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Time to Track, Trace and Remove Racism in the UK and USA

George Floyd’s killing by police in the USA took me back to the death of Clinton McCurbin in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, in February 1987. I was a final year student at the Polytechnic at the time and walking through Wolverhampton town centre I saw a commotion outside the Next shop but didn’t realise that Clinton McCurbin had lost his life.

Clinton was arrested for alleged shoplifting and the use of a stolen credit card at the shop. He died of asphyxia in a struggle with police after being held in a neck-hold for several minutes. Onlookers were shocked at the level of force and brutality used by the arresting officers.

His death outraged the black community but, to the dismay of the family, at the subsequent inquest the jury returned a verdict of misadventure.

There have been too many deaths of other black men in police custody since then in this country and the USA.

In response to George Floyd’s death there have been, once again, calls for; police training to be improved, swift justice and the police responsible not just charged but found guilty, and for structural racism to be tackled.

In the UK we don’t seem to care that black men are far more likely to have force used against them, more likely be stopped and searched, more likely to be tasered, and more likely to have incapacitant spray used against them – in the community and in prison.

Why are black men perceived to be a greater risk than other men? We have to ask - does a black man’s life carry the same value as white man’s life in America and the UK?

For me there is a lingering, underlying problem in America and UK (and other European countries involved in the colonisation/oppression of African people) and it stems from the brutality and extreme force used against African men, women and children during and after slavery.

The legacy of slavery is not just a problem for black people. It is a shared problem that we all need to face. People of African heritage are still fighting for race equality here and across the Americas.

The lack of fair employment opportunities for black men, poverty and the availability of illegal drugs has created the conditions where black men, especially young black men involved in drugs and protecting their ‘territory’, are prepared to use extreme violence.

Unjustified racist extreme State violence and extreme street violence both need to be eradicated.

BTEG wants to see black people represented across the criminal justice system, from the police to judges. But better representation is part of a solution but it will not solve the problem.

The Minneapolis police chief is African-American and the force itself is 50% white, 25% Hispanic and 25% African-American. In the Met Police Service, 85% of Police Officers are white and only 15% BAME.

It’s clear from Minneapolis that having a black police chief and 50% of officers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds does not end overt racism within the force. Anti-racism and dealing with [un]conscious bias does not end racism. They are important but not sufficient.

Labelling an organisation institutionally racist often results in defensive rebuttals and the line it’s ‘just a few bad apples.’ This doesn’t wash with anyone, especially with the social media generation that film and mobilise communities in minutes.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the most effective control measures are those which are systematic and robust. We have thus far found no cures for the racist pandemic so we need to adopt control measures.

We need the state to ‘track, trace and remove’ racism in the police, in the wider justice system and in all public bodies. This requires thorough racial monitoring across all aspects of an organisation so we can pinpoint perpetrators of racism and unfair policies and practices and remove them.

This isn’t just about frontline police and prison officers, it also about those making operational decisions. Leaders must be accountable for their actions as well. We need a different approach to tackling structural racism. We need better race equality laws and better enforcement of the duties. We need race equality legislation that requires public bodies, especially in the justice system to take systemic action to remove race disparities.

Organisational ethnic biases will only be removed when there is a duty to track, trace and remove racism and racial disparities, matched by a body that has the power and the resources to enforce the law.

Jeremy Crook OBE, Chief Executive of BTEG, voluntary member of the Metropolitan Police Service STRIDE Board and member of Black Men for Change

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