The real war at the Met

The revolt from within our communities against police malpractice spurred some within our ranks to e

The headlines screamed from the front pages. "Race War in the Met". It is at first disturbing, but only a couple of officers of dark skin are named - Commander Ali Dizaei and Deputy Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, third in rank beneath Sir Ian Blair.

Yet, there are stirrings of dissatisfaction among the rank and file. Long before Ian Blair took over as commissioner, there was a movement of blacks and Asians into the London Metropolitan Police. This was no sudden urge of wannabee policemen and women. The revolt from within our communities against police malpractice spurred some within our ranks to enlist. They wanted to make a difference. It was that simple. Their presence across London, they hoped, would alleviate the oppression from which our communities suffered. For these new entrants, it continues to be a noble cause.

Here is a simple catalogue of major moments of racist policing. Once upon a time, a police officer named Harold Challenor at West End Central had the reputation of ducking the heads of black men charged with being suspicious persons, into an unflushed toilet bowl while he beat them about the head and chanted: "Bongo bongo, go back to the jungle". The practice spread to Notting Hill police station, and then throughout London. The allegations did not reach the mainstream press until years later, but the Caribbean communities knew of it. There began to appear on the horizon, leaflets and pamphlets which itemised these events. Then, in the early Seventies, a gang of police officers at Scotland Yard, operating as the "Drug Squad" under another infamous inspector, gathered a group of West Indian male hustlers around the squad who provided information about drug-dealing to officers who seized the marijuana and returned most of the drugs to the informer who sold them on. The squad was financially rewarded.

This led to the trial of six detectives, three of whom went to prison. But no other heads rolled.

As the years rolled by, mutterings against malpractices gathered pace, culminating in social explosions throughout the black communities. Grudgingly the police establishment, urged by their political masters in the Home Office, were forced to make changes.

When the drive to recruit blacks and Asians to the police forces began, Ian Blair, the present commissioner, was nowhere in sight. When he entered the hierarchy, blacks and Asians had been already enlisted. The old Met was moving into oblivion and the new Met opened its account with a policy of fast-tracking of the bright sparks. Commander Ali Dizaei was one; so was Leroy Logan, son of Caribbean parents, and now chief superintendent in Hackney.

What did the new influx bring to the table? Unbridled enthusiasm. Their presence undermined the racism of white officers. Their creative spirit and sound judgement, shaped in the black and Asian communities, propelled the Metropolitan Police along a new road. Dizaei, Logan and others such as Ghaffur are proof that the presence of blacks, Asians and Turks sets new standards. And Ian Blair's task, as the new commissioner, was to incorporate these entrants at the helm of policing in London. He got it abysmally wrong, succumbing to the rantings of the right-wing press which claimed that his force was overrun by political correctness.

Blair took his eye off the ball. Lifted to prominence by Tony Blair, he became General Blair, leader of the war against terror. His budget expanded; he turned his back on the task of incorporating blacks and Asians into the Met. He governed from the tight circle he gathered about him, relegating Ghaffur to the periphery.

But a new movement is stirring among black and Asian police officers. They are determined to enter every rank; they won't be cheated out of promotion. They have my support.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The crash of 2008