On 8 April 2013 the Evening standard carried a story about Paris Brown who having been appointed as a youth police commissioner by Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes, one week earlier at a cost to the taxpayer of £15,000 a year was found have posted homophobic and racist tweets prior to her appointment. The Evening Standard asked me for a comment. This is what I wrote on April 8.
If Paris Brown had wilfully set out to send up the peculiar notion of a paid ‘youth crime commissioner’, she could not have done it better. Her mother protests that Paris has 14 GCSEs and should be allowed to get on with her life having apologised for her abusive language on Twitter, language which itself borders on hate crime. The fact that she published those deeply offensive remarks before she was appointed to this dubious post is all the more reason why she should be stripped of it.
With 14 GCSEs, she is surely bright enough to know that those former boasts about her loutish and bigoted behaviour constitutes skeletons in her cupboard that give off a stench in which the police ought to have a forensic interest. Even if those appointing her did not probe her Twitter account, she should therefore have revealed her homophobic and racist conduct to them. If she did and was appointed nevertheless, then those who appointed her must have wanted to demonstrate that it is precisely young people with her tendencies they want as ‘advisers’ on youth crime. Proof indeed that her ill-conceived post begs too many questions that have not even been posed.
On Tuesday 9 April 2013, it was reported that Paris Brown had resigned her post. The Evening Standard carried the story as follows:
Speaking at a press conference in Maidstone, Kent, Miss Brown said she had “taken the decision to decline the offer of the position” as she felt recent media attention would affect her ability to carry out the job.
She added: “I am truly sorry for any offence I have caused.”
Miss Brown said: “I have made the decision to decline the offer of the position of Kent youth police and crime commissioner. I have made this decision after a great deal of thought and consultation with my family.
“As I made clear over the weekend, I accept that I have made comments on social networking sites which have offended many people. I am really sorry for any offence caused.
“I strongly reiterate that I am not racist or homophobic. I have fallen into the trap of behaving with bravado on social networking sites. I hope this may stand as a learning experience for many other young people.
“I now feel that in the interests of everyone concerned, in particular the young people of Kent who I feel will benefit enormously from the role of a youth commissioner, that I should stand down as I feel that the recent media furore will continue and hamper my ability to perform the job to the level required.”
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes said: “It is a very, very sad day.” Miss Brown was “an extraordinary young person with exceptional skills and a proven track record with working with young people” who has “turned down the position of a lifetime”, according to Mrs Barnes.
“I was not recruiting an angel. I was not recruiting a police officer. I was recruiting a young person, warts and all,” she said.
The crafting of this statement is interesting, no less so than the extraordinary remarks attributed to the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner who presumably saw nothing wrong in Paris Brown continuing in the post of youth crime commissioner, if only the intrusive media had not stuck their snout in the trough and caused a mere distraction for Paris.
The problem here is projected as ‘the recent media furore’ which would continue to get in the way of Paris Brown using her exceptional skills to serve the police and the young people of Kent, rather than whether someone who not only held those views but was prepared to boast about them on Twitter should be seen as a model on which the young people of Kent should shape their attitudes to crime and to the police.
Interestingly enough and fortunately for Paris Brown, the statements on Twitter, which she both owned as hers and apologised for, did not cause Ann Barnes and the Kent Police to reach for labels such as feral, thuggish, criminal, feckless, sick, lacking in morals, irresponsible…, all of which were liberally applied by David Cameron and Theresa May to those young people who took part in the massive civil unrest we witnessed in London and elsewhere in 2011.
What in God’s name are we expected to make of Ann Barnes’ indignant defence of Paris Brown:
“I was not recruiting an angel. I was not recruiting a police officer. I was recruiting a young person, warts and all”.
So, on the wide spectrum of ‘warts’ that young people can carry, which are acceptable and which are not? How are those reflected in the selection criteria for this strange post? Are applicants required to identify and own up to them or not? Some young people mount racially aggravated physical and verbal attacks on African and Asian people, even to the point of knifing them to death? Is this an acceptable ‘wart’? Others kick gay men in the streets or in parks, sometimes to death? Is this an acceptable ‘wart’? Or does Ann Barnes subscribe to the notion that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words…..’?
On 20 October 2003, the BBC screened its shocking documentary ‘The Secret Policeman’ in which an undercover journalist posed as a new police recruit and recorded the visceral, ferret-eyed racism of a number of white recruits who were looking forward to donning their uniform and socking it to the unsuspecting black people they knew they would surely encounter. They even reserved some of their racist bile for Stephen Lawrence’s parents.
That was three years after the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 and eighteen months after each public body, including the police, was required to have in place a race relations policy or scheme. That documentary vindicated the perennial concern in black communities about ‘Stop and Search’ and the way black young people are targeted and criminalised, if indeed such vindication was needed.
Examine what is behind the following statements made by police officers in the film:
“You would be a shit copper if you didn’t discriminate…’
“You’ve had it drummed into you since you were f…ing 2 years old….”
“A dog born in a barn is still a dog, a Paki born in Britain is still a f…ing Paki”
“The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was a kick in the bollocks for every white policeman”
What is more, those police officers were so confident that they could expect another white man, the undercover journalist, to share their prejudice and bigotry that they were totally uninhibited in their demonstration of just how racist they were and how much they were prepared and eager to use and abuse their power as police officers to indulge their racism and visceral hatred of black people.
Ann Barnes says she was not recruiting ‘an angel’ or ‘a police officer’, but ‘a young person, warts and all’. However, every citizen and especially every gay, lesbian, Roma, traveller migrant worker, Asian or African person has a right to expect that a Crime and Police Commissioner will take all necessary measures to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not used to impose upon the citizenry unelected ‘youth crime commissioners’ to work alongside the police and the nation’s youth who holds and publishes the kinds of views that Ms Brown was proud to tweet prior to her appointment to this post. Paris Brown has rightly determined that her position in that post was no longer tenable, albeit for the wrong reasons. Ann Barnes would do well to reflect upon her own position in the light of her defence of Brown’s appointment.
It is indeed, a very, very sad day and most worrying development in British policing.