The appointment of Cressida Dick as Metropolitan Police Commissioner will have sent shivers down the spines of many Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Londoners. Walk past Stockwell underground station and you will understand why. Immediately to the left of the entrance is a mural with the inscription “INNOCENT Jean Charles de Menezes…Shot dead here 22.07.2005 Sadly missed”.
Far from being a dangerous Muslim terror suspect who had vaulted the ticket barriers as the police subsequently claimed, the 27 year old Brazilian electrician had stopped to collect a free newspaper as he entered the station. He had then used his travelcard to pass through the gates on his way to work. The commanding officer of the calamitous operation which culminated in Jean Charles’s death was Cressida Dick.
Instead of being criticised and demoted, Dick was subsequently promoted and awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for her “distinguished service”.
In a previous incarnation, Commander Dick, as she then was, headed the Met’s diversity directorate. This was in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report when the force was, supposedly, seeking to root out institutional racism and recruit, retain and promote black officers.
In the very week of Dick’s appointment, the Guardian’s Vikram Dodd, who covered the Lawrence Inquiry, highlighted how little has been achieved and the complacency with which institutional racism is now treated. In the 2015/16 promotion round, “just 12 BAME officers were promoted out of 234 who were given higher status jobs”. Despite this the Met has just announced that it will stop funding its Black Police Association.
It is little wonder that so many of those from BAME backgrounds who join with illusions that they can make a difference become demoralised and end up departing prematurely. More importantly, it is no surprise that communities that are disproportionately targeted and criminalised remain suspicious and hostile towards the police.
Remarkably, the three most senior police officers, Met Commissioner and the heads of the National Police Chiefs Council and National Crime Agency are all women as is the home secretary.
Meanwhile Theresa May’s policies, previously at the Home Office herself of course and now as prime minister, should shatter any illusions about a kinder, gentler approach. As the de Menezes case shows, Commissioner Dick also has form. In such circumstances, continuing to argue that Black Lives Matter and building Stand up to Racism remains an urgent priority.