240, the number of racial discrimination cases made against the Met in 12 months.
509, the disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic people who’ve died in state detention since 1991.
0, the number of people held to account in either instance.
These statistics might seem dull; they’re no rivals to the captivating narrative of glorious Empire long past or the convenient Angry Black Woman stereotypes that ensure racism remains embedded in our society. But they too tell a story: there’s a racial order in place, and the state isn’t doing anything about it.
Racial discrimination is often thought of as something that happens elsewhere; way across the Atlantic, where guns are wielded freely and black people don’t stand a chance against the police. The picture here is different, we tell ourselves, we have meritocracy.
But racism in the UK is institutionalised. Think about David Oluwale, Cherry Groce, Mark Duggan and Sheku Bayoh – all of whom have died at the hands of the police or in their custody. Still we don’t know what exactly happened to Bayoh, despite the fact it’s been reported that one of the police officers that restrained him before he died in custody has a history of violence and racism and is said to have admitted he hated black people. Nearly six months after Bayoh died, and these facts are still leaking out as his family wait for justice that might never come.
Survival also brings with it discrimination; black people are three times more likely to be tasered than white people and up to 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched. The Metropolitan Black Police Association said that the force remains institutionally racist. Similarly, judges come down harder on people with darker skin, those who are of Afro-Caribbean descent face, on average, an extra 7 months in prison compared to their white counterparts. The evidence of racial prejudice in law enforcement is overwhelming.
Over 15 years ago, following an investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Macpherson Report proposed 70 key recommendations for society to show “zero tolerance” for racism. This included making sure the police reflect “the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities” they serve and to “increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities”. They have resoundingly failed; four of Britain’s police forces don’t have a single black officer. Unsurprisingly people of colour often look at their local bobby with apprehension, not trust.
The police, though, mirror society. While people of colour are on the suspect list, the number of hate crimes – most of which were deemed racial – is on the rise. Black and minority ethnic bodies have been branded as threats, so much so that when a Muslim woman was showered in alcohol on a train in Birmingham not a single passenger intervened. “People were watching but they ignored it. No-one wanted to help,” she said.
The numbers, they tell us all we need to know. Earlier this year it emerged that the number of people who say they’re racially prejudiced has risen since 2001. But the government, far more interested in scoring political points against their opponents just pay lip service to the idea of racial equality without ever really questioning why racism exists, why it persists and why it replicates. And so until this is addressed not just by us on the ground but by those who implement policy, the UK will continue to be a country where people of colour don’t have equal rights.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow
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