I borrowed this book from my friend Gill after she told me about what a powerful read it was, and handily finished it late last week as I managed to meet up with her at the weekend and swap it and some cheese for some honeycomb (as you do). Levity aside, this is an important book to read to understand the structural racism endemic, still, in the police force, and the ways in which institutions close ranks when they’re threatened by a whistle-blower.

Note: I read this in the last full week of September but felt in light of the horrific murder of a police officer that it was better to hold the review over for a week or so.

Kevin Maxwell – “Forced Out: A Detective’s Story of Prejudice and Resilience”

(September 2020, lent by Gill)

The harrowing narrative of Maxwell’s time in Greater Manchester Police and then the Metropolitan Police, the job he’d always wanted to do since he was a very small child, and how he was forced out of his dream job by endemic racism and homophobia (a classic example of intersectional harrassment). It started during – no, before – his training, and you do have to wonder a bit why he persisted in working for an organisation that afforded him so little respect and closed ranks to protect those who abused him.

The book opens with a list of the plaudits Maxwell gained as a police cadet, named Cadet of the Year, even. Yet on the day he was awarded this, it apparently had to be explained that he gained the award on his own merit, and not because of the colour of his skin. What??!

The basic problem is that, however many multicultural and training initiatives are put in place, the very structure of the police force means that “old-school cops teach new-school cops and new-school cops teach newer-school cops the same tricks”  (p. 44). He is told from the stat that he should “[understand] he will need to show a degree of personal resilience,” and my goodness he does, until reactive depression at a high level of harm causes him to collapse at work. While he does try to redress the balance of attitudes being passed down by taking the opportunity to mentor new officers, his other opportunities are persistently blocked. After a first half about his direct experiences, the second half of the book shows him going through legal procedure after legal procedure (some pushed in order to put things into the public arena so he can talk about them openly) driven into mental ill-health and with his relationships breaking down around him:

I had no time to fight the weight of the depression, as I had to fight my employer. (p. 182)

It’s important to detail all of this, and he does have flashes of hope, for example one psychologist out of many understands him, his GP and therapists help him, and people write to him to thank him for standing up for black and gay (and, he makes clear, Asian) police officers and people in general. It’s a depressing and distressing read but the depression and distress we go through reading it are nothing to the effects his experiences have on him, and so it’s vital to force ourselves to face up to this: it’s also a well-written and compelling read, which helps.

Maxwell ends up with his marriage broken down and pretty well homeless, living in a hostel ironically called The Clink after the prison building it’s been constructed within. He obviously managed to get this book written and has completed rounds of interviews: I do hope he has the support he needs and is being able to rebuild his life. He should be commended for talking about what happened to him, and to others.

This is obviously a difficult time to talk about the police, with the awful recent event of an officer losing his life on duty. While I respect those police officers who put their lives on the line to protect people and who are individually good and decent people, it is all too clear that the institution needs to have reform.