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U.S. Black Lives Matter protests inspire calls to "defund the police" in the U.K.

U.K. protesters call for defunding police
U.K. Black Lives Matter protesters call for defunding British police 02:46

London — As people around the world take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd and protest racial inequality, another call from demonstrators has started echoing across the Atlantic. Calls to "defund the police" have been taken up in the United Kingdom.

Tens of thousands of people have joined Black Lives Matter protests in London over the past two weeks, and some are calling for government agencies to divert funding from police forces in Britain and invest that money into other community services instead.

"I think it's really powerful that this discourse has entered the mainstream conversation here in the U.K., and it's inherently connected to the conversations that are happening across America," Temi Mwale, Executive Director of The 4Front Project, a youth advocacy group that supports young people affected by violence in the U.K., told CBS News. The organization is campaigning for funding to be shifted from police forces into projects aimed at improving healthcare, education, and social services.

"We do not want to invest in institutions that are inherently violent, inherently racist, and that continue to perpetuate cycles of harm, violence and abuse in our communities. We would rather invest in services that… increase our protection and safety, that increase our ability to move forward and fight for racial justice," she said.

"Defund the police"

The recent coronavirus lockdown has shone a spotlight on systemic racism and impunity in British policing, Mwale says. 

London's Metropolitan Police has issued fines to people from black or minority ethnic backgrounds for breaching COVID-19 lockdown guidelines at disproportionately higher rates. Advocacy groups also say 1,743 people have been killed in police custody or after contact with police over the last 30 years. Since 1969, only one officer has been convicted of a crime for their role in the death of someone in custody, and that person got a suspended sentence, according to Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for North-West England.

As in the United States, the call to defund the police in Britain would mean taking money from law enforcement budgets and investing it in other things, including education and mental health services. Mwale says the responsibilities of U.K. police have broadened over time to make officers responsible for things that should be handled by other agencies.

"They're not mental health workers. They're not social workers. They're not community support workers. Their remit is enforcement. And whilst we are on the road towards really reevaluating what society needs, reimagining what justice means, what peace means, what safety means, if we have institutions that are actually causing harm in the communities — such as the police — then it's not in our interests to continue to sustain those organizations," she said.

Legal action

The 4Front Project has recently commenced legal action against London's Metropolitan Police Service after one of its staff was arrested while on the job supporting a young person who was being detained.

Kusai Rahal was handcuffed by four officers after he refused to show a driver's license and was placed in the back of a police van. He said he was eventually released and fined for violating coronavirus lockdown guidelines, despite identifying himself as a key worker who is permitted to be out doing his job under lockdown.

"It's degrading," Rahal said. "This is not the first time that something like this has happened. The reality is, when you work with young, criminalized black boys, you will be criminalized with them as a youth worker, and anyone else in their proximity."

The day Rahal was stopped and fined for being out working, April 12, was the same day that top government advisor Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules to drive to a tourist spot. Cummings has faced no consequences.

Rahal and The 4Front Project want an apology from the police and for the fine to be waived.

"If you were to ask the general public what the role of a youth worker would be, a lot of them will say, 'Oh, to act as a mediator between the police and young people.' How can I tell the young people to trust the police when the young people have seen me time and time again get humiliated, abused, harassed? How can we pay the police to reduce violence in our communities when they are actively and willingly perpetuating that same violence to us directly day in and day out?" Rahal told CBS News.

"I believe that it is a duty for us to think about and envision a world where we can actually live at peace in our communities, and the police do not play a role in that," he said.

London's Metropolitan Police told CBS News that they received a judicial review pre-action letter from Rahal's solicitors on June 15 in relation to a penalty notice, and "it is currently being considered." CBS News reached out to the Mayor of London, who is in charge of strategy for the Metropolitan Police, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.

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