Rashan Charles’ great uncle, former Met officer Rod Charles: The gulf between police and communities is widening
PUBLISHED: 16:03 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:03 15 July 2020
This month is the third anniversary of Rashan Charles’ death.
It was July 22 2017 when CCTV images showing the fatal “stop and search” were circulated, resulting in a local maelstrom. After some months, concern and anger remained but furore subsided, until recently.
The recent change was circulation of grotesque images showing George Floyd’s death in USA. It reignited local anger in Hackney, due to similarities in both cases. This time the awakening is not localised, it has captured attention of communities across the capital, if not the country.
Fairness is crucial; integrity and honesty is demanded from the police and other agencies responsible for enforcing laws, therefore it should be reciprocated. So, I must make this clear; the investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the reviews by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the coroner’s inquest into the death of Rashan, all attribute no blame or misconduct to any police officer.
However, my personal opinion is unchanged since I first saw the CCTV footage on Sunday morning July 23 2017. I am in no doubt Rashan’s death was avoidable. My assessment is based not only on in-depth scrutiny of video recordings, it is supplemented with personal experience performing ‘stop and search’, also designing training for police officers and finally managing effective delivery of operational policing tactics.
Adverse impact following Rashan’s death extends beyond psychological effects on Rashan’s close family, there is social impact resonating in Hackney.
After the coroner’s inquest verdict I said: “Failures by senior police officers to make appropriate decisions after such events, doesn’t damage police and community relations for a few years, it sets it back generations”.
I am saddened that my statement is proven to be correct. Police relations with some communities are identical if not worse than during the lamentable 1970s and 1980s, and the ‘gulf’ is still increasing.
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This situation is a product of other serious occurrences over decades eg Roger Sylvester, Joy Gardner, Sean Rigg, and Olaseni Lewis, all in London. Outside the capital, Julian Cole (Bedfordshire), Christopher Alder (Hull) and Sheku Bayou (Scotland). These are just a small number mentioned from a long list.
The list of troubling incidents is long, but that is only part of the problem. At the core, is community dissatisfaction with explanations offered by the police; the IOPC and other bodies that are tasked to investigate critical incidents.
Difficulty with police and community relationships is compounded by senior police officers becoming more defensive, entrenched and closing ranks. Bizarrely, some police officers blame communities, believing they should move on and not dwell on past events.
It should be patently obvious that solutions will only come about when custodians of law adopt completely opposite methodology, ie openness, transparency and accountability.
Anger within communities is understandable; but it should not result in overlooking actions by good officers, trying to serve well - notwithstanding expansion of hostile environments within communities!
These officers will struggle to deliver effective policing due to weight of woeful policing history, compounded by present day reprehensible conduct by some of their colleagues and intransigent strategies from senior officers.
The IOPC announced that they are launching a review into whether police officers across England and Wales racially discriminate against ethnic minorities. What on earth will this review achieve?
In 1966 the Institute of Race Relations published a damning report on police tactics toward minorities. Speeding forward through time, there followed the Scarman Report (1981); Broadwater Farm Report (1986); Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999); Morris Inquiry (2004) and more recently the Lammy Review (2017). There are in excess of 50 reports drafted during the past half century. I am unable to list all here because it would consume far too much space in this short article.
The IOPC’s planned review is pointless: a waste of time and public funds, it will serve only to regurgitate existing inspections and reviews. Far better the home secretary use resources to make a concerted effort, addressing thousands of existing recommendations that have not been implemented during the past half century.
Policing must adapt and it must do this quickly, finding more effective ways to work with and serve communities. Should senior police officers make concerted and genuine effort to do this, I am confident communities will lend support.
Rod Charles is the great uncle of Rashan Charles and is a former Metropolitan Police chief inspector. He is currently a police trainer, researcher and risk consultant, and he is author of Policing with Difference.
Rashan died in the early hours of July 22, 2017, after being chased into Yours Locally, Dalston, by police and restrained on the floor. A post mortem determined he went into cardiac arrest after choking on a cellophane bag containing paracetamol and caffeine.
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