Neil Basu, Scotland Yard’s Indian-origin Head of Counter-Terrorism Policing, issued a personalised message on Wednesday, calling on his police colleagues across the UK to stand up to racists amidst protests against the killing of George Floyd in the US.
He referenced his own “mixed Indian and white British heritage” as he responded to a series of anti-racism ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in London and across Britain over the weekend in the wake of the killing of Floyd – a 46-year-old black man who was pinned to the ground by a white police officer as he gasped for breath in the US city of Minnespolis, triggering worldwide protests.
“Personally I see this as a time to stand up stand up to racists, to inequality and injustice,” Basu, a Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, said as he acknowledged the choice made by some of his police colleagues to “take the knee” a symbol of solidarity with the Justice for George Floyd movement around the world.
“We can be better than this, and we must be better than this. There can be no better sight than watching people of many different faiths, nationalities and colour, standing together in peace against injustice.
“At the height of probably the greatest fear some of our communities have ever known, this is a time to stand together,” he said, in reference to the coronavirus pandemic.
Basu traced his history with the Met Police as being among the early ethnic minority recruits and highlighted the racism issues faced by the force over the years. However, he stressed that the important Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into the killing of a black man in the UK in 1993 had transformed policing in the country for the better.
“I have worn the badge proudly for 28 years. I also happen to be of a mixed Indian and white British heritage, which means that I am the most senior BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) officer in the UK,” he said.
“The damning findings and recommendations of that inquiry are etched into the fabric of UK policing’s history – but the positive outcomes, hard won are real The death of George Floyd horrified us all and rightly so. “All the good cops I know – regardless of heritage – were also horrified, but for many of my BAME colleagues I suspect this has been a particularly shattering week.
At least, that’s how I feel,” he said. Striking a contrast between the style of policing in the US, which relies on force, and in the UK, which follows policing by consent, Basu urged his fellow officers to tackle the legitimate anger, manifesting itself in different ways, with nuance and care.
“The way George died represented the worst of policing and will forever be a totemic image of racial injustice in America. His last words ‘I can’t breathe’ have become an anthem, and I desperately hope this is their moment for change, as Stephen’s senseless murder and the Inquiry by Macpherson were for the UK policing.
“We cannot directly compare policing in the UK to that of our counterparts in the USA. But what we are seeing in America, and here in the UK, too, is anger directed not just at police brutality but the racial bias built into the very fabric of our institutions and society perhaps best illustrated in the UK by the huge disparity in young black men in the criminal justice system,” he said.
Basu, who is one of the UK’s senior-most police officials and a representative of the National Police Chief’s Council, stressed that his personal heartfelt message was aimed at highlighting the need for compassion and understanding.
“In the days to come, if you’re working alongside a BAME colleague please take the time to check how they are. And if you are one of my BAME colleagues please know that whether you feel ok and able to get on with life, or you feel like you have been deeply affected your feelings are valid. If you feel like you need help or support, please do not be afraid to ask for it,” he said.
As many as 36 people were arrested following violent clashes between what the Met Police said were a “small minority” of demonstrators and police officers, 35 of whom reported injuries as bottles and fireworks were hurled at them during two consecutive days of widespread protests on Saturday and Sunday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have made repeated interventions this week to condemn the violence while showing solidarity with the anti-racism message of “Black Lives Matter”.