The conviction of a US police officer for murdering George Floyd has reignited calls to tackle racial injustice in British law enforcement, with campaigners calling for an end to a “culture of impunity”.
Video of white officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis last May by holding his knee on the unarmed black man’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds triggered protests around the world.
Campaigners have said his conviction on Tuesday on all three counts – second and third degree murder and manslaughter – should be a catalyst for change in the UK after 30 years in which no officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter for a death following contact with police.
Andrew George, president of the National Black Police Association, said: “There is much more work needed to create a fair and equitable police service for all communities both in the US and here in the UK.
“In the UK, we enjoy a better system of accountability than communities in the US. However, we still have issues of racism and the disproportionate use of police powers against black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”
He added: “The NBPA will continue to push the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) on fulfilling their commitment to race through their action plan. We hope this conviction acts as a catalyst to drive actions that are much needed right now.”
Some officers resent comparisons to US law enforcement, believing the UK style of policing by consent to be wholly different from that of their armed American counterparts, with British officers warier of using any force, let alone deadly force, and police chiefs insist officers are fully accountable for their actions.
However, Inquest, which monitors state related deaths, disputes that stance. The charity said that since 1990, juries at inquests had returned nine unlawful killing verdicts involving the police and there was one unlawful killing finding recorded by a public inquiry into a police shooting, as well as other critical findings of force used. None have led to manslaughter or murder convictions.
Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said: “Legal accountability for individuals and institutions responsible for deaths is essential, but is something few families Inquest works with ever see.
“Despite a pattern of cases of unlawful use of force, ill-treatment and neglect, particularly involving black men, no police officer involved in a death has been found guilty of murder or manslaughter for over 30 years. Bereaved families in this country are consistently failed by a legal framework characterised by flawed investigations, victim blaming, institutional delay, denial and defensiveness resulting in a culture of impunity.
“This issue is not about a few bad police officers, it’s about systemic racism and state violence.”
In January, the Guardian revealed that fewer than one in 10 British police officers found to have potentially committed gross misconduct by the police watchdog are dismissed.
Martin Hewitt, chair of the NPCC, promised reforms following Chauvin’s conviction: “The legitimacy of UK policing is built on relationships between the police and the public, but levels of trust and confidence are significantly lower among some black people and racial disparities exist that we cannot fully explain.
“We are in the process of developing a plan of action to build a more inclusive police service and address negative race disparities … Hearing from those with lived experience has driven our progress. Independent scrutiny and oversight will provide vital check and challenge.”
Malcolm Baker, a spokesperson from Black Lives Matter UK, said: “While the verdict may feel like justice, there is no evidence it will quell the racist violence of the police and prison system. The Black Lives Matter movements across the globe are demanding systemic change, which no longer relies on an ever expanding police, prison and border regime to solve the problems we face.
“Here in Britain, on average one person a week has died in police custody, prisons or borders since 1990, and convicting the individuals responsible will not end this violence.”
Osaro Otobo, deputy chair of the British Youth Council, said: “It’s imperative we do not lose sight of the need to continue to address deep-rooted racism in the US and here in the UK. If we are to end anti-black police brutality in the UK, we must take steps dismantle and overhaul a system which enables racism and injustice.”