Michael Fuller: "Kill the Black One First"

Michael Fuller.JPG

Sana Janjua, MA Journalism, University of Roehampton

Michael Fuller, born to Jamaican parents 60 years ago, spent much of his early years in local authority care. He then later joined the Metropolitan Police Force in London in 1975, going on to become the first and only black Chief Police Constable ever appointed in the UK, with a high level of distinction and responsibility.

His practical initiatives still stand even to this day, and his inclination of fairness led to him becoming the Founding Chair of the Black Police Association, in order to reduce resignations within the sector.

Michael Fuller shares his extraordinary experience in his book "Kill the Black One First", a memoir of his life.

The idea for his book was sparked when Michael was giving a talk to some young students at the College of West London. He explained that, “two years ago I spoke to a group of young people and I was telling them my career story, I just threw in the fact that I had been in care and brushed over it. They said, ‘no hang on don’t just brush over that, you got to tell us about that that’s amazing’. They were saying that you have to write a book. I think that finally just pushed me into it then after that it took about a year doing research and another year doing the writing”.

Michael was born to parents from the Windrush Generation who had come to the UK in the late-fifties, split when Michael was 18 months old and who struggled to adapt to this ‘new’ way of life, in terms of prejudice and finding jobs. Social workers and the police consequently had to forcibly take Michael away from his mother. He recalls reading the care notes whilst gathering research for his book, “my mother found it not only difficult to adjust to life here but to also look after me. I know this by looking at the file that I saw only two years ago, she was living in a bedsit with a cot, that I was in and the police and social worker came along and forcibly took me away to a care home - because of neglect - I was actually malnourished as well, so I had to be in hospital for three months first”.

Michael discussed how he was lucky enough to have been one of the first children to undergo an experiment, by the London County Council, whereby children were placed in small family units, rather than the large dormitory divisions. Having had the hospital treatment required, he was then moved into Fair Mile Hatch, a care home in Kent. He was cared for by Margaret Hurst, whom he would go on to call Auntie Margaret. He lovingly remembered her by stating that, “the book is dedicated to Margaret Hurst, she was white, a very committed Christian (who had made right and wrong very clear) and that was quite significant for me. This amazing woman had brought me up from the ages of 18 and a half months old. The sad thing is, certainly, when I was 16 and a half, I had been passionate about joining the police and she had contracted ovarian cancer. The thing that I always hold on to was that I was able to tell her that I had been successful in getting into the police cadets and I knew that she’d be thrilled, however an hour later she died.”

Michael expressed that he felt especially strange as a police constable on his first day, as his very presence would stop traffic, making way for peering eyes towards his direction – only for the distinguishable fact that he was black. He stated that it was not only the white members of the public, but also the black community who would say in, “West Indian slang that I was a traitor, a coconut…” His heart ached as he felt that this abuse was the most hurtful. He added that “the abuse from the black guys really hurt because, you know, the same people were saying ‘we need more black officers because we want the police to look like to community that they serve’, yet they were the most critical.” Racism still occurred within the Metropolitan Police Force as well he said, however Michael spoke highly of prominent figures such as Sir Robert Mark, a white Commissioner, who was determined to root out corruption.

The thought-provoking title of the book is based upon an utterance that occurred whilst Michael was attending to the Brixton Riots in 1981 with his colleagues. He states, “I described a scene where somebody who I would describe as a Rasta guy in the crowed who shouted, ‘kill the black one first’ - then there was this strange laughter afterwards which I could only describe as guttural.” He had thought that this man was joking but recalls “I have never had before and certainly not in training heard a smash of glass, I smelt petrol fumes and the next thing flames just shot up in front of me”. Such he said were the words of hatred and the loneliness and terror of being singled out.

Michael gave an example of one of the biggest challenges that he had faced in his career – ultimately when the buck stopped at him for decision making. He recalls, “one day 10 o’clock in Maidstone Police Headquarters a group of people came to me and said we’ve had a bomb threat to the Channel Tunnel. I asked about the circumstances, they said ‘at any one time there could be five thousand people passing through and you have to make the decision as to whether we take it seriously or not’. I asked a few more questions about intelligence and things, then I sat there for about an hour and I said we are going to ignore this - we are going to treat this as a hoax - I had to document that decision and that’s the sort of decision you make. Most of the decisions I made at my level were decisions like that but generally I got them right”.

He went on to express his sadness at not seeing any more black Police Chief Constables appointed since himself. Nevertheless, elated that whilst in position of responsibility, having had won loads of awards and personally given recognition for not only reducing crime by 22% and increasing public satisfaction but also for retaining staff. Michael said, “I had a great deal of satisfaction from resolving disputes, helping people and victims as well, seeing people brought to justice as a result of their crimes. I felt normal anger as anybody else would feel as I am not superhuman by any means. Although, I found that some of the learning years with auntie Margaret was very sound and stayed with me even to now.”

A lot of policies and procedures were put in place by Michael Fuller after the Stephen Lawrence Murder investigation, such as reviewing a murder every five years, looking at racially aggravated crime and dealing with it as seriously as any other crime, having family liaison officers – all practical initiatives stemming from his perseverance. He concluded that “the reassuring thing and the good thing was that those policies and procedures still have a place in policing and that they have stood the test of time”.