The elephant in the room

Morning. Or should I say afternoon. I realised about 15 minutes ago that I write this blog of mine far less frequently than I should be. This month I intend to get it back up to it’s weekly appearance, and because I Intend to it means that I will.

When it comes to life in general, all is well. I’m struggling for balance and it seems every day of the week whether it be for 15 minutes or 3 hours or more I’m up against the police. But being honest, I’ve been up against the police for the majority of my life. In fact, between you and me I’ve never liked them. I don’t think I ever will.

My earliest memory of the police is as a young man (I think I was 5 or 6 at the time) and the police came to my house to respond to an incident of racist abuse on mine and my parents doorstep. Me and my mum had been in a car crash, it had been snowing heavily and the other car came out of the blizzard seemingly from nowhere.

My mum swerved to avoid it and we ended up crashing into a ditch. The other driver in as much shock as my mum was ashen faced with endless apologies pouring out his mouth when he realized me and my mum were ok. Weeks later when it came to insurance pay out time, he turned up at our house. He wanted to come to an arrangement privately.

My mum firmly declined the offer and my dad backed her up, I heard raised voices and the door slammed. The remorseful motorist had lashed out calling my dad “a black b*******” . My parents naturally called the police. When the police came they took details of what had happened and left. Unsurprisingly, nothing ever happened. No charges were pressed. The white abuser of course, had committed no crime.

When I was 16 stop and search entered my life, Hampshire police racially profiled me and stopped me at one point nearly every day. I lived with my parents in Gosport a small town just outside of Portsmouth and our neighbourhood although pretty friendly was blindingly white. In fact, my dad was the only black guy living on the street with me and my mum. I could walk to the shops and be stopped by the police. The shops were 10 minutes away.

Eventually I made mistakes. I ended up getting caught up in drugs and the stops continued. From the age of 16 to around 27 I was regularly stop and searched by Hampshire police. I went through the criminal justice system, my best friends told me I’d end up in prison one day and in the end I did. The sentence was described as disproportionate and so I appealed and got an early release and a 18 month community order was put in it’s place.

The police, courts and prison system didn’t fix me. I fixed me. In the end, it took one last appearance in court and the threat of 6 months in Cardiff nick to make me see the damage I was doing to myself and my family that caused me to change. When I found Muay Thai I had just come out of an intense relationship was still being stopped from time to time and was looking for something that turned out to be Thai boxing.

My last ever stop and search in Portsmouth was when I’d been training for about a year or so. The cop, of course knew me by my first name. The last time we’d met he come bowling up to me full of confidence with another PC on a busy Saturday night in Southsea, he had uttered the immortal “alright John, not seen you in a while?” which was right up there with “you know the drill.” This time not seen you in a while seemed genuinely surprised to have bumped into me. So surprised he had to circle back round in his area car. Just to make sure it was his target.

The road I was walking down was of course a known area for drug dealers and users. This warranted a search. Looking me up and down, not seen you in a while said casually “you look in good shape. Keeping fit?” I smiled to myself before replying. “I do martial arts. Thai boxing.” The look of surprise then bitter disappointment on not seen you in a while’s face when his search turned up no results still makes me bigger inside. The last thing he said to me before he drove off to bother somebody else was that he’d see me again soon. We’ve not seen each other since that day in 2007.

It’s unlawful for a police officer to consistently target someone because they are “known” to the police. Having been on the sharp end of this type of abuse I know how damaging it can be. I guess it’s why serious violence reduction orders are so troubling to me. Being caught in a cycle was something that only when facing prison for a second time did I feel compelled to break. Until that point I felt like events were spiralling out of control. I’d felt like that for many years before and I spent most of my time angry and self hating. Whenever my friends asked me if I was ok I’d just lie and say everything was fine. When I found Muay Thai I was just a shadow of myself.

I think I remember talking to my first trainers about being stopped by the police a lot in Portsmouth at one point. I can remember it was still happening during that first year of training. It’s hard to talk about sometimes because people look at me and we both know what it is and why it’s happened and it feels like the elephant in the room.

The sense of guilt I inflicted on myself created trauma that still catches me without an umbrella Sometimes I forget that my dad once told me to not trust the cops. They don’t like us mixed black boys. My mum told me the same and in the end it became my truth.

Muay Thai took a broken young man in his late twenties and helped him heal and gave him direction again. Healing is a long process and like martial arts is a long game. When I first walked towards a boxing ring after the MC had called my name and the name of my gym I felt like Rocky. Years before even sparring had seemed daunting but it turned out that when it came to fighting what I wanted, was well.. what I wanted. It’s nice when that happens.

These days, older and marginally wiser I help people fight for their rights and take their power back. The community organisation I’m a founding member of, Bristol Copwatch is an independent community funded police monitoring organisation. There’s a lot we do and it’s worth visiting our site if you want to find out a little more. I’ve put some good energy into the project and we’re building an amazing team and helping a lot of people out here.

It’s difficult for me to witness the violence of the riot police at several points this year then sit down with someone who just wants to complain about about one cop (as an example) whilst listening to the trauma that one cop has created, knowing that the problem extends way beyond one officer and is reflective of the entire institution and criminal justice system.

It’s difficult but it’s vital because when it comes to the work we do out here, it’s not about me. It’s not about them. It’s about you and what you need. The desire to help others is the trait of any decent human and what makes a good martial artist. You see, just recently I knelt down in front of the young man who used to get stopped for having a nice mountain bike and ended up getting profiled.

I said “son, you might never see justice. But helping others means you will. This isn’t all you will ever be. Pass it on.” So the boy held the twenty-somethings hand that got dragged through the system and he said “you might never see justice fam but helping others means you will. This isn’t all you will ever be. Pass it on.” And so today, once again the twenty something reminded me. Have a great week, train hard and just like the last time… I’ll see you on that road.

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