The CPS has decided that three police officers will not be prosecuted for racist remarks made in a WhatsApp group chat last year.

A meme of British actor Kayode Ewumi was posted in the group leading one of the officers to reply with the racially fuelled remark ‘monkey’. The group chat contained a BAME officer whose 17-year-old son saw the messages and found them deeply offending — and rightly so.

The police must be held to the same standards that they enforce. Comments such as the one used have deep-rooted, racist connotations. Those who wear a uniform are there to keep the peace. The use of such insensitive language suggests a worrying tendency amongst our law enforcers.

Getting off scot-free because of the uniform

According to the Public Order Act 1986:

‘a person is guilty of an offence if he … displays any writing … which is … abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress …’.

This applies to comments made in public or in private. The law came into force in the case of Norwood vs UK. Mark Norwood, a member of the BNP, attempted to defend his right to place a poster in his window. It stated ‘Islam out of Britain — Protect the British People’. The European Court of Human rights unsurprisingly voted against Norwood.

In both instances, the racial discrimination was in writing and both parties were perfectly aware that they would likely cause offence. So what’s the difference? The difference is that one incident involved police officers who usually enjoy a free pass in saying what they like.

The severity of casual racism

Some may insist that our outrage is better placed elsewhere, at more ‘serious’ forms of racism. However, this casual racism has ripple effects. It causes issues such as anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. Crucially, it undermines social cohesion. To dismiss this as lunchtime banter undercuts the zero-tolerance policy civic institutions claim to uphold.

It may not conjure the same violent images of the police at Black Lives Matter protests but that does not mean it isn’t part of the same system of oppression. People took to the streets because the authorities were not listening. They had to shout to be heard. The police are tasked with protecting social cohesion, but too often they are the ones undermining it and causing the most damage.

The Invincible Institution

Historically and consistently, the police have a way of avoiding repercussions for wrongful conduct. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is responsible for investigating cases of misconduct within the police. There are numerous incidents of discrimination listed on their website. The positive takeaway from this is that some cases are being prosecuted but many, like this latest one, are being dismissed.

Another incident involving a WhatsApp group chat occurred last year in which an offensive image of George Floyd was shared. This violated section 127 of the Communications Act (2003) which states that it is illegal to share images that are grossly offensive. The irony of police officers joking about a tragic incident of police brutality suggests that such cases are not isolated accidents. It is an epidemic. No organisation should be singled out, but this is more than a few bad apples. Currently, 92.7 per cent of the force are ethnically white so establishing diversity may be the first step in combatting this issue. But, until the police are consistently held accountable the immunity they hold will remain intact, setting the worst possible example.

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