Britain's highest ranking Asian police officer, Tariq Ghaffur, recently spoke out frankly about issues of policing and race relations. It was clear from the outset that some within policing circles - the home office, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), and the Police Federation - were keen to criticise his comments.
Ghaffur looked at the history of policing and race relations, going right back to the 1950s when, he suggested, the police supported the white instigators of crimes against black African Caribbean people.
Continuing on into the 1970s, he spoke of the growth of the far right National Front and their marches throughout the country. He continued, “Then there was the extensive rioting in 1981 and 1985, most notably in Brixton, Tottenham, Toxteth, Handsworth and Moss Side. Again in the mid-1990s, the African Caribbean communities responded angrily to some specific deaths in police custody and police shootings.”
He added, “Since 2000, a new dimension has emerged with serious disorder breaking out in towns in north west England involving large South Asian communities. Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford witnessed some of the worst scenes of rioting seen on mainland Britain in recent years.”
Ghaffur also spoke of the various enquiries into police and community race relations over time, citing the 1981 Scarman report and the 1985 Gifford report, which, he argued, was “virtually ignored”. He spoke of the horrific murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, and the incompetent, racist and bungled investigation into his death.
This led to the 1998 Macpherson report, the most important element of which was the claim that “institutional racism” existed within the police service.
In 2003 the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) began a formal investigation into racism inside the service. This followed the evidence in a BBC documentary, The Secret Policeman, which revealed pervasive racism at a police training college.
There was, and still is, a lack of willingness by some at the top who simply do not wish to own the debate over race and policing. Some in Acpo do not even recognise the National Black Police Association (NBPA) or individual black officers committed to anti-racism.
In terms of minority representation, it is a sad fact that in 2006 there are no reserved seats for minority colleagues of colour within the Police Federation.
The Federation declined to support positive action at this year’s conference. One must ask questions about the Federation’s decision on this matter because there remains a lack of adequate black representation in the Federation.
Ghaffur described the problems facing minorities in the police forces using the term “miasma” - a toxic fog. This miasma is ever present, “consuming people and creating extra burdens that are not directly related to the work itself. An important goal for minority managers therefore is to discover how to work through miasma and not be impeded by it.
“For most people there is no issue of identity in the workplace. But for people from minority communities, identity issues can influence many things, from personal dress decisions to professional strategies and activities. We are often faced with either having to conceal our identity or assimilate into the dominant white culture.”
The “miasma” is the condition in which black colleagues operate. It is the baggage that goes with being different, doing things differently, challenging, behaving like the marginalised community, being seen as different, “spotlighted” even, and “over scrutinised”.
As long as black colleagues think “white” they are accepted, but as soon as they step out of line and display their “blackness” in their views, then they are sidelined and a more accepting black colleague is located to “consult”.
In order to progress through the police service, one theory suggests, one has to behave like one’s superiors, although some black officers simply cannot and will not do so.
Finally Ghaffur has done well in recognising the achievements of people like Norwell Roberts, Leroy Logan, Ali Dilzaie, David Michaels, Ron Hope, Paul Wilson and countless others that had the foresight to set up the NBPA movement in 1994.
However, there are countless others whose names were not mentioned, for example Tony Smikle, Robyn Williams, Manoj Barot and Ruwan Perera, to name a few.
Ghaffur has consistently stated that it is for black officers to educate themselves, for the service will not educate officers on how to deal with the miasma. His remarks suggest that the service would rather remain in denial and convince black officers that this miasma does not even exist.
Ghaffur’s speech reflects the most definite leadership of any senior officer in relation to the service and race relations since the Macpherson report.
And those who are keen to criticise ought to remember that denial can be a potential cause for riots, in which case injury to colleagues and the community will result from pure neglect.
Burying our heads in the sand is therefore not the answer.