement was in its early days. Had he been African-American, it may have been his arrest that propelled the movement to the forefront of the media. There may have been protests, with national and maybe even international attention. This is because for all of America’s faults, it knows how to campaign. To be passionate and animated in the name of freedom is a part of the culture, unlike the reserved attitude that is the British way. Therefore it is no wonder that American campaigns dominate social media, as they are not afraid to invest time and energy into hurling their message across to the masses. Meanwhile in the UK, any threat to order is outrageous and offensive. It is simply not enough to lie dormant waiting to follow America’s lead; such idleness robs families of justice because they lack vital support from the public. This is demonstrated clearly by the fact that criminal charges were brought against the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death two weeks after the event; the six officers questioned over Julian Cole’s detainment remain on duty over two years later.
Since the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, Doreen Lawrence and her family continued to campaign for justice and raise awareness about racist crimes. Their probing of the Metropolitan Police alerted the public to institutional racism and their efforts beyond the murder case have sourced a number of projects committed to social advancement. In recent years, through social networks, it is even easier to attract public attention, and campaigners have an incredibly powerful platform for their activism to gain momentum. We are currently under the dangerous illusion that police brutality and racism are America’s problem, which prevents us from seeing the bigger picture in our own community. It is essential that we take the initiative, shedding this culture of passivity and being proactive in seeking a change.
This post was republished with permission by the author.
Photo credit: Flickr/Gerry Lauzon