Black police officers were withdrawn from close proximity with Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations because of the abuse they were receiving from some of the protesters, the Met’s deputy commissioner said today.
Steve House told the London Assembly police and crime committee that “very sadly our black and minority colleagues were the target of particular abuse from the crowd” and “we had to take some of them out of the line” because “it was just becoming too aggressive, too nasty”.
Taking questions from AMs, House also stressed his view that although the killing of George Floyd in the United States had “sparked” the BLM demos, there are “other things at the root” of the ill-feeling expressed towards London’s police and that “part of that is the ongoing relationship between the Metropolitan Police Service and part of the black community”.
House accepted that the disproportionately high numbers of young black men being stopped and searched by police and being murdered in the capital – twelve out of 20 murder victims under the age of 25 in the past year – show that there is “an issue” and said “we acknowledge the black community is angry and they want answers from the Metropolitan Police Service”.
He said the service is “working with the Mayor’s office [for policing and crime] on an action plan” as well as initiatives within the Met itself. These include a “review” of the use of handcuffs during stop-and-search procedures. Last month, academics and civil liberties campaigners expressed concerns about the Met’s use of stop-and-search during the lockdown period to a Commons select committee.
However, House argued that filmed incidents of officers using force that are circulated through social and mainstream media and prompt widespread criticism do not necessarily demonstrate that officers have been at fault. He mentioned the case of Millard Scott, a 62-year-old resident of Tottenham who was shot with a Taser during a raid on his home. The case was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which informed the Met yesterday that it will not investigate.
House described the BLM protests on the 7 and 13 June as being “at the start entirely peaceful” but not “particularly friendly to the police” with “a lot of verbal abuse, a lot of anger” directed at officers in general throughout. He said that 47 officers in total sustained injuries while policing the two events and that, “In hindsight, had we known it was going to be so violent we would have put more welfare in place [for officers] on the first weekend” and that a “more sophisticated” arrangement was introduced for the second one.
This had entailed a full debriefing of officers and recording of their injuries, with Police Federation, Metropolitan Black Police Association and the Muslim officers’ association on hand, following the targeting of minority officers. “One might expect that from the right wing,” House said. “I wouldn’t have expected it from the demonstrators from Black Lives Matter, but it was fact and I’ve read a number of statements by black officers about the abuse they received.” He added: “I can’t say how upsetting that is for us and for the officers themselves.”
House said the Met had found it difficult to prepare for the BLM events because we “never really managed to establish a good relationship with anyone that we would call an organiser.” This made it harder to gauge in advance how many people would be attending, to agree “the policing style” and to arrange “communicating with them so they can communicate with the people taking part in the demonstration”.
He confirmed that the BLM marches had been unlawful because they breached rules designed to control Covid-19 transmission, but explained that it had not been practical to prevent them. “I was asked by a number of people, if these are unlawful why do you let them happen?” he told the committee. “How do we stop 15,000 people gathering in Hyde Park when they come from all different directions, Tube, bus, walking, dropped off in cars etcetera, and congregate in thousands, then express a desire to march from Hyde Park into the centre of London and into Whitehall? You simply cannot stop that in any proportionate manner that would be acceptable to the commissioner [Cressida Dick], to myself, to the public in general.”
Speaking of other challenges the Met has faced during the period since lockdown was imposed, House said the “vast majority” of the 62 unlicensed music events officers have broken up “all over the capital” were dealt with “very quickly” when organisers were approached at an early stage. Responding to a question from Labour AM Jennette Arnold, House denied that crowds that gathered in streets in Soho have been treated differently from those in areas in Hackney, one of the boroughs Arnold represents.
He said that people who packed Soho streets on so-called “Super Saturday” 4 July, when pubs and restaurants were allowed to re-open, could not be dispersed because when officers attempted to they discovered that they were patrons of licensed premises effectively providing a take-out service because of the need to meet social distancing requirements inside.
“Officers would move into the crowd to move people on, only to find that they were holding a pint glass and had just bought a drink from the pub on the corner,” he said. “It becomes very difficult for an officer to tell people to move if they are patrons of a licensed premises that was lawfully re-opened.” House said the situation was more effectively resolved last weekend because “the pubs cordoned off parts of the footpath” making it easier to ask other people nearby to disperse.
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