Ex-detective says we need to talk about police racism in the UK

A former detective who spent 11 years serving in the police says "systemic racism in the police is rife" in the UK.

Kevin Maxwell, from Toxteth, Liverpool experienced both racism and homophobia during his career between 2001 and 2012.

Kevin, 42, now writes and advocates for social justice and equality and against police discrimination. He has recently published a book, Forced Out, detailing and reflecting on his own personal experiences in the hope of helping others speak out about what he describes as a "cancer" in the force.

Speaking to the ECHO, Kevin, who worked for Greater Manchester Police, said: "We've got real problems in this country and anyone who says we haven't is being disingenuous and doing a disservice"

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"It's a systemic problem – it's about more than a few bad apples."

On the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, which has sparked mass demonstrations across the US and internationally, including at St. George's Hall in Liverpool this week, Kevin said: "I feel the pain of George Floyd's death – it brings back the experiences I had to do with racism in Manchester and London – it feels raw."

Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Liverpool at St. George's Hall this week where thousands attended to protest against police brutality and racism

"George's death has shocked good people all across the world. It was like a modern day lynching when that officer had his knee on his neck."

"But it was almost not surprising – another black death at the hands of the police.

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"It's shoved racism at the front of our minds and it's something we can't ignore in Britain – it's something we have to address in our own country now – the ugliness of it – we need to make society better for being a little less racist "

Kevin added: "We need to have these difficult conversations – it's almost beyond the police, they're almost incapable – I've never had an apology."

"I know its uncomfortable for white people – racism and race are evocative words – evoke emotions from people when they see them – we do need to have these awkward, difficult, uncomfortable conversations if we're going to make it better for people "

Kevin wrote Forced Out in the hopes of sparking precisely that conversation.

Kevin Maxwell as a trainee police officer

Detailing his journey from "the best times" on the Falkner Estate in Toxteth in the aftermath of the riots, to nurturing his childhood dream of becoming a police officer and how that dream turned into nightmare due to institutional racism and homophobia within the force, Kevin says he has a "unique perspective" on the problems in the UK police.

He said: "I'm a black man from Toxteth and know what it's like to come from a deprived area – and I was a cop for 11 years, I've walked the beats – I have a unique perspective on racism and police – I'm not just someone off on one because he's bored."

In Forced Out, Kevin describes how as a child, growing up the youngest of a large family on the tight-knit Falkner estate, he would memorise all the ranks of police officers as well as the phonetic alphabet, taking down car number plates in a little notebook and playing detective around the estate, a social housing project off Upper Parliament Street in L8, which was demolished to make way for the Liverpool Women's Hospital.

After moving out of Toxteth as a child, one of the last families to leave the estate before its demolition, the family moved to Wavertree.

Kevin playing in the Falkner Estate as a child

Later, aged 23, and after attending university in Salford, Kevin applied for a role as trainee police officer and then began his training at a centre in Cheshire, and it was here his experiences of police racism and homophobia began.

While at the training barracks, Kevin, who is black and gay, says he encountered several incidents where fellow recruits made racist and homophobic comments, in one case leading to two recruits being 'held back' in their training because of their treatment of Kevin.

In his book, Kevin recounts that upon passing out, he was handed a copy of his initial police force application, and he spotted in pencil on the back the name of his brother, later to find out that while awaiting the outcome of his application, his brother had been stopped and arrested by the police, and had then put in a complaint, which was later upheld. Unbeknown to Kevin at the time, this had held up his own application to join, while the matter was being settled.

Kevin at his graduation with his mum – shortly after Kevin would go on to join Greater Manchester Police

Shortly after Kevin had passed out from training and left the facility, the police training centre in Cheshire went on to become the subject of an investigative documentary, The Secret Policeman, which exposed far right attitudes amongst several of the recruits.

Later, as a junior constable patrolling the beat in Wigan with the Greater Manchester Police Force, Kevin says the incidents just kept on coming. Kevin mostly tried to keep his head down, avoid confrontation.

He said: "Who wants to isolate themselves? It's a safety issue – you want your colleagues to back you up

"A lot of people keep their heads down – it's the problem of the culture and it needs to be stamped out."

Kevin says that after many years with the Greater Manchester Police, and a catalogue of incidents, including being passed over for promotions and training opportunities, he sought to get out, and hoped a move to the Met Police would find him in a more diverse and less "toxic" environment.

Kevin said: ""I just wanted to do my job – from the age of five on the estates in Liverpool, I wanted to be a cop – so it's not something you quit on and I tried my best."

"I thought the Met would be more open-minded."

Unfortunately, after his move to the Met police, Kevin found similar patterns emerging.

He ended up working at Heathrow airport with the counter terrorism unit, stopping and searching people travelling through the airport, and it was here one day when the toll of years of harassment and discrimination finally caught up with him.

Kevin said: "It all just built up and chipped away at me. It begins to slowly destroy your sense of identity.

"I didn't know anything was wrong until I was in the airport."

Kevin collapsed while on duty and was taken to the hospital.

"It started with stomach pains and bad headaches. They did checks – I'm there in my suit, and the nurse practitioner asks me 'are you happy with your life?'

"Everything I'd experienced came out that day."

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Kevin took a leave of absence from the force, and began to reflect on his life, realising that what he had endured in the police had put a huge strain on his mental health.

He said: "My life changed when I joined the police. I was happy until I was 23 – I had just wanted to do my job.

"When I was ill, my partner at the time said speak to a lawyer and I filed a claim with the employment tribunal with some of the things I told them.

"Bear in mind, I was still unwell – the Met responded and denied the accusations."

Kevin Maxwell spent 11 years in the force as a constable and then detective before leaving after the racism and homophobia he experiences took a huge toll on his wellbeing

Kevin's personal data was then leaked to a national newspaper, including the fact of his sexuality – and he says this led to him having to out himself publicly.

He said: "I had to out myself as a black gay guy with depression – it was such a horrible experience – so shameful."

"The Police leaked my data to the S*n. We know later from disclosure that there were meetings about whether to print or not – but the damage had already been done.

"It's 'blame the person who raised it' – the community in Liverpool see this from Hillsborough, we see if from what happened to the Stephen Lawrence family.

"There's a lot of people hurt by the police – if the police held their hands up and said we got it wrong, people would have more respect – but no-one wants to tackle it head on."

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In Kevin's case, an employment tribunal found that Kevin had been unlawfully discriminated against, harassed and victimised by the Met on grounds of race and sexual orientation and an employment appeal tribunal dismissed most aspects of the force's challenge against that ruling, but Kevin says this did not bring about the desired change or even an acknowledgement of the existence of a problem.

He said: "There was a hearing – we succeeded in established the Met had been racist and homophobic – and then they fired me.

"It went to appeal tribunal, who upheld the findings of racism and homophobia. But there were no winners and to this day I've never received an apology."

Kevin hopes that by sharing his experiences he can encourage others to feel able to challenge discrimination and police racism, and to spark a public conversation about how to bring about change.

Kevin said: "I want us to have that conversation in public to ask is this the police force we want?

"I know a lot of black guys with pain and hurt around mistreatment from the police – one incident can shape a person's whole view of the world.

"It's a cancerous problem in the police and I want other women, men, gay and gay black people to know they're not alone, and I want the public to be more aware they have the power to change the police.

"My hope is that good people in this country will say when they see misbehaviour that enough is enough – I believe good people will prevail."

Forced Out by Kevin Maxwell is published by Granta and more information is available at the publisher's website.