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UK - Elite police unit fosters fear, instead of security

By Charlene Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 3, 2009 - 2:01:52 PM

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Activists, N.O.I. UK condemn elite police 'hit squad'

(The Final Call, UK Edition) - Scotland Yard's CO19 special firearms unit claims its elite officers are ready to subdue violent crime within a moment's notice to create safer neighbourhoods.

    -The Final Call UK Edition-   

Some Black leaders say the heavy arms and enforcement effort is unjustly trained primarily on Black youth—and are warning the community to act to curb police targeting and possible abuses.

“The U.K. doesn't have our best interest at heart and how can you ask a government that is, I think the second or third biggest arms dealer in the world, that actually has not learned to be a peace broker, to be a peace maker in your community when all they've known is war?” asked Trevor Hakim, co-founder of a group that educates and mentors youth convicted of crimes or excluded from schools.

He called the operation a propaganda machine designed to further criminalize and imprison Black youth.

According to the Metropolitan Police Authority, 75 percent of London's gun violence involves Black on Black crimes. In October, widespread public outrage forced Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson to cancel armed police patrols in the Brixton Estates and several other areas of London.

That same month, a judge dismissed the appeals of two men who were converting replica guns into live weapons. The judge also issued new prison sentencing laws, including no fixed release dates for some illegal gun makers and traffickers.

Charles Crichlow, president of the National Black Police Association UK, told The Final Call his group is 100 percent supportive of genuine efforts to address the problem of violent crime within the Black community.

However, he said, contrary to popular media-generated beliefs, the vast majority of violent crime in the UK is not committed by Black people.

“More recently the UK police service was found to be institutionally racist by a government commissioned report (Lawrence 1999) therefore black people would be wise not to depend solely upon the police service to deliver an appropriate response,” he warned, in an e-mail response to questions.

One solution is recruiting more Black officers with African consciousness and demeanour onto the police force, he said. Another is for the community to ensure police have a deep understanding of its issues before giving them consent to institute a crackdown.

Just like in America, the majority of gun users and owners within the whole United Kingdom are middle class, middle aged White men, not inner city Black youth, noted Mr. Hakim, of the Black Starline mentoring and youth development organization.

“Yet there's been no specific crime unit to tackle them,” he added.

“The London Black community is the only community that exists that actually has a special police squad set up just for us. No Chinese, Asian, not even White community has a special unit set up for them, but we do in Operation Trident.”

With the consent of the Black community, police say they set up Operation Trident in 1998, an anti-gun crime unit to reduce shootings and murders among Black Londoners that is still in affect.

The current anti-gun campaign includes a billboard with the arm of a Black male, pointing a gun directly at viewers. A Black woman's well-manicured, ringed finger, suggesting the male's mother, wife or companion, covers his hand. The billboard reads, “HIDE HIS GUN AND YOU HELP COMMIT THE CRIME. Get caught. Get 5 years … “

Community must provide solutions, activists maintain

Mr. Hakim acknowledged the pain of families who have lost loved ones to violent crime and agrees something needs to be done.

But simply calling the police in is the last thing that should done because it gives the government the opportunity to institute a crackdown, said activists and Black leaders.

The answer lies in the community, Black politicians, and organizations stepping up self-help and neighbourhood-based programs targeted at youth and reducing violence, they argue.

The Nation of Islam has expanded an initial four-week door-to-door information campaign that includes a call for unity and economic development. The London Metropolitan Black Police, an affiliate of the Black police association in the United Kingdom, offers youth leadership programs and skills development courses. Black Starline provides educational and mentoring programs and the Social Solutions Institute for Research and Development provides gang intervention and leadership development initiatives.

“What we are working to do in the Nation of Islam in the United Kingdom is to apprise our young brothers particularly of their value and their worth to God Almighty,” Student Minister Hilary Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 1, the UK representative of the Honourable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“We're trying to apprise them to the fact that they are the generation of the Messiah and because they are the generation of the Messiah, they are under increased surveillance and marked for death by those they are born to replace.”

The N.O.I. UK door-to-door campaign continued with a Men's Only at Mosque No. 1 on Nov. 23. Mr. Muhammad's lecture was entitled “The Black Male Marked for Death by Executive Order.” The mosque was full, he said.

