The Met Police’s top officer in Hackney faced jeers and heckles at a public meeting last night (Thursday, November 9), where the community accused his officers of racism and called for one of them to be sacked.

One young black man said he was “petrified” whenever he heard sirens; a charity worker with an MBE said she felt scared any time she saw police driving behind her; and veteran MP Diane Abbott said that as a black woman she does not feel safe even as an MP passing armed guards outside Parliament.

"I never feel safe with a policeman with a gun," she said. "That tells you something: a deeply respectable member of parliament that still can't relax when there's a policeman with a gun in the same place."

Audience members suggested the force was “out of control” and “out of touch”.

Borough commander Detective Chief Superintendent James Conway admitted that the force was institutionally racist but insisted he and others were trying to fix it.

Mrs Abbott suggested one way to eradicate the Met Police’s systemic prejudices would be to shut it down and replace it with a new organisation.

Enfield Independent: Veteran Labour MP Diane Abbott suggested one way of eradicating the Met Police's institutional bigotry would be to close it down and replace itVeteran Labour MP Diane Abbott suggested one way of eradicating the Met Police's institutional bigotry would be to close it down and replace it (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Child X"

The meeting, at the IDPAD Centre in Lower Clapton Road, was called after a 13-year-old black boy - dubbed Child X to keep his family anonymous - was run down by a police van and then arrested at gunpoint.

He and his much younger sibling had been playing with bright blue and pink water pistols, but a police officer who observed them allegedly called it in as “a black male with a gun”.

Lawyer Catriona Murphy, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, told the meeting: "He was de-arrested at the scene once his mother arrived and challenged what was happening. She too was treated with contempt by the officers."

The Met has since apologised, but also decided no officers did anything wrong.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) initially declined to investigate, saying the Met Police could investigate itself.

But it U-turned after the case made national headlines last month and is now investigating.

"Sack him!"

DCS Conway invoked the ongoing IOPC probe several times, saying he could not discuss the details while that investigation was ongoing. 

However, he did admit under intense questioning that all officers involved, including the one who called in the incident, remained on duty.

The admission provoked anger, with audience members shouting: “Sack him!”

Enfield Independent: Lee Jasper said he had seen and heard evidence of the way police had treated Child X's mother after the water pistol incident and in his opinion, the officers should face misconduct chargesLee Jasper said he had seen and heard evidence of the way police had treated Child X's mother after the water pistol incident and in his opinion, the officers should face misconduct charges (Image: Charles Thomson)

One woman, who described herself as a “child protection chair”, she said: “Your officers should have been suspended. I’m absolutely shocked.”

“How should we feel safe?” another person asked. “They are still on our streets.”

“I don’t really want to comment any further on the decisions around suspension,” said DCS Conway.

Members of the crowd called out that this was “shocking” and “disgusting”.

Their thoughts were echoed by members of the panel, including Lee Jasper, chairman of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA).

“If you would have seen and heard, like I have seen and heard, the way these officers treated the mother of the child – those officers should be facing disciplinary charges,” he said.

“Without pay!” an audience member shouted.

“I think that they should suspend him (the officer who called in the incidet),” said Janette Collins MBE, of youth charity The Crib, who works with the police.

Mr Jasper said a “community reference group” should be set up to monitor the IOPC investigation.

Catch Up:

Enfield Independent: One lady in the audience told borough commander DCS James Conway that he was 'talking pure crap'One lady in the audience told borough commander DCS James Conway that he was 'talking pure crap' (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Failure in leadership"

DCS Conway did accept that the Met Police is institutionally prejudiced. 

“We have let communities down but also let a lot of young officers down,” he said. 

“The structural racism that we see and the outcomes we see - that’s a failure in our leadership.”

One audience member told DCS Conway he was “talking pure crap”. 

“We don’t want to hear you talk anymore," she said. "We want to see you do.”

Another audience member – Leroy Logan, former deputy borough commander for Hackney – said police’s behaviour and attitudes towards black people appeared to be getting “worse” and “more toxic”.

He cited a fundraiser organised to raise money for two officers sacked after they lied about pulling over black athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo Dos Santos, suggesting they had been using drugs to justify an aggressive stop-and-search.

When Mr Logan criticised that fundraiser, he said: “I was trolled by current officers and retired officers. I’ve actually captured some of the comments on that crowd-funding and it will make your eyes water.”

