Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams has accused London’s Metropolitan Police of “racial profiling” after she and her partner were stopped and searched while driving in Britain’s capital on Saturday.
Williams had been in the West London neighborhood of Maida Vale with her partner, Portuguese 400 meter record holder Ricardo dos Santos, and their three-month-old son when they were stopped by police last weekend.
On Twitter, Williams said she welcomes the referral of Saturday’s “traumatic” incident to the Independent Office for Police Conduct as a complaint and that “the IOPC has said that their investigation will also look at what part racial profiling or discrimination played in the incident.”
An independent investigation is now “necessary”, says Williams, “as the Metropolitan Police have proved that they cannot be trusted to investigate a complaint themselves, having already publicly stated that there has been no misconduct.
“They published these findings on Twitter before taking a single step to formally record or investigate why their actions caused our family so much distress.”
Williams said in the statement that she and her partner had received an apology from the police but “not for the wholly unjustified actions that officers took against our family.”
She added: “We are now contacting the IOPC through our lawyers and will assist fully with the investigation, which we hope will be rigorous.”
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police apologized to the couple for “distress caused,” though the organization did not apologize for the traffic stop itself.
Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has said the Metropolitan Police will undergo a review of its handcuffing procedures after officers handcuffed Williams and her partner.
A senior official has been tasked to conduct the review after the incident, Dick told lawmakers on Wednesday.
“I don’t want, and I don’t believe I do, run a police service in which handcuffing is routine. It must always be justified and the justification must be in the law and written down,” she said.
“Having seen a number of issues raised over the last several weeks I have said to one of my senior officers: ‘Can you please review our handcuffing practices to make sure that it hasn’t become in any way a default in certain situations because it shouldn’t do.’”
The review will examine figures on stop and searches carried out by London’s police.
“I’ve also got a new use of force oversight group, which involves members of the community and they’ll be looking … at these specific instances as well as data,” said Dick, who offered her own apology to Williams and her partner.
“My senior officer has said I’m sorry to Ms. Williams for the distress it has clearly caused her, and I say that too. So if there are lessons to be learnt from it, we will learn them and I’m looking at handcuffing as a specific issue.”
British Athletics told CNN: “We are aware of the hugely distressing footage of Bianca Williams and her partner being handcuffed by the police outside their home at the weekend. Our staff have been in touch with her and will be on hand for any support required.”
Earlier this week, Williams had accused the Metropolitan Police of “racial profiling.”
Footage of the incident, which was posted on social media by the pair’s trainer and Olympic gold medalist Linford Christie, appears to show two people – although their faces aren’t visible – being pulled out of a car.
When asked to step outside the car by a police officer, a man is heard asking “For what?”
Once out of the car, two other officers approach the woman who tells them “he didn’t do anything.”
The woman grows increasingly distressed and shouts: “My son is in the car […] I don’t want you to look after him.” Officers tell her to “relax” and “get out of the car.”
Christie later posted a message on social media referring to the incident: “Two of my Athletes were stopped by the police today, both International athletes, both parents of a three- month old baby who was with them & both handcuffed outside of their home […] Was it the car that was suspicious or the black family in it which led to such a violent confrontation & finally an accusation of the car smelling of weed but refusing to do a roadside drug test.”
“It’s always the same thing with Ricardo. They think he’s driving a stolen vehicle, or he’s been smoking cannabis. It’s racial profiling,” Williams told The Times of London newspaper.
“They spoke to him as if he was nothing, as if he was worthless. As if he was just – like he was scum. It was horrible,” Williams told CNN.
Williams told CNN that when approached by police, her first priority was the safety of her young son.
“He’s our son, and his safety is everything to us. We don’t know what’s gonna happen with the police, the police are so unpredictable,” she said.
“We’re raising a Black boy who’s then going to be going to school by himself and he’s going to be doing things by himself. We’re going to have to get used to it and to teach him that…he can be stopped by the police because of the color of his skin. It’s just shocking that we have to tell our son this to be honest,” Williams told CNN.
A Metropolitan police statement on Sunday said a car had been stopped in the W9 area on Saturday afternoon around 1:25p local time after it was seen “driving suspiciously.”
Stop and search statistics
“Following a search of the vehicle, the man and the woman, nothing was found. No arrests were made and the occupants were allowed on their way,” read the statement.
Dos Santos told CNN that he had been stopped 15 times since December 2017. He said that he has previously been accused by police of driving a stolen vehicle, and mistakenly profiled as someone who sold drugs and carried weapons.
Speaking about Saturday’s incident, he said: “The bad thing is it didn’t affect me as much as it should, because for me I feel like this is my new normal. Unfortunately, this is my normal. It has happened so often that it’s become second nature,” he told CNN.
Earlier this year, UK government data showed that between April 2018 and March 2019, there were four stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 38 for every 1,000 Black people in England and Wales.
Racism in the UK may attract less attention than in the US, but it is no less present. An exclusive CNN/Savanta ComRes poll found that many Black people in the UK are twice as likely as White people to say they have not been treated with respect by police.
Black people are also about twice as likely as White people to say UK police are institutionally racist – among White people, just over a quarter believe it.
On Monday, police commander Helen Harper said that officials were “keen to speak personally to the occupants of the vehicle to discuss what happened and the concerns they have.”
Harper said that The Directorate of Professional Standards had reviewed the stop, and were “content” there were no misconduct issues after reviewing the officers’ body camera footage, social media footage and details of the incident.
“However, that does not mean there isn’t something to be learnt from every interaction we have with the public. We want to listen to, and speak with, those who raise concerns, to understand more about the issues raised and what more we can do to explain police actions,” she said in a statement.
“Where we could have interacted in a better way, we need to consider what we should have done differently and take on that learning for the future.”
Additional reporting by Sharon Braithwaite and Lindsay Isaac