For Twilight Bey, the co-founder of the Social Solutions Institute and its lead intervention specialist, the Million Man March strategies outlined by Minister Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam, in 1995 are the keys to the problems facing youth and the Black community today.

Nearly two million men showed up for the demonstration in Washington, D.C., and took a pledge to atone for past failures, accept responsibility to rebuild communities and reconcile with one another and loved ones.

“Those principles have been with us since that time and before. The teachings have been there but it's just a matter of people being willing to listen and then, don't expect someone else to save you but take the actions required to save yourself and family. The key word is responsibility,” Mr. Bey told The Final Call.

Children already under siege?

Mr. Bey said the Black community needs to leverage all its potential power through successful athletes, entertainers, young entrepreneurs, educators, and venture capitalists to help turn young lives around. “The only thing that's missing is the community being prepared to allow them (youth) to use their talents and resources to help develop it.

“It's no point in pointing fingers and getting upset about the police coming in with the guns and the abuse if we're not going to take the responsibility to create the (proper) type of environment for ourselves and our children.”

A UK Government Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry found young Black people face a web of disadvantages, from social and economic exclusion to permanent exclusion from schools.

The Home Affairs 2007 report indicated young Black people are overrepresented in all stages of the criminal justice system:

•Black people make up 2.7 percent of the population aged 10-17, yet represent 8.5 percent of those arrested in that age group in England and Wales;

•They are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police;

•Less likely to be given unconditional bail; and

•More likely to be remanded in custody than young White offenders.

Social exclusion, media stereotyping, and direct or indirect discrimination in policing and in the youth justice system were cited as some causes of the overrepresentation.

According to the Guardian, police have doubled the number of Afro-Caribbean and Asian school children stopped and searched in the last year under Operation Blunt 2, an anti-crime program.

The police say the tactics are necessary to reduce weapons on the streets. Critics charge officers are simply harassing ethnic children and alienating them.

The total number of children, ages 10-17, stopped and searched for 2007-2008 was 185,489, according to the Guardian.

Children as young as 10 were stopped 755 times from April 2008 to March 2009, an 80 percent increase over the previous year, the Guardian said. Stops of Asian children rose 130 percent, while the increase over the one-year period for Black children was 100 percent and 54 percent for White youngsters.

Critics said Operation Blunt 2 could do more harm than good, especially because it targets such young minority children.

In October, a Black youth worker was taken into custody by British Transport Police for observing the arrest of a young Black man in a London Railway station from a distance. He settled with the agency for 22,000 pounds and an apology.

Elite forces and their failures

Under Elite UK Forces' extensive training, officers must score a minimum of 90 percent accuracy with firearms, with an emphasis always on minimal use of force, according to the unit's website. Officers are also supposed to be taught to aim for the biggest targets, like torsos, to incapacitate people.

Their training failed in 2005 when CO19 officers shot Brazilian Jean Charles de Menendez seven times in the head on London's Underground train, after mistaking him for a terrorist.

Shortly afterward, two SAS senior officers, who trained many of the firearms teams told The Sunday Times officers were often “gung ho” and unfit. They warned officers they trained had not been subjected to adequate psychological and physical tests to establish whether they were suitable to use firearms.

According to independent investigators, Mr. de Menendez was actually restrained by an officer before he was fired on almost a dozen times at close range. Police had claimed he was behaving suspiciously, but he wasn't, the investigators found.

According to one of the senior officers, “When the tension starts to rise and the adrenaline is flowing, the ‘red mist' seems to descend on armed police officers who become very trigger-happy. This has been shown time and time again in training exercises.”

On November 10, CO19 officer Malcolm Thomas was suspended after he allegedly posted nude photos of himself and boasted about his dominance as an armed policeman and two questionable shootings on the Internet. He also posted pictures of himself in uniform, body armour, and with a 9mm Glock automatic pistol.

Mr. Bey believes money spent to produce one specially trained officer could be better used to train young men to turn their lives around and do something productive. It is clearly a case of money going in the wrong direction, he told The Final Call.

“When you talk about the cost of putting a young person into a juvenile prison in this country, for some of them you're looking at 52,000 pounds, which is about $75,000 to $82,000 U.S. And that's just to incarcerate one young person for one year,” he said.