Black Lives Do Matter
Friday, 12 August 2016
Chair Steve White says Britain 'is not the US'
Just a week ago, protesters lay down in the streets at Heathrow, Birmingham and Nottingham under the banner Black Lives Matter UK.
There were accusations of ‘ongoing racist violence of the police’ and a ‘war on black people'. BLM UK co-founder Natalie Jeffers said ‘in Britain someone dies every 6 days in police custody’ and ‘black people are over-represented in these cases’.
Well, actually that is not true. The latest IPCC report shows that there were 14 deaths in or following police custody in the past year, down from 17 the previous year. Of these 10 were reported to be white, three were Asian and one was black.
Whilst every death is a tragedy, we also know from the report, that many of the fatalities involved other complex issues relating to health concerns.
But herein lies the problem. In a somewhat febrile climate, statistics can be bandied about, provoking outrage in some quarters whereas what is really needed is a calm grown-up debate.
Yes, we appreciate that the police service could and should be more diverse. The latest Police Workforce figures show that only 5.9% of officers are from a BME background. The picture is more encouraging when you look at the number of new joiners in 2015/16, where 12.1% or recruits were BME. So this is going in the right direction. But still more can, and should be done, and that is something that we as a Federation are trying to encourage.
But, mindful of this as we are, it would be foolish to conflate what happens in the UK with what happens in the US, where the Black Lives Matters movement started after a spate of fatal shootings.
Unlike the US, we police by consent and our officers do not routinely carry firearms. If we extrapolated our firearms use with that in the US, they would have only had 35 occasions where a gun was discharged. UK officers are subject to the most stringent levels of accountability, answerable to the IPCC when things go wrong.
So to compare what happens here with police shootings in the US is disingenuous at best – and dangerous at worst. Trying to paint a picture of the forces of England and Wales being somehow linked to issues being faced in the States is not only offensive to the hundreds of hard-working police officers out there, risking their lives on a daily basis to protect the public, but could also stir up trouble and inflame emotions at a time when we need it the least - at a time when we are at an increased terror threat level, at a time when our top priority must be to protect the communities we serve.
So let’s work together – the police service is not complacent. As I said before, every death is a tragedy; we recognise that police cells are not the place for detainees who are mentally ill or otherwise vulnerable.
But with budget cuts across the NHS and local authorities, too often the police service has to step in when troubled individuals need a place of safety. What’s needed is a step change to tackle society’s problems across the board – partner agencies like the police, service, health, education, social services, the prison and probation service all working together.
Then perhaps people wouldn’t feel the need to join any kind of group. Because every life matters.