‘The Black Cop’ star calls London police over racism

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LONDON — London’s police are still institutionally racist despite their promise of reform two decades ago, said the city’s first openly gay black officer, whose story has been nominated for a best picture award.

‘The Black Cop’, commissioned by The Guardian newspaper, is one of five finalists in the British shorts category at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards on Sunday.

A mix of documentary and drama, the 24-minute film traces the experiences of Gamal ‘G’ Turawa, the Metropolitan Police’s first openly gay black officer, in the early 1990s as he confronts racism and struggles with his own sexuality.

Both Turawa and the film’s director, Cherish Oteka, said Britain’s greatest strength remains – in the words of a landmark report into the botched investigation into the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence – “institutionally racist”.

“Society as a whole is still institutionally racist,” Oteka said, adding that police need to do more to address the issue.

“There’s just this widespread denial of how black communities are treated…I’ll never feel safe in the hands of the police if that isn’t acknowledged,” Oteka said.

London Police Chief Cressida Dick resigned last month following a report into racism and sexism within the force.

An investigation by the police watchdog at a central London police station detailed offensive WhatsApp messages about Muslims, Africans, Somalis and LGBTQ+ people, and jokes about making food for dogs from African children.

The US killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in 2020 after a white police officer knelt on his neck, has sparked global anti-racism protests and calls for reform.

‘WANTED TO BE WHITE’

Turawa spent her early childhood in a white foster home before moving in with her biological father when she was eight years old.

Despite early memories of racial abuse from individual police officers, he was determined to join the force.

“I joined because I wanted to be white,” he said in the film.

But he was abused – at one point his face was painted with shoe dye by fellow officers who said he was ‘the wrong color for the job’.

“The police culture (at the time) was almost like, ‘We’ll let you belong to us as long as you behave the way we want you to behave,'” Turawa said.

A spokesperson for the Met Police said there was no room for discrimination or bias in the force, adding that “racism, homophobia, sexism or any kind of hatred or lack of of respect will not be tolerated”.

“We recognize that there is a real need for change in the organization…(and) we are working harder than ever to improve our culture and professional standards,” the spokesperson said.

Faced with racism in the force and struggling with his sexuality, Turawa considered suicide at one point.

“I wrote the suicide note and went to the local train station (with) the intention of jumping in front of a train,” said Turawa, who retired from the police force in 2018.

But his subsequent mental breakdown prompted Turawa to accept himself as a black gay man, and he even appeared on stage at a London Pride event.

“It took me 40 years, but I’m here,” he told the cheering Pride crowd in footage used in the film. “Forty years of hiding and I’m out.

“As I stand here, I feel proud to be here, proud to say I’m black, I’m gay, but more importantly, I’m a human being.”

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Michael Taylor and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly.)

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