HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Councillor Paulette A Hamilton, Handsworth wood ward, Birmingham Perry Barr

Specially convened group of representatives from the African and Caribbean Communities in the wake of the August Riots.


Following discussions between members of Birmingham’s African and Caribbean communities on the increasingly fragile relationship between them and West Midlands Police, it was decided to write to the Home Affairs Select Committee to highlight observations made prior to, during and after the riots which took place in and around Birmingham in August 2011.

In doing so, we wish to make clear from the outset that we do not condone the violence and destruction that occurred.

However, the continuous barrage of negative media reporting that has explicitly or implicitly blamed the African and Caribbean communities for the riots has so angered and incensed our communities that a response was deemed necessary.

We are not alone in expressing these concerns. Gus Johns, a leading African Caribbean Professor, felt compelled to write an open letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron to challenge the rhetoric being used in speeches and articles as it relates to white and African and Caribbean youths. We hope that this letter will also form part of your committee’s considerations.

The submission itself summarises points made at a specially convened meeting called by Councillor Paulette Hamilton and others, hosted by the Drum Arts Centre on 25 August. Cllr Hamilton represents one of the most deprived wards in Birmingham. Twenty-seven key figures in the African and Caribbean communities who are recognised for their valuable work and contributions in the City of Birmingham attended. They represent a cross section of organisations from the community in terms of age groups and relevant sectors with the ability to disseminate information to the wider African and Caribbean Communities.

The observations address the first point of your stated terms of reference: Police relations with the communities where violence took place before the riots, including similarities with and differences from previous public disorder events.


Birmingham has the largest concentration of African and Caribbean people outside of London and Luton. The 2001 census says there were approximately 60,000 people from Black ethnic communities living in Birmingham. This represented 6.1% of the population and 20.7% of the non-white population. This will change with the new census figures for 2011.

To understand the state of the relationship between the Police and these communities it is important to be aware of their history and profile. This history and emerging profile and the stories and or picture it paints of each key learning moment over the last 60 years and in particular the last decade cannot be ignored if we are to successfully establish an effective, interlocking community relationship which is mutually beneficial to both parties in ensuring a shared goal of community safety and cohesion in Birmingham. Historically the African and Caribbean communities have been viewed as a criminal element on the fringes of society and this has been reflected in the media’s reporting of incidences that may or may not have anything to do with these communities.

These communities have entrenched problems that are exacerbated by the police’s approach and attitude to young African and Caribbean people. This is supported by statistics on key issues, for example disproportional figures relating to stop and search, the national DNA database, numbers in prisons on first or minor offences and unsolved black murders which are not necessarily mentioned in the press.

Overall the African and Caribbean communities in Britain suffer disproportionately from school exclusions, underachievement in education, over representation in the prison population and the criminal justice system, and high levels of unemployment. These communities are still under represented in politics, business and civil life. All of these startling facts will do little to foster future harmonious relationships with other communities and with West Midlands Police unless more progress is made in implementing the recommendations of the Lawrence Inquiry.

These communities have now become so alarmed and angered by these statistics that it has galvanised support for a lobby group to tackle these concerns.

Contributory Factors

The riots of August 2011 appeared to have been co-ordinated and planned with social media playing a major part in Birmingham. While people viewed live footage of looting in London it quickly went viral with people being accurately advised where the next explosive situation would happen. Many people were aware of what was happening and where with Facebook and Blackberry offering minute by minute updates and directions to people on the streets and at home. Only a very small group of people were actually organised enough to capitalise on the “opportunity” this presented by, for example, getting transport to move any stolen goods. Not all participants were simply interested in material goods. According to one local journalist covering the riots some participants were from anarchist groups. These text messages ensured that a large group of people of all ethnicities and ages congregated in Birmingham City Centre.

Most adults ignored these messages and even dismissed them as comical. They were therefore taken by surprise at the alarming rate at which events escalated. Eye witnesses reported complacent policing with officers standing by as people entered and exited vandalised shops helping themselves to whatever they could carry. People were heard phoning friends and urging them to join the action before everything went reassuring them that the police were not arresting people.

Privately owned shops in the city centre arranged their own vigilante support groups to take on rioters, in some cases bringing in guard dogs. This could have given rise to further altercations and even injury to those protecting their shops.

The following are some of the points raised by the representatives as contributing to the disturbances in the West Midlands:

Policing of the African and Caribbean/Asian communities.

Police in Tottenham falsely alleging that Mark Duggan had shot at officers.

Police being disgruntled with the government regarding reduction in the number of police officers (hence their complacent policing during the riots).

Poverty among young people, especially in one-parent households.

Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) allowances being removed from those families in financial need.

Inadequate youth provision for young teenagers and the closure of quality projects.

Negative media coverage of young black youths, especially during the riots.

Stop and search policy and increasing use of stop and account by officers who have no knowledge of the communities and their diverse make-up.

Racial profiling.

Local authority officers misleading members of the Black Minority Ethnic (BME) communities within Birmingham resulting in further isolation of African and Caribbean advocates who engage, in particular, with urban youths.

Poor auditing by Local Authority Officers and West Midlands Police to account for the large sums of money drawn down from Central Government on special programs that target youth and crime interventions.

The impact of redundancy on the income of one parent house-holds.

Poor education and poor parenting skills.

Increase in youth stress and mental health issues.

Government cutbacks.

Proposed Solutions

Our Understanding of Effective Community Engagement

Good community engagement provides opportunities for people to shape the place in which they live, creating better and more sustainable communities.

