By Morak Babajide-Alabi
The disparity in the treatment of black young men and women by the police in the United States of America came under intense scrutiny in recent times when some overzealous white officers went out of their ways to target unarmed black young males. These officers who overstep their bounds on many occasions particularly picked on black folks for no obvious reasons.
While this has been going on for many years, it became topic for public discussions when unarmed and defenceless young black males got killed by white officers. We can recollect the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown in 2014 in the city of Fergusson. Unfortunately, Brown was one of many whose lives have been wasted by “institutional terrorism” of the police department.
The ashes of the violence that erupted after the killing of Brown are still visible on the streets of the city. It was a killing too many that brought the whole city to its knees in protest. The black community thought they’ve had enough and raised their voices to protest.
The main focus may always be on the police and black communities in the US, but there is no denying the fact that it is a practice in white-dominated countries. The relationship between the black communities and the police in the United Kingdom is not anything better. There is massive lack of confidence in the police among the blacks.
Black young males and females have voiced their discontent with the way and manner the British police treated them at one time or another. The black community has also accused the police of “over-policing” and putting too much pressure on them. This is not unfounded, as the police forces all over the country target mostly black young males for “stop and search”. This has brought anger, distrust and lack of confidence, for what is regarded as “official molestation”.
The British police were accused of institutional racism after the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence on the streets of London in 1993. This label was applied as an aftermath of how the Metropolitan Police frustrated initial moves to bring the accused in the case to trial.
The institutional racism tag had not washed away from the British Police, either Metropolitan or West Yorkshire Police or any other force in the country. The idea of “we against them” is rife in the black community and this has further made the job of policing very difficult.
Among the reasons advanced for the shoddy treatment of blacks by the British police is that the predominantly white police officers have their fears and prejudices about them. These sentiments have, no doubt, in many ways influenced their relationship with the black community.
Furthermore, the huge disparity in the number of black or other ethnic minority officers in the police has not helped matters. Observers believe if the ‘make up’ of the police forces in the country reflects the growing multicultural outlook of Britain, there may be less friction between the groups. The successive governments have acknowledged this problem, but not much has been done in this aspect.
It is, therefore, gladdening to read the Conservative-led government’s plans to recruit more black and ethnic minorities individuals into the police. This is a tacit acceptance from the government that the police recruitment over the years has been skewed in favour of white candidates. On another note, it is heartening also that Theresa May, the former Home Secretary and now Prime Minister had canvassed fair representation of the ethnic minorities in the Fire Service.
The fears right now is not the representation of these groups within the police or the fire service, but the attitude of the black young males and females that are expected to take up these offers. The mindset of a black young male towards the police is that it exists to work against him. Will this change overnight?
Sometimes ago, I had the privilege of attending an event organised by the Black Health Initiatives (BHI) at the Leeds Becket University Rose Bowl. My interest was roused on realising that the event advertised as “An Audience with Dr Carver Anderson” was co-sponsored by the West Yorkshire Police, the BHI and the Street Pastors.
The combination of the three organisations on paper may not give an idea of a promising and interesting night, but the choice of the main speaker Dr Carver Anderson did. His reputation for speaking realistically on the “misunderstood” black young men and the understanding of the British “streets” announced him as interesting.
The BHI, headed by Heather Nelson, is a charity organisation that believes in community engagement by working towards equality of access to health and social care within Leeds and environs. BHI sees community engagement as an effective tool for the minority communities to engage with service providers and also influence services, policies and procedures with the emphasis on deliberate inclusion.
It was in line with the above that the organisation had brought the people and the police together.
Speaking to the mixed audience comprising of teenagers, students and the elderlies, Superintendent Lisa Atkinson, of the West Yorkshire Police’ Head of Neighbourhood Operations acknowledged the distrust and lack of confidence in the police by the black community. She revealed that the police has instituted steps to ensure quality policing and transparency, especially in the area of “Stop and Search”.
Dr Carver Anderson, the main speaker, spoke on “Re-imagining a Black Practical Street Theology for Effective Engagement of Black Young Men labelled ‘Hard to Reach’ and ‘Problematic’ “. He disclosed that there is an operation narrative that explains why black young men cannot make it, which arose from the general misrepresentation of the black people.
Anderson explained why there is distrust of the police by the black young men. He said there are damages when these young men are stereotyped and vilified by the police without any attempt to understand them.
Anderson, who is a Pastor, also explored the religious backgrounds of these hard to reach black young men and submitted that no matter how hardened they may come across, they had been raised in the tenets of religion – Christianity, Islamic, Marxism or Rastafarian. He said because these religions speak “languages” that differ from what the black youths identify with they cannot help them. According to him, this is why these black young men are more drawn to the “streets” than the worship centres.
What made Anderson an interesting choice was his knowledge of the British “streets” and the “thinking” of an average black young male. He is renowned for his practical views on the link between the streets and the black youths. Interestingly, the basis of Anderson’s PhD thesis was on his Christian insight about young men on the streets.
Although Anderson was from Birmingham, his knowledge of the streets was universal as he told the stories of these misunderstood black young males. He took the audience through his journeys to understand them, his researches, his emotional attachment to them on visits to prisons and detention centres.
Anderson concluded that the black young men can still be “saved” from the two choices if death or prisons that they have now. In achieving this, the society and all its “structures” must rise up and make conscious efforts to understand these black young men.
This may be the only way to save the black young men from themselves.
First published on May 29, 2016