Police Condemn ‘Trial by Social Media’ After Dawn Butler’s Racism Accusations

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Diva Magazine

The Metropolitan Police has flatly denied that a car in which Labour MP Dawn Butler was travelling was stopped because of police racism, and condemned the “increasingly routine trial by social media” of officers as “unfair and damaging”.

The Labour MP for Brent Central and former Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities made headlines when she shared a clip of a video of police stopping a car she was in — but not driving — in Hackney, London, claiming it was “obviously racial profiling”.

“We know that the police is institutionally racist and what we have to do is weed that out,” she alleged.

“We have to stop seeing black with crime. We have to stop associating being black and driving a nice car with crime,” she added.

The Metropolitan Police Federation — a union of sorts for non-senior police officers — had disputed her characterisation of the incident, and has been lobbying for the officers to be given permission to release their own body-cam footage to clarify what really happened, in full.

On this occasion, at least, police leaders have also chosen to back their officers, with the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Steve House, releasing a statement emphasising that it is ” important that the facts are fully understood.”

“The officers who undertook the stop were from the Violent Crime Task Force and were in the area as part of our proactive work to protect communities from violence,” Sir Steve said.

“Criminals often use vehicles to travel in and to commit crime, therefore officers will often check cars to see if there is anything that requires them to stop it and do further checks. The officers ran a number plate check on the vehicle. At this stage, the officers still didn’t know who the occupants of the car were, including their ethnicity because the car windows were tinted,” the senior officer explained.

“As a result of an officer making a human error as he inputted the car registration, the Police National Computer returned details of a car from another part of the UK.

“The officers were not initially aware of this problem and as a result felt, with good reason, that they should do further checks on the car by stopping it and engaging with the occupants. I expect officers to have professional curiosity and I would have done the same,” he insisted.

“[T]he officers acted professionally and politely, explaining why the stop was made and, when realising there was a mistake, explaining this and continuing to answer the occupants’ questions…  Officers expect to be scrutinised and there are existing, appropriate and proportionate processes for making complaints and for facts to be established, and on the occasions where there is fault — unlike this case — for consequences to follow.

“The increasingly routine trial by social media is unfair and damaging to individual officers and has the potential to undermine the role our communities need us to do to protect them and keep them safe from violence,” he said.

“I am grateful to these officers, as I am to all our officers who act professionally, humanely and in the service of the public.”

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