You are qualified to make a difference; you just need to get started….

By Rachel Jones – http://rachelvictoriajones.co.uk/

Born in 1991, Rachel is an artist based in London. 

I’ve always felt immobilized by politics in a way that made me feel like it wasn’t something I could participate in beyond voting. The idea that anything I might do would be ineffectual, kept me from engaging with politics beyond the basics. But last year changed this. The death of George Flloyd and the decades long history of police misuse of power in Britain, ignited a need in me to do something in a way that I’d never felt before.

I sat down with my church’s local organiser, Froilan Legaspi, and shared this with him. I told him that I had always felt like anything I might do would be ineffectual, a mere drop in an ocean of problems. In response to this he suggested I get involved locally, and be part of an organising team who were intentionally building people’s power for change.

I wasn’t sure what role I would play within a campaign team, and I didn’t know how valid my experiences and knowledge were amongst people who had actually been stopped and searched, or lived in London and had a history of witnessing/experiencing negative interactions with the police. I was unsure of how I would be accepted into the group, especially as I was given the opportunity to take on the responsibility of being a Co-chair, but all my worrying was in vain.

I joined the Stop and Search campaign and ended up Co-chairing a team of diverse Londoners who wanted to see change in the way black communities were policed. Our team was formed of young people who were fighting for better treatment of their peers, a Somali imam fighting for a better world for his newborn son, those who’d worked in youth offending teams, people who had been brutally treated by the police, inclusion leads at schools fighting for a better world for their students and mothers trying to build a safer world for their children.

Collectively, we had three key asks. We wanted a system where the police were genuinely accountable to the communities they policed:

 *   To make racial bias training by external community organisations throughout a police officer’s career compulsory.

 *   Stronger community-led accountability for MPS officers and in particular the Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers.

 *   An accountability system that allows community monitoring groups to sanction misuse of powers, starting with remedial training leading up to suspension of stop-and-search duty.

We worked with the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, to focus on how our asks could assist The Mayor’s Action Plan for Transparency, Accountability and Trust – in  building a police service that all Black Londoners could be confident in. I found myself chairing meetings with Sophie and negotiating with her over these asks with my campaign team. After some long negotiations, alongside a wide set of allies who were all calling for change, two of our asks featured in the Mayor’s Action Plan. As we speak, there is a revamp of the accountability structures communities can use to hold the police to account. Communities are training new recruits and £1.2 Million has been invested in police training. This isn’t perfect, and it’s unlikely that the changes needed will take place overnight, but it’s a start on the long road towards a fairer policing system for black communities.

In terms of my growth, I felt I was encouraged to utilise the skills I didn’t realise that I already had and given the opportunity to develop emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The after effects of this were significant in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I found myself becoming more confident and self assured in other aspects of my life. My organiser encouraged and pushed me in a way I haven’t experienced before. With his support I came to realise that I had all the knowledge and experience I needed and through training and mentorship, I was inspired to see myself as organised, committed and capable.

As someone who cares about working with others to improve the lives of young black people across the city, I had the opportunity to work with lots of different people. The campaign opened my eyes to the wonder of what is possible when you work with people from different walks of life. I learnt that if you take the time to understand other people’s anger and experiences, before working collectively, personal and collective histories can be used as fuel to remake the world as we want it to be. I’ve been able to use these ideas as building blocks for developing other areas of my life. This organising work has changed the way I see my role as an educator for example. Now I think carefully about how I can facilitate and work alongside my students to enhance their understanding of self, and how their experiences of life are important and crucial in helping them shape the world around them.

When I started this journey I was spurred on by a lot of complex feelings like apathy, outrage, confusion and disappointment, but maybe most importantly, I felt a strong sense of desire that I could do something to change things for the better. I will always be thankful to the people who have enabled me to do this, and for the journey I’ve been on, as it’s taken me in directions I would never have dreamed of. If someone told me two years ago that I’d be Co-chairing meetings with the Deputy Mayor of Policing I would have laughed and internally panicked at the thought, fearing my ineptitude at carrying out such a task.

I would have told them that I’m not the “right” person for that sort of thing. But alas, through mentorship and working with a group of generous and sincere people, I’ve learnt that with time, commitment and perseverance things can be changed. I’ve realised that anyone can, and indeed should, participate in doing what they can to improve the world around them, changing it from what it is, to what it should be.

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