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‘Journalists Aren’t Asking the Right Questions On Why the Metropolitan Police is Such a Failing Institution’

The latest episode of the hit Media Storm podcast focuses on how the press frames our damaging and discriminatory policing culture

Patsy Stevenson spoke to the Media Storm podcast. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA/Alamy

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A Metropolitan Police officer was this week found guilty of assault after grabbing, arresting, and handcuffing a black woman over an apparent bus fare evasion in south London.

It comes as figures show that the number of Met Police officers being dismissed from the force has reached a new peak – with more than 100 officers dismissed last year.

With a general election around the corner, competing parties will be drawing up manifestos and battle lines, and no doubt policing will be high on the list. A cornerstone of the Conservative Party’s agenda is a commitment to bolstering law enforcement agencies, while Labour has already said it would provide more neighbourhood police officers for more patrols on the streets.

But do we need to hear pledges from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer about how pouring more money into police forces will reform a 200-year institution such as the Met? Or should we instead listen to those most affected by policing – women and girls, communities of colour, and other minority voices – who, without a lectern and a campaign trail, just don’t seem to get a look in on this subject?

“I grew up being taught to trust the police,” equal rights activist and writer Patsy Stevenson told the latest Media Storm podcast. “It feels really weird now to know how naïve I was… now, I wouldn’t call the police on anyone if I’m honest.”

Stevenson’s shift came after she was forcibly arrested at the banned candlelit vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard in March 2021, during COVID restrictions. People, mostly women, had gathered, angry at being told they couldn’t mourn the death of a woman who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a serving Met Police officer. Stevenson expected to put down a candle and pay her respects. Instead, she was pushed to the ground and arrested, captured in a photograph that came to be front page news for weeks afterwards. 

“It was terrifying”, recalled Stevenson. “I’m very grateful to have had that experience – although it was traumatising – because my eyes were opened… I realised how [police brutality] has been happening for decades.” 

It’s undeniable that the murder of Sarah Everard was a turning point in women’s mistrust in the police – but it was not the starting point.

“Seeing police brutality was literally part of my upbringing,” Dr Leyla Hussein, international activist, psychotherapist, and co-founder of Safe Spaces for Black Women, told the podcast.

“Let’s go back to Stephen Lawrence. We’ve been questioning how the police behaves for more than three decades now. It’s not something new. But what we are forgetting to address over and over again is this conditioning that we must trust the system. This system was built to protect the elite. It wasn’t to protect women.” 

This status quo – that we must trust the police to protect the public – is a line rarely challenged in the mainstream media.


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Take the recent case of PC Perry Lathwood, found guilty of assault after he wrongfully arrested and “manhandled” Jocelyn Agyemang in Croydon, in front of her young son, leaving her with bruising. Agyemang was later de-arrested when it was proven that she had paid her bus fare. But it was her bus fare that made headlines – rather than the arrest in itself. The framing of Agyemang being somehow vindicated because she had actually paid the fare – as if the arrest would have been acceptable had she not – was revealing, but unsurprising. 

“A black person, they need to prove that they’re good people,” said Dr Hussein. “That’s literally how this was framed – because black people need to prove that they paid for their bus in order to actually get some sympathy and empathy.”

Online, the victim-blaming tweets roll in. Why didn’t she just hand over her Oyster card? Why did she try to walk away from a police officer?

The real questions are forgotten. Why was a police officer violent over an apparent £1.75? Would this have happened if Agyemang wasn’t black? 

“With the vigil, everyone was so shocked, because I’m a white girl,” Stevenson told the podcast. She splits the blame between the authorities and the media.

“There are interviews where I’ve sat there for 30 minutes talking about, for example, how Sarah Everard was viewed as opposed to Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman… and they cut all the clips, and all they show is me crying for a bit. That’s the way the media works.”

She shared a story of a female police officer speaking to the press and misusing her friend’s words – a cry for female solidarity (“imagine if it were you who had been raped and murdered”) was turned into “you deserve to be raped and murdered”. 

‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ Need to be had About Why Murder of Two Black Sisters ‘Hardly Made the News’, Says MP

Dawn Butler spoke to Hardeep Matharu about why the culture of policing and its interaction with race must become part of the wider conversations being had around women’s rights and criminal justice

While she was exposed and widely demonised in the media, Stevenson feels that the Met Police never took full accountability for its actions the night of the vigil, despite it paying her substantial damages and apologising last year after she launched a legal claim against the force under the Human Rights Act.

“We had to fight for two years… and, in the end, we didn’t win – we had to settle, because we were so exhausted.” How can there be trust if there is no accountability?

After PC Lathwood’s arrest, the Met tweeted that it would “continue to support the officer and continue to support our workforce”. Is there a solution to an institution that always appears to protect its own?

“I think we need to stop pretending it’s working,” Dr Hussein said. She believes radical change starts with addressing the mental health of officers and is calling for psychological assessments before and during their time in the force: “I can’t imagine being a police officer, where I’m seeing violent murders all the time, and not being impacted by it.” 

Patsy Stevenson’s approach is considered more radical in the mainstream: “Just defund them.” She talks of putting money into community care, such as neighbourhood watches, and preventative youth work for children, teaching them about equality and anti-racism in the hope they never grow up to become violent in the first place.

As for steps we can take today? Join a bystander training, support local organisations, and learn how to step in. “When someone is arrested, don’t always believe [they] must have done something wrong,” she added.

Media Storm’s ‘Police: Misogyny, Mistrust, and the Met’ is out now

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