The shameful targeting of black police officers

24 February 2021

12:07 AM

24 February 2021

12:07 AM

I’m severely disabled, coffee-coloured, a migrant, a refugee and a woman. I was born to a Muslim family and I chose atheism as soon as I could think. To put it simply, I don’t need much convincing that for minority grievances to be ameliorated, meritocracy has to exist. Positions of power must be open to individuals from all backgrounds. Many people agree. But it’s disheartening that some activists appear to reject this way of thinking.

More than 430 attacks against black and ethnic minority police officers occurred between June and September last year. This number represents an almost threefold increase on the previous four months. The thuggery of far right protestors should not be underestimated, of course. But shamefully we must admit that some of the physical and verbal abuse doled out to police officers appears to have taken place during last summer’s BLM protests.

Any attack on a police officer is appalling. But the targeting of officers because of the colour of their skin is particularly alarming. Black police officers have spoken out about being ‘verbally abused and attacked by those on the Black Lives Matter protests’, according to Sadiq Khan. This is worrying.

Attacks on the police are never justified: there is a regulated complaints process for genuine grievances. But the abuse also suggests that UK policing is being conflated with practices in the US. The hair trigger reflexes that have resulted in tragedy in the US are far less likely to occur here where our police don’t routinely hold firearms.

Even more damaging though is the implication that holding a respectable job in the police force is somehow a sign of treachery. How is the police force supposed to represent minorities if it doesn’t include people from those very communities? The same can be said for every minority. Thankfully the days when women, gays, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, the disabled, and people with brown or black skin were absent from positions of power in politics, medicine, law, the arts, and science, are long gone. It would be a terrible shame if the targeting of minority officers led to a situation where people from such communities paused for thought before choosing a particular career path because of the reaction from activists.

The police have had a recruitment drive for people from Asian, black, and other ethnic backgrounds for some years now. Although these minorities still make up only 7.3 per cent of the police force compared with 14 per cent from the general population, condemning those who enter the profession will only worsen representation from these communities.

It isn’t only police officers who are being targeted by those who should be on the same side in the fight for equality though. Sadiq Khan’s appointee to the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, Toyin Agbetu, excoriated Diane Abbott in a blog post as ‘disloyal to her own community’. He also said that Labour should not be ‘elevating a woman who…the African community is embarrassed about.’

Agbetu went on to pour ire on Labour MP David Lammy, Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth; and Baroness Amos, who was the British High Commissioner to Australia. He castigated them as ‘poor examples of Africans whose quest for influence and status has dwarfed their duty to human rights, social justice for African people, and opposition to imperialism.’

What message does Agbetu’s words send to black and ethnic minority youngsters? And what about his own ‘quest for influence and status’ by accepting the position on the Commission?

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative mayor of London candidate, and himself a fine example of black success, has already written to Sadiq Khan voicing concerns about Agbetu, both for his previous comparisons of the British to the Nazis, and for his comments about Covid-19 vaccines.

While you might disagree with Diane Abbott or David Lammy over their politics, attacks of this kind are not acceptable. Both politicians are role models who show that the colour of a person’s skin should be no barrier to reaching the top of British society. Discouraging such success will only foment more simmering resentment and outsider status. This will only end badly.

Black and ethnic police officers – and the likes of Lammy and Abbott – should be celebrated, not condemned.

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