'I have not always understood the anger towards the uniform...this week I do'

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson has apologised to black communities for the mistakes of his force.

Jun 16, 2020
By Dave Thompson
Chief Constable Dave Thompson

These last few weeks have been extraordinary.

The death of George Floyd has unleashed a moment of great emotion that has swept the globe and has created a moment of huge turmoil. It has come as we move from a health emergency into what could easily become an economic tragedy. Like many people in this country I have been on a journey ranging from professional analysis, anger, deep distress and equally huge pride.

I feel as a citizen of this country, this city and your chief constable I need to speak now. I do this to help us find a way through these coming months.

I have seen people vandalise the statue of Winston Churchill and our Cenotaph. I have seen people purporting to defend these symbols raise a Nazi salute. I have seen decent police officers attacked and the memorial to Police Constable Keith Palmer desecrated. These have been disgraceful scenes.

However, this is not what has made the last few weeks stand out as they are the acts of a mindless criminal minority.

What stands out is the voices of black people, often young, who have made powerful points about their lived experience of discrimination. About their perspective on our history and their desire to see change. The huge demonstrations across the country that have been overwhelmingly peaceful.

In my time in policing I have felt a captive of our history as a service with black people. The emotion I encountered as a new officer in Manchester from young black men and the desperate attempts to fix the cycle of gun crime in Moss Side with such little trust. Today I am chief constable in a region where far too many young black men are disproportionately affected by crime.

I have not always understood the anger towards the uniform I wear with such huge pride and the police service I believe to be the best in the world. More than ever this week I do.

We the police swear an oath to police all our communities. Our country is one of, if not the most, tolerant in the world. Our flag a destination of hope. Yet we are not an equal society and black people and other people of colour have poorer life chances.

Policing is judged on its ability to police this unequal society fairly. This is a tough ask but one we sign up to.

The history of policing is clearly marked out by discrimination. The treatment of new migrant communities in the 1950s. The ‘sus’ laws and the riots of the 1980s. The death of Stephen Lawrence. Here in the West Midlands, the scandal of the Serious Crime Squad had clear issues about race.

I apologise to our black communities for the things West Midlands Police has got wrong over the years in how we have policed them. History has created, for some, a narrative that we are not to be trusted. A badge that has not always stood out for you as something that stands for safety and on occasions one to be feared.

I recognise that we are still not a service free from bias, discrimination or even racism. We reflect this imperfect society. I know many black parents fear for the children from gangs and also from how they may be treated by the police. The people of colour in West Midlands Police serve with great pride and have changed policing. They have found this last few weeks to be traumatic. We will need to listen to these voices as, I and we, have more to do.

I make these points because you as a community have a choice. We want black women and men to join this service. If you want something different you have to step forward. I don’t want history to trap us. I want your grandparents, mums, dads, boyfriends and girlfriends to want you to be part of policing as much as I want you to. A great deal has changed about policing and the pictures from America are not the police service we have in this country.

I am proud to lead the courageous men and women in this force who are determined to protect all communities. The force that has brought the racists from National Action who seek a race war to justice that tries every day to stop the violence that hurts our young people. They selflessly put themselves in harm’s way. They are people with good hearts who make a difference in society. A service that has made much progress on race and diversity and one that is never impartial when it comes to racism.

Today we will talk about steps we will take on policing to ensure our service is fairer around stop and search and use of force. They are important issues. They are also complex. We have improved and we must do more. We will set out further steps we will take in the weeks and months ahead.

I do not believe these protests have been solely about policing. Unlike America, this is not about police reform, it is about creating a fairer society. This requires all of us to work to eliminate racism and discrimination. It’s about real change not symbolic gestures.

I hope others who lead across this city and our country can reflect, as I do, on how we can move forward.

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