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Stephen Lawrence Day 2024 Blog

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Lift off on racial inclusion but we’re about to stall and fall from the sky

From James Oluoch-Olunya, the Chairman of the REACH Network for Stephen Lawrence Day. 

In the 12 months since marking Stephen Lawrence’s 30-year anniversary, many ground-breaking initiatives to achieve racial equity have been taking shape across the organisation. So much so, several police services have been looking at Avon and Somerset Police for guidance and inspiration.

The main catalyst has been the Chief Constable’s important admission of Institutional Racism. To take this position requires real courage and is a sign of true leadership in accepting the scale of the issues.

In addition, Chief Constable Crew has backed up her words with action through funding some exciting initiatives under the Police Race Action Plan (PRAP) to improve confidence in policing in Black heritage communities, as well as stepping up to lead the charge on tackling racial disproportionality across the whole criminal justice system in Avon and Somerset by volunteering to chair the multi-agency Steering Committee (link to webpage here)

I would also like to shine the spotlight on the amazing discretionary effort of the handful of people which has led to the launch of these initiatives. Usually, the crafting of ideas and the “doing” are left to the black and brown officers and staff who racial inequality affects most, because they feel passionate about making things better. It is tiring and can feel like an uphill struggle.  However, the shift in allies stepping up to the plate, sticking their necks out and using their influence is noticeable. It is heart-warming. It also gives those with skin in the game some breathing space. The heavy lifting involved with this work is not something you do for promotion. You must have the resilience and stamina to be in the coal mine that is the racial equality space. This is not something you can simply “fake”.

I also want to focus on the officers and staff that listen to the race conversation to genuinely understand. People generally listen to respond as it is a natural reaction. Policing is a hard profession because of the demand, complexities, and the wellbeing impact on all the officers and staff who do a tough job day in and day out. However, by engaging with the discussion, you have positioned yourself to be become a better officer and leader.

“Today we are thrown into contact all the time with people whose assumptions, perspectives and backgrounds are different to our own”[1]. Listening to understand ensures policing can operate successfully in this multi-faceted convoluted landscape where judgment is instant with prevalence of social media.

Thanks to goodwill and people going the extra mile, we have lift off at Avon and Somerset Police and we’re on our way to racial inclusion. The booster rockets are doing their jobs. However, the main propulsion engine for the next phase is not coming to life and we’re losing momentum. Discretionary effort in pockets of the organisation can only go so far. The ideas that have been brought to life are without long term home. This is massively disappointing. Once again, the conditions to make racial inclusion initiatives succeed are seen as too resource intensive, difficult, or costly to embed.

It is within our gift and the responsibility of us all to direct resources, budget, consideration and time to racial inclusion. By doing so we lay the foundations for getting things right internally with our own officers and staff as well as with the public. It makes more sense to allocate capacity to get things right first time round than on service recovery, complaint management, misconduct proceedings and civil actions.

These are my reflections on the anniversary of the racist murder of a black teenager by four white youths and a police service’s failure to bring justice to the Lawrence family. The creation of the Black Police Association is one of its legacies. Three decades on, the reasons for a race network remain just as strong. However, Avon and Somerset Police can progress in its ambition to be a lead anti-racist organisation if it’s prepared to continue to put in meaningful and sustained effort.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know.