Julian Cole, one of my constituents from Brent, north London, was on a night out with friends when, aged just 19, his future was violently taken away. We now know that members of the police force who were present that night in 2013 – people whose purpose is to protect and serve – lied about the circumstances in which this happened.
Julian’s mother, wider family and friends have been fighting for over five years to get the answers they deserve. They are a broken and heartbroken family, trying to adjust and trying to obtain justice. But at each stage obstacles have been put in their way. I myself wrote to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in 2016 to find out why the investigation had been delayed for so long.
This incident wasn’t about video footage of an arrest that went wrong. This is about a son, brother and friend who was left paralysed and brain damaged after contact with the police. For far too long, black men have been over-policed and under-served by forces in many areas.
After Stephen Lawrence’s murder, in 1993, the Macpherson inquiry brought to public attention the fact that racism does not manifest itself just as physical violence or personal abuse, but can also be institutional. William Macpherson defined it as the “collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.
The problem is that the police force, like every organisation, including parliament, contains rotten apples that need to removed. It’s good that the three officers in this case have now been sacked, but it will offer little comfort to Julian’s friends and family.
There are still questions to answer; a young man has been left in a persistent vegetative state, and someone needs to take responsibility.
Fundamentally, the police must be there to protect the public. Police officers take an oath to protect and serve, but when they feel it is more important to cover up their own actions, rather than explain what really occurred, it shows there are still deep-rooted problems in the force.
For as long as the truth is concealed, mistrust builds up, and this mistrust is passed down through generations.
In my borough, we have some brilliant policemen and women who dedicate their lives to serving our community. This often thankless task is getting tougher. Budgets have been slashed by this Tory government, and the police are losing staff faster than the time it takes to hire and train new officers. Keeping our streets safe on the cheap isn’t working, yet the government continues to ignore the clear warning signs.
The horrifying injuries suffered by Julian that day, and recent high-profile incidents in my constituency – including the arrest of a black man in Harlesden, who was detained using what many have described as excessive force, as well as the spoken word artist George the Poet being strip-searched in a van outside his parents’ home – highlight how we the public need to engage with the police and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (as the IPCC is now called) to bring together communities and the police.
To make the change we need in the police force we need to complain when necessary. The police force has and will continue to evolve, and it is incumbent on the black community and all our diverse communities across the UK to shape its future through engaging with the process and complaining when necessary.
It is also vital that complaints are dealt with fairly and quickly; this case has taken far too long. In my MP’s surgeries, I see many Brent constituents, predominantly from the black community, seeking assistance after being let down or unfairly targeted by the police, who are too afraid to engage with the process.
Julian’s case, although it will not fill my constituents with confidence over the actions of a few officers, will I hope show that it is difficult but the only way to create a fair police force is to root out the officers who are not committed to serving members of the public.
This is far from over and I hope the whole truth will be revealed soon. Julian and his family demand and deserve justice. They also deserve compensation; it will never heal the pain but Julian has been robbed of his chances in life, so it is only right that the life that he now lives should be as comfortable as possible.