The Police Are About To Face Their Biggest Challenge Yet

The cocktail of emotions the pandemic stirred up risks tipping the UK into a more volatile version of normal, Rabina Khan writes.
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The horrific scenes from the US of George Floyd being held down by a police officer, unable to breathe, had a huge effect on Mohammed Khan.

Watching those scenes, Khan was reminded of his own traumatic experience when police allegedly used excessive force during his arrest last year, causing him to pass out.

His was one of the cases I supported to try and understand what happened. The police have since been unable to explain why he was detained, and this experience has had a long-lasting effect on his mental health.

Prior to lockdown, he was hospitalised several times following the incident. Now, living in overcrowded conditions on a cramped social housing estate in lockdown and looking after his severely diabetic mother, he suffers from anxiety and stress.

His family worry that if they are living under such enormous pressure impacting on their mental wellbeing then there must be police officers who too will be living under similar circumstances. And suffering similarly from stress.

Arguments arise, tempers flare and physical scuffles that lead to serious assaults can happen in an environment that is not ready for a new type of community policing.

In George Floyd’s case, it was evident the behaviour of the police was appalling but as the lockdown gradually eases, the UK’s focus must be on what challenges community policing will inevitably face in a post-lockdown era.

This is a difficult situation as the police also fear for their own lives, particularly when we look to the epidemic of knife crime that continues to plague the UK’s biggest cities. The police are already fearing an explosion of violent crime as rival drug gangs try to re-establish their dominance across London following the lockdown.

There needs to be a meaningful discussion ahead of time about the positive measures that could be taken to reduce the risk of this happening in the future – both in terms of police training and guidelines, and helping and supporting those often black and minority ethnic communities who are most at risk from this type of crime, and being lured into carrying out this type of crime.

It begins with education and engaging young people. Gang leaders and drug dealers often fill the void in the lives of impressionable young men.

For many people, the lockdown will have created a toxic mix of grief, isolation, hunger, deprivation and sometimes domestic abuse, which will create a new environment for policing, in addition to dealing with those who have flouted and exploited the rules.

Even Sadiq Khan spoke about having bad days and good days despite living in a house with a garden during lockdown. So we need to ask ourselves, what can help shore against bad policing days after lockdown?

New figures show that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in England are 54% more likely to be fined than white people under the coronavirus laws, figures reveal. However, interestingly there have been reports that certain groups are struggling to adhere to government guidelines surrounding social distancing, which would therefore be one explanation for the figures. Unsurprising when you look at the correlation between overcrowding and poverty.

The unique cocktail of emotions that this pandemic has stirred up risks tipping us into a more volatile version of normal. How, therefore, can we deal with this without investment into treating violence on both sides of the law?

Rabina Khan is councillor for Shadwell ward.

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