UK police's ties with black community at 'all-time low' 10 years after riots

Friday marks a decade since unrest broke out following shooting of Mark Duggan

Relations between UK police and the black community are worse than ever, Britain was told as it marks 10 years since its worst riots in a generation.

Rioting broke out in London on August 6, 2011, after Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old mixed-race man, was shot dead by armed police.

It spiralled into days of unrest as anger over the shooting combined with economic hardship and criminal opportunism. Five people died and the bill for the damage ran into the millions.

A decade on, Ken Hinds, who leads a policing watchdog in London, said lessons from the riots were not being learned.

People in the area view the police as an “occupational force” and relations with ethnic minorities are at an "all-time low", he told AFP.

“There's no respect for the police. They're not going to earn it if they do the same thing and expect a different outcome,” he said.

A particular point of controversy is "stop and search", which allows police to frisk people they suspect of carrying weapons or drugs on the street.

In the year to March 2020, black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales.

Ministers plan to relax restrictions on the use of stop and search under a new anti-crime initiative spearheaded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The government said it led to more than 74,000 arrests and 11,000 weapons being seized in the past year.

But David Lammy, an MP for the area of North London where the riots erupted, said stop and search checks contributed to low trust.

“These are the notices that allow the police to stop and search every person leaving school in a particular neighbourhood,” he told Sky News.

“What they did was they breached trust between the hundreds of thousands of innocent young people who constantly felt that they were being harassed by the police. I’m afraid that issue has got worse, with black young people particularly.”

Mr Lammy criticised the government for cutting the number of police officers, which he said had fallen by 20,000 since 2011.

Ethnic minorities are under-represented in police forces, especially within senior ranks.

The latest figures show 7.6 per cent of officers in England and Wales were of a minority background, compared to 14 per cent of the total population.

Mr Hinds said heavy-handed arrests and frequent rotation of commanders hampered any efforts to improve relations.

The issue gained worldwide resonance last year during Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the death of George Floyd in the US.

British police chiefs saw their own officers as less heavy-handed but acknowledged there were tensions with the black community.

These tensions remain more than 20 years after a landmark report described London’s Metropolitan Police as institutionally racist.

UK lawmakers last month decried "persistent, deep-rooted and unjustified racial disparities" in policing and a "systematic failure" to tackle inequality.

A parliamentary review said representative policing will not be achieved for another two decades.

In its own report released on Thursday, the opposition Labour Party said underlying social and economic conditions had not improved since 2011.

Labour said twice as many families were in need of government support than when the riots erupted.

Tim Newburn, a criminologist at the London School of Economics, said the official response to the response was insufficient.

Rioters “often felt that they were living in communities that were occupied communities by the police,” he told Sky News. “That relationship was often one that was very hostile and difficult and dangerous.

“Did our politicians, local and national, put in place things to mitigate, to improve? By and large no.”

Updated: August 6th 2021, 11:02 AM