On June 25th, Why me? held a restorative listening forum, giving people the opportunity to come together and share their experiences of racism from the police and criminal justice system.
This is a particularly pressing issue following the death of George Floyd and the anti-racism protests which have occurred across the world. But these issues have been at the forefront of many people’s minds for a long time, especially for people who experience this prejudice first-hand.
Attendees were broken up into two groups, and a restorative facilitator from Why me? led each discussion. The session focused on attendees experiences, the harm that these experiences have caused, and what could be done to repair that harm. Ground rules were set at the start, such as “no interrupting”, and the facilitator led the conversation with restorative questions such as “what has been happening for you?” and “what thoughts and feelings do you have about this issue?”
The session was interesting and informative. Below are some key quotes and reflections from attendees, under the key headings of the discussion.
Why Me? warmly thank everyone who attended and contributed to this event. They will be sharing the insights from this session with policy makers, and hope that they will contribute to a wider conversation about how to address racism from the police and justice system.
What has been happening for you?
There were many reflections on people’s negative experiences with racism in the justice system.
My life was turned upside down because of an encounter with the police and because I am a black woman.
Some worked or volunteered in the justice system, and had had negative experiences.
I’m always the only person of colour in meetings with the establishment who run the youth justice system. It’s quite extraordinary really. I just think I have to change this, this is absolutely outrageous.
You can tell from facial expressions and attitudes from coworkers and employees when they don’t like you, and they want to impose their ideas and thoughts on you.
Others talked about injustices their friends and families have faced.
I can’t say I’ve had any personal experiences, but I have a lot of friends and family who have suffered injustice, being stop and searched comes to mind as a common problem.
I have a son and when you ask a boy what they want to be when they grow up you expect them to say a fireman or a policeman. When you ask people I know in the black community, their sons will not want to be policemen, because they associate that with being bad and doing bad things to our kind.
What thoughts and feelings do you have?
A lot of participants spoke about how their experiences of racism have had a negative impact on them emotionally.
It’s just very sad and I feel powerless about what you can do about these situations, but I live in hope.
I’ve just been so horrified by what I’m seeing in the criminal justice system in reality which is not known anywhere else. And the people who run the justice system have been blind to it up until now.
I’m so angry about these things some of us witness daily. I am completely focused on changing things as best I can.
If I watch a lot of the news, I then go out and I can feel hyper-sensitive and hyper-alert, which is not good for me.
Some BAME people really sadly have an attitude that hate crime is just what happens. They’ve often resigned themselves to the fact that they will be treated this way and think there is nothing that can be done about it.
Some people also had more optimistic feelings following the recent flurry of anti-racism protests.
People are coming together and I have good faith that things can change.
Since the death of George Floyd other things have been changing. It’s giving me the strength to see things in society changing – not just statues coming down but legislation being looked at.
What can be done to put this right?
Participants voiced many views about how we can address the problems which were discussed in the session.
One participant voiced her frustration with the apathy people seem to have about the over-representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system. She recalled a particular example at a Youth Offending Team steering group meeting.
We are all nodding sagely at all of the figures they are presenting. 8 cases of young people in custody were shown and 4 of them were BAME. Nobody said a word about this. I said, does anybody look at these statistics and wonder what’s happening?
There was also a comment that the discussion needs to get beyond the “veneer of respectability” where people are eager to say things like, “I’m not racist, I’ve had my unconscious bias training, it’s nothing to do with me.”
Many reflections focused on the importance of people of colour being represented within the justice system.
I’d like to see more representations of people with colour within the system so that when certain people are in trouble they can be represented.
I’d like to see more colour in those systems, that would make me happy.
I want to see communities have more say and be involved in the process.
A perceived lack of transparency and accountability for the police was another common theme which was raised.
It’s important to have transparency, and see that the police have nothing to hide.
The police have body cameras, but they can be switched off when they want to.
I feel like it’s a game and when it comes to covering for each other they will go to any extent to do that. Moving forward it would be great to not have this feeling.
One solution to this problem which was raised was the better education and training of staff in the police and justice system.
We have to get to the root of the problem, which is educating people who are in these positions of power.
If there is a policeman who comes from a village where he has never encountered black people before, the only time he seen a black person is on a screen where they have been portrayed as being aggressive. Are these people being trained to think about their bias? Unless they train people before they come out we are just going to go over this problem over and over again.
Why can’t a bunch of police officers go into churches and say ‘listen in this neighbourhood there have been a lot of stop and searches, we want you to know what your rights are if your children are going through it’? This is educating the people so you can take away their fear.
As well as focussing on what changes they need to see from the police and law enforcement to tackle racism, some participants also talked about what they need personally to deal with the emotional harm caused by this issue.
Sometimes you just want to talk about it and think – ‘okay why did this happen’. I just need to talk about it and then let it go.
The best I can do is try to be active and when my family are having issues I need to be there for them to talk about how we can get through things.