AS A serving police officer, I groan (inwardly, obviously) as the Reverend Al Sharpton opines across the airwaves of Britain. Not only because he’s an obvious race huckster – making a highly successful career out of it – but also because he’s always allowed to peddle his inflammatory nonsense without anyone having theguts to challenge him.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Sharpton is the self-appointed senior spokesman for civil rights in the US. He is the founder of the National Action Network and is usually seen in front of a microphone when someone from the black community in the US is killed during incidents involving the police. He recently visited the UK to lecture us on our policing of black communities, and to inform us that we’re not as tolerant as we like to think we are, all reported by the Independent without making any effort to ask him for his evidence, let alone to question him.
Why the reticence to confront him? The reason is twofold. Firstly, fear and self-censorship. The spokespeople of the grievance industry will institute a pile-on to anyone who wishes to debate what is now ‘progressive’ orthodoxy since the Year Zero of 2020 and the death of George Floyd. That person will then suffer before the inevitable cancellation. Secondly, a disturbing number of people actually believe Sharpton’s verbose garbage. They have not had the benefit of reading the National Review’s exposé.
It may be because Baptist minister Sharpton so clearly models himself on Martin Luther King Jr that some, especially in the UK, feel obliged to support his theories. After all, to question Sharpton could also be seen to be questioning the most venerated human rights activist of the twentieth century, not to mention its finest orator. But question them we must, because there are those who are itching to bring an American-style race war to the streets of Britain.
Sadly, it would be a mistake to look to the leaders of the UK’s police services for any moral authority on this issue. One only has to glance through the College of Policing’s Police Race Action Plan to see that at an organisational level, the police have been completely captured by identitarian philosophy. Indeed, the Plan proudly states that ‘we’re working to make policing anti-racist’. What does that even mean? Surely that’s the default position of most decent people. And does it mean, therefore, that we’re all currently racist? How surprised my non-white colleagues would be to learn that.
It’s only when one delves further into the document that ‘black’ is defined. They mean Black African, Black British, Black Caribbean, Black Other and Mixed Black backgrounds. My experience tells me that people of recent African heritage generally enjoy a markedly different relationship with the police than those of Caribbean or other heritage. So, to lump everyone together as ‘black’ takes no account of cultural or national differences, and is more than a little condescending.
It is in this climate, then, that Al Sharpton can do the round of TV appearances and be treated like Mahatma Gandhi, with every pronouncement seen as a pearl of wisdom rather than a meaningless word salad lifted straight from BLM’s Wikipedia page.
Had the Independent bothered to look, Sharpton’s drawing of parallels between US and UK policing of black communities simply does not stack up. There is a view, itself mistaken, that US police are carrying out a war against black communities. Even if that were true, this is not reflected in Britain. Percentage of deaths in police custody in England and Wales between 2018 and 2019, by ethnicity, show that 86 per cent of deaths were of white people, with 3 per cent being black. Compared with the proportions of those communities in the country as a whole, this means you are more likely to die in police custody if you’re white.
Of course, every death in police custody is a tragedy and one too many. But to think that there are underhanded practices employed to wipe out black people is clearly preposterous. Custody sergeants are responsible for the health and safety of every person brought before them whose detention is authorised. This is an enormous responsibility and, if a prisoner so much as stubs his toe whilst in custody, the sergeant is in serious trouble, with being sacked one of the more minor possible punishments.
One of the most quoted of Sharpton’s utterances, carefully adapted for us simple Brits, was that ‘the failure to address systemic racism in UK policing and the culture of policing that produces brutality against our people will only lead to more incidences (sic) like the tragedy of Tyre Nichols’. Okay, what systemic racism? A line trotted out regularly. How do you define that and where are the statistics to back that up? Of course, there aren’t any. Because it doesn’t exist. Also, brutality against ‘our’ people? Black British history and experience is utterly different to those of Black Americans, so please don’t claim to be a spokesperson for a population you know little about, Reverend.
Much work has been done to improve relations between the police in the UK and our black communities. But certainly, this doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. With headlines each day telling of lethal violence involving people from the ‘black community’, there is a deadly imperative that we balance understanding and sensitivity with robust policing. This is not mere hyperbole: lives depend on it.