George Floyd death should be 'moment of change' Met chief urges officers 'stand up to racists'

10 June 2020, 06:59

Assistant Commissioner Neil Bassu wrote the letter to colleagues in the wake of protests across the country
Assistant Commissioner Neil Bassu wrote the letter to colleagues in the wake of protests across the country. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

One of Britain's most senior police officers has urged officers to "stand up to racists" as Black Lives Matter demonstrations take place across the country.

In a letter written by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the senior officer urged his colleagues to "stand up - stand up to racists, to inequality and injustice".

He said he "had my doubts about the organisation" when he joined the force in 1992, adding it was "particularly hard" to be from a minority ethnic background at the time of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

"The damning findings and recommendations of that inquiry are etched into the fabric of UK policing's history - but the positive outcomes, hard-won, are real," he wrote.

"Our progress since has not been smooth, either, with missteps and setbacks along the way.

"Each setback is heart-breaking and despite how far we have come we must confront the fact that with many of our communities - especially the black community - we still have a long way to go."

The officer said it had been a "particularly shattering week" for BAME colleagues amid protests and violence sparked by US black man George Floyd's death at the hands of a white police officer, Mr Basu said.

"The way George died represented the worst of policing and will forever be a totemic image of racial injustice in America," he said.

"His last words ... 'I can't breathe' ... have become an anthem, and I desperately hope this is their moment for change."

In his letter, he urged the public to recognise the differences in British and US policing.

"We are not the same, because unlike America we overwhelmingly police by consent, and not by force," he wrote.

Mr Basu urged his colleagues to recognise demonstrators were angry not just at police brutality but also with institutional racism.

"So let us view the legitimate anger, manifesting itself now in different ways, with nuance and care," he said.

"Yes, some people behave badly; yes, a tiny minority are no more than criminal opportunists, but the overwhelming majority are showing solidarity with George and what his death represents.

"They have a point. We need to listen to our communities, and our people, and focus on what we in the UK can do better."

Mr Basu's letter comes after Downing Street said police must make their own decisions on whether to intervene if anti-racism protesters try to pull down further statues as part of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Boris Johnson told his Cabinet on Tuesday that protesters who broke social distancing or attacked public property or the police would "face the full force of the law", as the killing of George Floyd in the US continued to provoke demonstrations against inequality.

Earlier, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies sub-committee on behaviour said riots could break out across the UK this summer amid concerns about racial and economic inequality.

Professor Clifford Stott said there was a risk of disorder on a scale last seen during the London riots in August 2011 - sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan - if urgent efforts were not made by forces to quell any potential unrest in the neighbourhoods they served.