In March this year, Baroness Louise Casey published the Casey Review, an independent review into the Met police’s culture and standards of behaviour, following the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens. The need for an independent review into the Met police became even more evident recently, following other incidents such as the Charing Cross WhatsApp scandal, the strip searching of Child Q, and the conviction of serial rapist and serving police officer David Carrick. The review gave a harrowing but expected depiction of a racist, sexist, and homophobic police force, with numerous incidents of racialised, gendered, and homophobic workplace bullying and harassment, a culture of denial and cover-ups, consistent abuse of stop and search powers, and excessive use of force against Black people and communities. The report made the logical and again widely expected conclusion that the Met police force is institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic, with discrimination “baked into the system.”
However, the concepts of institutional racism, sexism and homophobia have proven a point of contention.
Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Met police, has rejected the concepts of institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia. Despite accepting the report’s factual findings of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and acknowledging that they exist on a systematic level, Rowley has stated that he would not use the term ‘institutional’ to describe their prevalence within the Met. He deemed the terms too political and ambiguous, and thus not appropriate or useful labels to describe the force.
‘I’m accepting we have racists, misogynists. I’m accepting, we’ve got systemic failings, management failings, cultural failings.’
‘I’m not going to use a label myself that is both ambiguous and politicised.’
Equally, the current Conservative government has also failed to use or accept the descriptions of institutional racism, sexism, or homophobia. Home secretary Suella Braverman stated the report made for ‘very concerning reading’ and that she ‘will continue to hold the commissioner to account to deliver a wholesale change in the force’s culture’. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was ‘appalled’ by the report, and stated:
‘There needs to be a change in culture and leadership. And I know that the new Metropolitan Commissioner will no doubt reflect on the findings of Louise’s report, but is already making changes and that’s right – because what was happening before is simply shocking and unacceptable.’
While accepting the need for reform of the Met, specifically its ‘culture,’ neither Sunak nor Braverman reflect, accept or even address the actual findings of the Casey Review; that the Met police is institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic. This is frustrating but not at all surprising, as the Conservative Party has effectively rejected the concept of institutional racism. Indeed, the controversial Sewell report, published following an inquiry into racial inequality in Britain in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, concluded that the ‘claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence’.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, has to a certain degree accepted Casey’s findings of institutionalised discrimination. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, accepted in clear language the conclusions of the report. Khan stated: ‘the evidence is damning. Baroness Casey has found institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia, which I accept.’ Equally, leader of the Labour party Sir Keir Starmer said in an official party response to the report that Casey had catalogued ‘the culture, attitudes and practices of a police force that has lost its way.’ He went on to state that ‘across the force she found: institutional racism, institutional misogyny and institutional homophobia’ – a more tacit acceptance of the findings than Khan, however, at least Starmer has accepted Casey’s conclusions. Despite this statement, one of Starmer’s solutions to the failings of the Met is to ‘rebuild neighbourhood policing with 13,000 more police’, which arguably misses the main critiques of both the Casey report and supporting responses to it.
Baroness Casey has responded to Rowley’s refusal to accept her report’s conclusion that the Met is institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic, stating that it appears he is ‘splitting hair over words’ and crucially highlights that the conclusions are ‘not a label, but an accurate description of the organisation’.
Why do the words matter?
As Casey’s above statement highlights, the concepts of institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia are not merely politicised buzzwords, but effective and accurate descriptions of an institution that is systemically racist, sexist, and homophobic; these issues go to the core of the Met police institution, and thus cannot be addressed by lacklustre reforms or increasing police budgets and numbers.
The Casey Report describes the current and widespread racialised discrimination and brutality the Met force inflicts against Black and other racialised communities; highlighting the excessive use of stop and search, handcuffs, batons, and tasers on Black people. Equally, the report evidences the discrimination experienced by Black and ethnic minority officers by their own colleagues: bacon was stuffed into the boots of a Muslim officer, a Sikh officer had his beard cut off, and complaints of discrimination were often turned against the officer, demonstrated by Black officers being 81% more likely to have misconduct allegations brought against them than their White counterparts. While these current examples are depressing, the Met has a long history of institutional racism. The 2011 London riots were partially in response to the police killing of an unarmed Black man, Mark Duggan, and a study of people involved in the riots highlighted the persistent issue of racialised police brutality and stop and search, an issue which pervades today. The description of ‘institutional racism’ was historically used in the Macpherson Report, published in 1999, that investigated the racially motivated killing of Stephen Lawrence and how his killers evaded justice. However, prior to Macpherson, the Scarman Report which looked into the Brixton riots of 1981 concluded that these ‘riots’ were ‘essentially an outburst of anger and resentment by young Black people against the police’. Indeed, the Brixton riots of 1981, the subsequent 1985 Brixton riots, and the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, were all in response to racialised police brutality, specifically the use of ‘sus laws’ that enabled the police to stop, search, and arrest people purely on the basis of an officer’s ‘suspicion’. Unsurprisingly, this was used disproportionally, and in many cases violently, against Black people.
Institutional sexism and homophobia
The Casey report also demonstrated the institutionalised and pervasive nature of sexism and homophobia in the Met. Sexist and homophobic bullying was found to be rife in the force. A third of female officers had experienced sexism and 12% had been sexually harassed at work. The culture of denial and cover-up over sexual harassment, evidenced by the prolonged suppression of cases and reports against rapist and serving officer David Carrick, speaks to the institutional level of sexism in the Met. Such sexism does not just exist in the internal culture of the Met, but is also evident in policing policies, practices, and outcomes for women. The Met consistently fails to achieve justice for women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault or rape; 1 in 100 rapes recorded by the police resulted in a charge. The Met also has a long history of both institutional sexism and homophobia. For example, the ‘Spycops’ scandal exposed how officers manipulated women they met through social justice movements while undercover into engaging in romantic and sexual relationships. Equally, the Met police have a history of under-protecting LGBT+ communities, in many instances criminalising victims when they report discrimination or abuse – an issue which continues to the present day.
The Met is institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic
Racism, sexism, and homophobia are issues within the institution of the Met police itself. It does not simply boil down to ‘a few bad apples’, but instead goes to the core of the Met as an institution; it exists in every part of the Met, and its policies, practices, culture, organisation, and history. Rejecting the label of institutional discrimination rejects the realities and experiences of the people impacted by such discrimination: Black communities, ethnic minority communities, women, the LGBT+ community, and the intersections between them, and equally ignores the force’s own well-documented history. Failure to accept the term means we are again left with a reform effort focused on individuals, leading to a failure to make any long-lasting, impactful, or structural level changes.