top of page
  • Iain Donnelly

It's time to stop accusing the British police of endemic racism

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

We currently live in extraordinary times. It feels as if many people who live in comfortable, Western democracies have rather lost their minds. Perhaps more accurately, they have lost the ability to think critically, or to agree on the possibility of any notion of objective 'truth'.

I firmly believe that there can only ever be one absolute truth about anything. Something either exists, or it doesn't. Something either happened, or it didn't. Someone either said something, or they didn't.

Today, many people seem to have great difficulty in agreeing on a common interpretation of almost any event. Thus, the 'truth' becomes a poor, mangled collection of partial truths that no one can fully trust.

Unregulated and unaccountable social media platforms propagate, accelerate and amplify hysteria and lies instantly, so that the 'truth' becomes simply whatever people want it to be.

In the absence of certainty, many people find comfort in ‘online tribalism’

In the Brave New World of intolerant authoritarianism, you're either 100% 'with us' or you’re 100% 'against us'. There is no room for nuance, debate or mature reflection that 'I thought X before, but now, having listened to a different perspective, I now think Y'.

As a police officer and investigator for many years, I was required to establish the truth of what happened in frequently quite chaotic situations, so that a victim could be given justice and the person or people who had harmed them could be held accountable 'beyond reasonable doubt' in court. The truth was not and could never be a subjective thing, in spite of the strenuous efforts of suspects, ‘celebrity’ defence lawyers and political activists to make it so. Sadly, there were also too many instances of some police officers also wanting to present their own, corrupted version of the 'truth'.

However, there has been one toxic and stubborn untruth that has dogged UK policing for the last twenty or thirty years, and which simply cannot be justified based on my own 'lived experience' of policing in the two biggest cities in the U.K.; London and Birmingham.

This is the myth of endemic racism in the British police service.

This myth has become so ubiquitous, so 'accepted', that to challenge it has become an invitation to be instantly attacked and dismissed as at best deluded, and at worst, an unreconstructed racist.

I policed inner-city areas of both London and the West Midlands for many years at different ranks, and I never once saw a colleague mistreating someone on the basis of their skin colour. I was involved in hundreds (probably thousands) of quite violent interactions with young men (and women!) on the street or whilst trying to restrain them in police vans and police cells. In all this time, I never once saw anyone being gratuitously assaulted, never mind 'beaten up'. It’s complete crap.

Yet, the myth of police violence towards black suspects persists. Do we get involved in violent incidents? Yes of course we do, because that's the nature of policing! But to suggest that this is motivated out of racism is just utter nonsense.

My eldest daughter is twenty-eight years old. She is a white, professional woman living in Hackney in London. She grew up seeing her Dad go to work at all hours of the day and night, having his rest days cancelled, agonising over difficult investigations and grieving for dead kids. Because of all that, she understands what it is to be a police officer. However, she describes to me how pretty much every single young woman of her age believes unquestioningly and without any first-hand evidence, that police officers, as a collective, are racists.

I believe that this toxic and grossly unfair misrepresentation of UK policing can be traced right back to the label of 'institutional racism' that Judge MacPherson made after the review into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. This blanket label was deeply insulting and demoralising to British policing at the time, and we have never recovered from it. The service has tried very hard, in so many ways to reassure communities that they treat people fairly, regardless of the colour of their skin. However, the BLM protests (based on something that happened thousands of miles away) and the Kill the Bill protests, with their disgraceful ACAB placards, show how this particular urban myth continues to provide the justification for mobs to attack police officers. It definitely feels as if British policing will never be able to convince or persuade a large number of people, and many sections of the media that they do actually treat people properly.

Latterly, the media and large numbers of rather naive but well-meaning people have been hoodwinked by Black Lives Matter, a radical Neo-Marxist organisation that explicitly states that one of their strategic objectives is to ‘abolish the police’. Therefore, we shouldn't be at all surprised that the anti-police rhetoric has become extremely hostile.

BLM isn't just a cynical attack on the police. It's an opportunistic attack on all democratic institutions

As a long-serving Special Branch officer, my colleagues and I spent many years investigating radical organisations that sought to undermine the rule of law, in order to protect democratic institutions.

Black Lives Matter makes no secret about it's anti-democratic global objectives.

Here is the GoFundMe page from UKBLM, that raised £1.2 million pounds before being closed down late in 2020. Unsurprising, there is a complete absence of transparency as to how this money will be spent or by whom.

I don't suppose Aimee and Jasmine really understood that their 15 quid and 62 quid would go towards an organisation that was set up to;

"dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and state structures"


"Develop and deliver training, police monitoring and strategies for the abolition of police"

By the way, my own politics are rather boringly centrist, so I'm not coming at this from an ideological perspective. I'm coming at it purely from a public safety perspective.

Why does it matter if many people mistakenly believe that British police are all racists?

