Us an' Dem (1994)

There is a tendency amongst the eternally optimistic (or the eternally naïve) to think that the relationship between the police and the Black community is always ‘getting better’, and that low-points in the relationship are always ‘in the past’. Unfortunately however, a formidable range of evidence consistently and conclusively indicates that the relationship between the police and the Black community rarely rises above mutual indifference, and frequently plummets to depths of mutual hostility and suspicion…

…Perhaps the saddest and most unhappy aspect of relationships between the police and the Black community is that the ‘individuality’ of either group ultimately counts for nothing in the general scheme of things. The ‘police’ and the ‘Black community’ – for all their plurality, have taken up entrenched positions of mutual antagonism, suspicion and hostility. ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’. The Black community feels particularly aggrieved that it accounts for an excessive and grotesquely disproportionate percentage of the prison and secure institution population. There is a deeply held feeling that the police and the courts not only deal severely and harshly with Black people (while showing quantifiable leniency to white defendants), but that Black people are specifically targeted and criminalized by these agencies.

Particularly blatant in this regard is the way in which Black people caught in possession of ‘soft’ drugs are invariably dealt with by the full severity of the law, whilst white users are more likely to be chastised with little more than a caution. Although Junior Reid was singing about his torment and predicament within the context of the Jamaican courts, the Black Uhuru song ‘Conviction or a Fine’ resonates with familiar sentiments: “The judge didn’t have no sympathy on me / All he have on his mind, a conviction or a fine”…

It is perhaps Macka B, the poet from Wolverhampton, who offers the most eloquent testimony to the turkey-shoot that passes as police/Black community relations.

All over Inglan it is happenin’
At the hands of police Blacks get a beatin’
Cherry Groce paralyse through police shootin’
Them beat Trevor Monerville and brain-damage him
Cythia Jarrett was another victim
Them push her down, kill her when them was raidin’
Them say Colin Roach shoot himself just for nothin’
Keith Leonard, the list is never-endin’...

The above extracts are from an Introduction by Eddie Chambers in the catalogue for “Us an’ Dem”, an exhibition organised and curated by Eddie Chambers, featuring work by  Abdu'Allah, Denzil Forrester and Tam Joseph, the Storey Institute, Lancaster, March 18 - April 15 1994, funded by the Lancashire Probation Service.

See also