Enfield Independent: Former deputy borough commander said police's attitudes and behaviour were getting 'worse' and 'more toxic', saying he was 'trolled by current officers' defending a crowd-funding campaign for sacked officers who targeted black athletesFormer deputy borough commander said police's attitudes and behaviour were getting 'worse' and 'more toxic', saying he was 'trolled by current officers' defending a crowd-funding campaign for sacked officers who targeted black athletes (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Close down the Met"?

Mrs Abbott also cited that fundraiser as a cause for concern.

“Some of you will have heard Suella Braverman claiming that the problem with the Metropolitan Police is that it’s too left-wing,” she said. “I don’t know which Met Police she’s talking about.”

Assuring DCS Conway that “none of this is personal”, she said: “We’ve had 30-odd years of this and we’re still going around in circles.

“The Met Police PR is better. Now they are much smoother. They have a better narrative. They know the words they are supposed to be using.

“But they are still deploying two armed units to deal with a 13-year-old boy with a plastic water pistol. So in a very fundamental sense, nothing much has changed.” 

Mrs Abbott suggested the Met Police could be replaced with a new force like Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – a suggestion met with enthusiasm by dozens of residents and community activists.

“I’m not saying for certain you should close down the Met,” said Mrs Abbott.

“But if, 36 years after I was elected as an MP, I have to stand up and talk about something I had to stand up and talk about 36 years ago, something has to change.”

Enfield Independent: Diane Abbott MP, pictured with lawyer Catriona Murphy, said that she even feels unsafe around armed police when she passes them on the parliamentary estate as a well-known MPDiane Abbott MP, pictured with lawyer Catriona Murphy, said that she even feels unsafe around armed police when she passes them on the parliamentary estate as a well-known MP (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Oceans of mediocrity"

Mr Jasper said he knew great police officers who devoted their time off to working with young people. 

But, he added, they were “islands of excellence surrounded by vast oceans of mediocrity”.

Mrs Collins said she is forced to warn young, black boys that they cannot play with water pistols like other children.

“We are still at that point where we have to say to young, black children, ‘Make sure you’re careful because the police are out there’,” she said.

She said that when she does workshops with mainly Asian teens in Tower Hamlets and asks how many have ever been stopped and searched, two might put up their hands. 

But in groups of black teens from Hackney, she said, every single person puts up their hands. 

Enfield Independent: Charity worker Janette Collins MBE said she feels unsafe when she sees police driving behind her and she advises black children not to play with water pistols in case the police treat them as armed criminalsCharity worker Janette Collins MBE said she feels unsafe when she sees police driving behind her and she advises black children not to play with water pistols in case the police treat them as armed criminals (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Depressing and shocking"

“I don’t accept that we are out of control,” said DCS Conway.

But he said it was “depressing” and “shocking” to hear about the black community’s experiences with police, adding: “We have got to do something about the disproportionality of stop-and-search.”

“I can understand why you’re concerned and why you don’t feel that same level of protection,” he said. “We want to reduce, as far as possible, the use of tactics like stop-and-search.”

He said he wanted to retrain officers, get them out into the community more often and that the force “desperately would like to be more reflective of the communities we serve”.

Another hope, he said, was to avoid “the criminalisation of children” by pointing young offenders to “diversionary action”, rather than punishing them.

Mrs Collins said she had once been sent to do equality and diversity training with police officers.

“You could clearly see everyone’s eyes were rolling and you could clearly see they didn’t want to be there,” she said.

“You can’t take someone that’s got racism going through their blood and change them through equality and diversity training.”

Enfield Independent: DCS James Conway said it could take ten years to fully stamp out racism in the Met Police, but he and others were committed to doing itDCS James Conway said it could take ten years to fully stamp out racism in the Met Police, but he and others were committed to doing it (Image: Charles Thomson)

"Nothing ever changes"

Mr Jasper told DCS Conway: "People are absolutely convinced that you’re an institutionally racist organisation and their experience tells them that you come and speak nice words, but nothing ever changes on the ground.”

He added: “It was your service, the Met Police, that investigated this case and said there was no case to answer.

“That doesn’t suggest to me that much has changed in relation to the handling of these type of complaints.”

Mr Jasper claimed that just 0.3% of racism complaints against the Met Police are upheld, prompting one audience member to shout out: “Racist!”

“Kim Jong Un has got better complaint figures,” he said.

“We are trying to make those changes,” said DCS Conway. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It could be a five-year, ten-year journey. This will take some time, for us to make those changes, but we are committed to it.”