I strongly believe that the British police service is currently at a tipping point, and my fear is that it may never fully recover, unless something is done pretty urgently.

The service was very badly damaged by ten years of cuts, the loss of 20,000 officers and nearly 25,000 members of police staff. Approximately 600 police stations were closed or sold off to save money, and neighbourhood policing is now largely non-existent in many parts of the UK. 8500 experienced officers have resigned in the last three years alone, and the promised 20,000 new officers by Boris Johnson will barely make a dent in the numbers leaving through natural wastage and resignations. It's a horrible mess.

The officers who I still speak to regularly, describe a despairing situation where, if it was a sporting event, it would look something like this. (I'm not a big football fan by the way, but it's a useful analogy.)

If the British police service were a football team, they would be playing a match where they were losing 8-0, because the opposition are cheating and playing dirty. The referee is turning a blind eye to all this and is scared of upsetting the opposing team because they're nasty bullies and the referee knows that he'll get duffed up in the car park if he tries to penalise them. They all come into the changing room at half-time hoping that their manager will encourage them and challenge the unfairness of it all. However, to their dismay, he tells them how terrible they all are, and that they need to try a whole lot harder. He then joins the opposition in their changing room, where he offers them cakes and apologises for his teams behaviour.

In this analogy, the opposing team are made up of journalists with an agenda and noisy activists with an agenda. The referee is this current government, who have done so much damage to policing and public safety. The 'manager' is a large section of the senior management of the police service, who have caved in and put their own career interests before the interests of 'the team'.

So, to get back to my original point. The urban myth of police racism needs to stop right now.

In 2020, Professor Larry Sherman of Cambridge University showed that young black men are twenty-four times more likely than young white men to be murdered, and they are quite usually murdered by other young black men.

His findings are reinforced by the official ONS statistics;

The 2020 ONS 'Homicide in England and Wales' report stated that;

"For the three-year period year ending March 2018 to the year ending March 2020, when looking at the principal suspect of a homicide offence, around two-thirds (67%) of suspects convicted of homicide were identified as White. This is a lower representation than in the general population (around 85%). Around one in five (21%) suspects were identified as Black, seven times higher than the general population (3%)"

Simultaneously, in this desperately sad and depressing scenario, you have a situation where police officers are routinely condemned for 'disproportionately' stopping and searching young black men in the inner cities.

So, what should the British police do about young black men trying to kill other young black men? Ignore it?

The grossly unfair label of ‘institutional racism’, has, I believe, condemned many, many young men to an early death in the last twenty years; simply because it has made police officers think twice before intervening in impossibly difficult 'no-win' situations, where they know full well that they will probably not be supported by the media, politicians or even their own leaders.

So, please, please let's stop talking about how British police officers are all a bunch of racists, and start talking about how we're going to help young men in some parts of Britain to live positive, fulfilling lives that do not leave them feeling that the only option for them is to join urban street gangs and end up getting stabbed or shot. To blame the police for all this is like blaming umbrellas for heavy rain. The police are trying to stop bad things from happening, so please give them your support, rather than your condemnation.

The horrible statistics above arise from a multitude of complex social issues. These include, (but are not limited to) long-standing poverty and deprivation, low levels of aspiration and educational attainment, childhood trauma, mental health, addiction, a lack of positive male role models, the removal of funding for many frontline youth services and many, many other factors that I do not feel qualified to talk about. To lay the blame for all of this at the door of policing is just stupid.

The journey that an angry teenage boy has been on to take him to the point where he joins a gang and goes out to stab someone, (often simply as a rite of initiation), is usually a long and depressing one. Many people have been on that journey with him since he was a baby, and often those people have not been helpful to him in any way. By the time the police get involved, it's usually at the very end of the journey, so at the risk of mixing my metaphors, blaming the police is like blaming the AA for turning up when your car breaks down. Forget the fact that it hadn't been serviced for years, it had no oil and the engine had been on the point of blowing up for months. The AA were the last ones to touch the car, so it must be their fault! Right? No, sorry, wrong. It's a lot more complicated than that.

If there's anything that I've learned from thirty years of policing (and latterly from hospice chaplaincy), it's this. Life is incredibly messy and confusing. No-one is ever 100% right or 100% wrong, so do not be seduced by the attraction of lazy, binary opinions.

However, if you demand a binary choice, like so many seem to, in these very strange times, here's a binary choice for you.

You can carry on swallowing and promoting the urban myth of endemic police racism, but by doing so, you will absolutely guarantee that many, many more young men will die violent deaths in our inner cities. Alternatively, you can support the British police in doing a difficult, confusing and chaotic job, in what has become an almost impossible, politically hostile and thankless environment.

You decide. But remember this; if you choose the first option you’re almost as guilty as the young man holding the knife or the gun.

690 views2 comments
bottom of page