Engagement suggests a different sort of relationship. It suggests that there is a “governance” system and a “community” system. In order to build the collaborative relationships on which complex activities such as community empowerment and confidence building would depend, it is necessary for the governance system to fully understand the dynamics of the communities with which it seeks to work, and to be prepared to adapt and develop structures and processes to make them accessible and relevant to those communities. In this way, the term engagement warns us against making assumptions about communities: it asks for a dialogue. It also implies that the development of the relationship itself will be a key focus for attention: “police” will need to engage with communities as well as asking communities to engage with them.

What do we want from the new engagement strategy?

1.Assurance that the African and Caribbean community is empowered to be involved and influence local policing delivery.

2.Increased awareness of the policing needs and issues of these communities with a view to building confidence and trust, and promoting a more cohesive approach to policing.

3.That West Midlands Police polices with the consent of the community by delivering local policing thereby discharging their duty to provide accountability to this community and vice versa using the IAG (Information, Advice, Guidance) model of engagement.

4.Increased awareness of and confidence that West Midlands Police is an effective means for visible and transparent police accountability amongst these communities and other partners.

5.Improved West Midlands Police understanding of these communities and their complex structures so that we then ensure that we are empowered and able to influence the delivery of policing in our neighbourhoods.

6.A comprehensive tactical plan for communications and community engagement that sets out a forward work programme that is sustained and not reactive. This plan is to be reviewed on an annual basis for the life of this strategy with a measure of the West Midlands Police performance against objectives.

7.Independent inquiry into deaths in custody.

Proposed Community Engagement Model

Historically, African and Caribbean community engagement with the police has been reactive rather than proactive. This is a one-dimensional approach to conflict prevention. It is important that a new approach to community engagement and consultation starts from a position of “normality” so the police can engage meaningfully with the African and Caribbean communities before, during and after incidents like those that occurred in August.

To achieve this we need a community-led review of policing. We also need to replace the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has failed in its primary statutory purpose, ie to increase public confidence in the police complaints system in England and Wales, with a watch-dog body that is truly independent and community led.

We propose a two-tier approach to community engagement as highlighted below:

Two-Tier Approach to Effective Community Engagement Model

1.Down time (no incidents) engagement process:

Relationship building activities and events.

Exploring traditional and emerging communication channels.

Making the police accessible to the community.

2.Active time (incident) engagement process:

  Pre-police action in the community dialogue:

Crisis point mediation to ensure community cohesion.

Having a clear point of contact to serve as the thermometer and thermostat for informed and measured police action in the community.

  Police presence in the community—how we will work with the police in ensuring:

Effective targeting and not profiling.

Appropriate use of enforcement process—especially in raids.

Communication of police action in the community.

  Post-police action in the community:

Effective media reporting.

Soliciting of community support.

Exploring the moral and business case for police action.

Praising and rewarding community support and engagement with the police in solving the problem.

Support for Community Development Trusts (CDTs).

Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 imposes a duty on the Council to exercise its various functions with due regard to the likely effect of the exercise of those functions on citizens. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 also calls on local authorities to do all that they reasonably can to prevent crime and disorder in their area. The levels of unemployment and other disadvantages among members of the BME communities, including educational underachievement and disaffection among young people, would make this provision quite relevant in seeking “exceptional” assistance to facilitate the development and implementation of strategies to prevent crime and disorder within our communities.


The group on whose behalf this paper is presented is not claiming exclusive representation of the African and Caribbean communities, but seeking primarily to ensure that the widest possible interests and needs of the African and Caribbean communities are identified and protected through a process of meaningful cooperation and collaboration, at a strategic level, with the City Council and West Midlands Police.

The group also sees this as an opportunity to build our capacity and infrastructure, and position ourselves to take greater advantage of commissioning opportunities, building upon our community access and experience of service delivery, particularly in respect of so-called “hard to reach” or disengaged and vulnerable groups.

The Evidence confirms that in 2008 Be Birmingham carried out one of the largest and most comprehensive mapping exercises of public investment in the UK, which makes it possible for Birmingham to immediately respond positively to the principles and challenges of “Total Place”.

At the Moving Beyond Project Funding Conference organised by Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands (18 May 2010), Stephen Hughes, Chief Executive Officer of Birmingham, appeared to be calling for the citizens of Birmingham to be accountable and be counted for their contribution to the transformation of the city, and rightly so. He went further by expressing confidence that Birmingham’s programme of transformation towards achieving the “Total Place” agenda will be successful as it takes on a “customer first” and “needs led” approach.

Those who have contributed to this submission appreciate and support the above approach and have direct experience of the barriers to refocusing services to local needs that could inform policies and strategies. For example, evidence and direct experience confirm that the lack of secure, well-resourced local delivery points is a significant barrier. Our request is therefore to retain and develop existing and new parts of the third sector African and Caribbean infrastructure to provide key delivery points in disadvantaged urban communities.

We believe that the best means of co-ordinating these efforts is by providing resources for the development of an African and Caribbean Communities Development Trust whose role would be to oversee and manage assets for the whole community.

In positively supporting these proposals, we of the African and Caribbean communities would seek to work creatively and collaboratively with the local authority, using the principles of “Total Place” to shape new policies that would respond to, embrace and expand the contributions of the African and Caribbean communities.

Anything less than a positive response is likely to trigger a reduction in the number of those, mainly experienced, BME professionals actively involved in constructive community engagement. We anticipate that what will then follow are the dismantling of the remaining assets and other components of an already weakened infrastructure in the mainly disadvantaged and deprived African and Caribbean communities of Birmingham. We anticipate that if action is not taken swiftly, rebuilding an active contribution from African and Caribbean citizens who are becoming increasingly disillusioned and disengaged will become increasingly remote with unpredictable consequences.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011