Long-term solutions are needed for policing in our community

By Seema Chandwani | Twitter @SeemaChandwani

I was too young to understand the tensions surrounding the death of Cynthia Jarrett which led to the Broadwater Farm riots, but a generation later I was a teenager during the death of Joy Gardner, and this negatively influenced my view of policing.

As time moves on, the next generation in Tottenham encountered the death of Roger Sylvester, and now the current youths have the death of Mark Duggan to refer to. All of these incidents have undermined confidence in policing for many in our area over the decades.

The solutions that have been called upon to solve this issue centre around ‘building’ or ‘repairing’ relations between ‘the community’ and ‘the police’. For me this seems bizarre.

Firstly it places ‘the police’ outside ‘the community’, not part of it. Secondly, it sets up the solution on the basis of ‘them and us’ when part of the problem is the ‘them and us’ culture. Lastly, it calls for a repair that fails to acknowledge the wider problem.

Once we accept that residents and police are part of the same community, we can start to ensure that all members within our community have mutual respect, abide by the same rules and face the same consequences. The Duggan family have lost a loved one and that bereavement obviously carries emotional grief. But it was not this grief that caused the wider tension within the community; it was the absence of mutual respect, rules and consequences.

I remember the direct aftermath of the shooting and two stories circulated around Tottenham. One, that there was a ‘shoot-out’ and the other, which refuted it.

Social justice is in Tottenham’s DNA. This stems back centuries from our involvement in the abolishment of world slavery to the introduction of free education for all children. So when we feel something may not be right, there is an innate determination to seek answers.

As the story developed, the bullet in the policeman’s radio transpired to belong to the police and what was viewed as a ‘community conspiracy theory’ or ‘myths’ was starting to sound plausible to those wanting to remain objective. There should have only been one story – the truth – so how could a community, with the police part of that community, trust one another with the truth absent?

This country has put in place measures to deal with such a situation. We have the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), an independent body that is meant to uncover the truth and ensure police are subject to the same rules and consequences as the rest of us if they are deemed to be at fault.

But it was not the police per se who circulated the story of the shoot-out, it was the IPCC – the very body we relied upon to ensure accountability and provide the truth.

Relations with the police have developed in Tottenham and Haringey as a whole since the ‘80s, and more so since the riots – especially since the new Borough Commander Victor Olisa came into post in March 2013. Ironically, the night before the verdict, many residents in Tottenham including myself were on Twitter playing a photo guessing game with the police. It sounds minor, but it was a level of open engagement that would have been unheard of 15 years ago.

Ch Supt Olisa has made a conscious proactive effort to engage others within our shared community, a community that I feel he acknowledges he is part of and I feel he wants to be part of. I sense this is not due to an action point in a report or because it is a new Met Police fad, but because he believes in its importance – and that natural passion is being received well by others in the community. His engagement with my youth group, who have been very critical of policing, has been impressive and they have embraced his sincerity.

This is all a fantastic step in the right direction, long overdue, and I hope it continues and develops. It will form a pivotal part of the solution. But it is not the solution, it can never alone be the solution and we should stop treating it as the sole solution.

In order for the police to continue to be accepted as members of the community, the way police are held accountable – for everything from a stop and search to a fatal shooting – needs to be addressed. We all need to believe that when police officers break the rules they face the same consequences as the rest of us. If not, then the police will always be seen as outside the community, despite their efforts. No sincere relationship can exist or survive when there are inequalities.

The solution to prevent the next generation of Tottenham developing negative views of local police, causing possible tensions and social disorder in our area, is to make the IPCC fit for purpose. Then, if something does happen again, people have faith in how it will be handled.

The police cannot improve the IPCC – they are meant to be independent from it and accountable to it. It is the political sphere that has to lead on this change. Only changes in structural governance will produce an environment where the efforts of the whole community, including the police, stand a chance of lasting, positive change.

This piece was also featured in the Tottenham Journal