Last week we heard the horrific details of the Sarah Everard case. What Sarah endured was far beyond anything we could’ve imagined, and I pray her family can finally begin their healing journey knowing her killing will never be a free man again.
I am hugely interested in true crime. Whilst most people went on shopping trips with their mum on weekends, in my house, we’d settled down to watch a documentary about serial killers (morbid, I know). My point is, there isn’t much that unnerves me, but this crime was on a completely different level. If you’re reading this and don’t reside in the UK, it may be news to you that a serving Metropolitan police officer murdered a young woman called Sarah Everard. This is one of the most significant breaches of trust that can happen, but the sad thing is, this is nothing new to the black community.
I want to speak more on this in my article, but I want to clarify that the issues I’ll be addressing aren’t intended to lessen the atrocity of the crime committed against Sarah. I will only be referencing this case as a benchmark for a point in time.
Let me get into it.
There is a deep history behind the enduring strained relationship between the black community and the police. Systemic and institutional racism is rooted in policing, as substantiated in the well-known Macpherson Report. In Britain, black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system at every level, from arrests to stop and search, to imprisonment, to deaths in custody (as referenced in the Runnymede Race and Policing report of 2015). This stems from good old fashioned racism which leads to prejudicial racial profiling.
The experiences of white and black citizens are so different. It took the Sarah Everard case to rock the reputation of the police for the privileged many. Not too long ago, I asked my good white friend how often she’d been stopped in her car by police; she looked at me as though I was asking her a trick question! I said to her, “seriously, how many?”; she said she’d never been stopped. Ever. I’ll be honest with you, I already knew her answer, but I try not to be too presumptive.
She flipped the question on me, and I told her, “too many to count”. Most of my traffic stop encounters occurred in my early twenties, but some has happened more recently with my children. Nothing has ever come from my stops (not even an apology). Recently, I came across an Instagram post of a distraught white woman sharing her experience of being stopped by police. She was beside herself and couldn’t believe that this had happened to her. She used words such as ‘vulnerable’, ‘attacked’, ‘afraid’, ‘shocked’… as much as I understood why she was upset, it really did show the differing worlds of white and black people.
Following the conviction of Wayne Couzens (Everard’s killer), the advice given to women is, if a police officer approaches you, and you don’t understand why, run, challenge, resist until proven to be genuine. Let me tell you this!! This type of advice will get black people arrested, maimed or killed. Our experiences don’t even factor in the formulation of citizen advice. The disparity hurts.
It is us who has to sit down with our children to tell them how to navigate the police. We are citizens turned lawyers. I kid you not. We have to familiarise ourselves with the law to help us stand our ground and get out of sticky situations.
Dame Cressida Dick talks about rooting out predatory cops, but what about the inherent rampant racism that persists? We fight for women’s rights with such vigour yet still overlook the multi-dimensional intersect between gender, racism and policing. The experiences of black women and girls are lost in the national conversation about police practices. I’ve seen far too many viral videos of black women stripped of their dignity by white officers (even in front of their children). Do you know how traumatic an experience this is? It’s infuriating to see just how much attention and conversation has come off the back of violence against white women when violence against black women has been an ongoing problem.
A 2019 study by Prison Policing found that black women were 17% more likely to be in a police-initiated traffic stop than white women. However, black women were at least as likely to be arrested during a stop compared to white women, who were about half as likely as white men to be arrested during a stop.
We’re apparently now in a place where serious (perhaps irreparable) damage has been done to the trust between the police and the public. It’s insulting to see this as new. Stop. It was revealed that five serving officers, including three from the Met, are currently under criminal investigation for sharing misogynistic, racist and homophobic material with Couzens on a private WhatsApp group. As you can imagine, this is only this tip of the iceberg.
Until we get honest about all the problems we have within the institution there to serve and protect us equally, we’ll never rid ourselves of these horrors.
Racism is at the heart of bad policing. It’s time to plug more resources into tackling this.
Sending love and light always.