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Karen Geddes QPM (HON)Lecturer Staffordshire University. Former Supt. West Midlands Police - Founder of The Thin Black Line ‘If not you, then who?’

February 7th 2023 marked a year since I retired from policing. As I reflect on my year out of policing I was so proud to read the stories of some of the black female trailblazers such as Beverley Douglas and Adora Pomphrey in the BBC article Black women share insight into changing face of policing.however there was a sense of sadness because these pheromonal role models are slowly disappearing from policing.

I joined West Midlands Police on the 15th January 1992. I was one of only two black females – throughout my career I remained a minority in policing. I remember walking into stations, meetings etc and looking for someone that looked like me. It very rarely happened.

I used to love going on foot patrol in Lozells, Birmingham and Wolverhampton where I was born and getting stopped by my community with a hug and a smile.

Many were surprised and proud to see a black female police officer. Don’t get me wrong – not everyone who stopped me was full of praise however I accepted their right to challenge me.I can understand why so many refuse to join or because of ‘longstanding issues of racial inequality within policing’.

There were times when the jacket felt so very heavy and I wanted to hide and leave however I am stubborn and proud. This stubbornness and pride cost me.

Did I experience racism? Yes,

Did I experience sexism? Yes.

I also had some fab times, was able to help so many people and met some wonderful friends inside and outside the job.

Being a black police woman in 1983

 

On 22nd April 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered –I was sitting in the custody block at Steelhouse Lane at the time.

The response from policing was defensive denial.

As a black officer I remember being so visible and yet feeling so invisible because my colleagues and senior leaders did not see me and failed to acknowledge the impact on people like me. I would feel the same way again with the murder of George Floyd on the 25th May 2020.

I am sure I went through periods of depression and had it not been for the Black and Asian Police Association, National Black Police Association, some wonderful allies and my family I would not have lasted 30 years.

 

Despite the challenges ‘Still I Rise’ to become the first black female Superintendent in West Midlands Police (I still remain the only one).

The experience of Black women at work differs from that of others, even that of Black men and White women.

Understanding Black women’s double minority status at work is a necessary part of building inclusive and equitable workplaces (Black Women in the Workplace (gallup.com)

Women are advancing in organisations such as policing with a record 40 per cent of chief constables now being women however women of colour are still lagging behind with no representation amongst this number.

Nationally black female representation is lower than average – in West Midlands Police there are currently only 50 black female officers.

There is a clear requirement for explicit focus on the retention, progression and advancement of women of colour before The Thin Black Line fades to grey.

Karen

#If not you, then who?…..

 

‘Black London communities are over policed and under protected’

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