London police apologize to sprinter Bianca Williams, say they will review handcuffing procedures
The Team GB runner, who won a gold medal for Britain in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and her partner, Ricardo dos Santos, a 25-year-old Portuguese sprinter, were driving in West London on Saturday with their 3-month-old son when they were pulled over by Scotland Yard officers.
Video from the scene was posted on Twitter by Linford Christie, an Olympic gold medalist who trained Williams and dos Santos.
“Racist police aren’t just in America,” Christie tweeted. In a separate post, he accused the police of institutionalized racism.
In the video footage, a female voice can be heard saying, “Wait, wait, wait. He didn’t do anything.” When she later protests that her son is in the car, officers tell her to calm down. One officer appears to be trying to pull her from the car. The couple were handcuffed and detained for 45 minutes before being released.
“They see us as guilty until proven innocent,” dos Santos told Sky News on Monday. He added, “The way they came out of the car was as if we were FBI top 10.”
Speaking to a parliamentary select committee on Wednesday, Dick said, “All of us watching could empathize with somebody who is stopped in a vehicle, who has a young child in the back, who does not probably know what exactly is going on and is subsequently found, together with her partner, not to be carrying any illicit goods.”
She said footage from social media and the officers’ body-worn cameras revealed “no misconduct apparent.” But she said that given the level of public interest, the force was referring itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a regulator, for further investigation.
She also said the force would review handcuffing practices to ensure “that it hasn’t become in any way a default in certain situations, because it shouldn’t do.”
In a statement on Monday evening, police said officers saw a vehicle being driven in a way that “raised suspicion, heavily braking and accelerating which included driving on the wrong side of the road.” They said that the officers indicated for it to stop but that “it failed to do so and accelerated off” before police caught up with the vehicle.
Williams rejected this account. She told the BBC on Monday that the family was driving through “single-width roads.” She said it wasn’t the first time they have been stopped. “This isn’t the first or fourth or fifth time — it must be about the 10th,” she said. “It’s getting ridiculous.”
When asked whether race was the reason they were pulled over, she said, “100 percent.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer told LBC radio that, on the basis of the video footage, it was hard to “see what the justification” was for the couple being handcuffed.
“I don’t know what led to the stop in the first place,” he said. “But what I do know is that if I was a senior officer looking at that video footage, I would feel uncomfortable about the way that it was dealt with.”
Some analysts said the incident received widespread attention in part because the recent anti-racism protests have raised awareness about abuse and discrimination.
“Like America, there’s a huge problem here with disproportionate stop-and-search,” said Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University. Official statistics show that black people in the country are almost 10 times as likely as white people to be stopped and searched by police.
He said “it’s not surprising” that Williams was stopped by police, but “it’s probably more newsworthy because of the protests.”
Since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, people around the world have taken to the streets to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, protests have taken place in dozens of cities, including in Bristol, where locals toppled a statue of a 17th-century slave trader and dumped it into the harbor.
“The protests have shone a light on some of the things that are happening, but they aren’t new issues,” Andrews said. He added, “From a black perspective, there’s a lack of trust with the police — it’s long-standing.”
This report has been updated.