Black Lives Matter campaigners have told a Welsh police commissioner that the institution “cannot be reformed” at a discussion on the future of Welsh policing.

Speakers at a conference on Monday, which was hosted by new Welsh thinktank Melin Drafod, included the Dyfed Powys Police & Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llewelyn and Dr Val Aston, tutor in criminal justice and human rights law at Swansea University. It was hosted by Savanna Jones, who is a Widening Access and Inclusion Manager for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

The main topic of discussion was the notion of “defunding the police” -  the idea that crime can best be prevented through reallocating police funds to social and public health services, brought back to prominence by the Black Lives Matter movement last year.

READ MORE: Police delete tweet about using pepper spray and a dog in self-harm response

Mr Llewelyn, of Plaid Cymru, argued that PCCs could reform policing in Wales by directing funding towards youth and early intervention programmes, as well as by forming a “national commission” on justice.

But others argued these measures would not be enough.

READ MORE: Welsh police force gets share of £4.12m to tackle violent crime

Dr Val Aston, who specialises in policing and protest law, told the audience that while moving funds away from policing could provide an “easy win”, she sees deeper problems in the power balance between forces and the communities they serve.

She said: “There’s a sense with defunding the police that all we need to do is just move some funding.

“There’s an easy win… in one sense.

“Years of declining public funding have often meant that police are asked – expected - to deal with issues that are not really policing issues.

“Of course, it’s pertinent here to ask whether public money would be much better spent on public health responses to those issues, rather than funding police to do that role – a role that they were never really set up, or trained, or intended to play.”

READ MORE:

Investing in youth services and exploring the decriminalisation of drugs and sex work, she said, may produce better outcomes, adding that in her view there is “very little evidence” that prohibition leads to positive results.

The National Wales: Questions about police power we raised after the murder of Sarah Everard by a Met Police officerQuestions about police power we raised after the murder of Sarah Everard by a Met Police officer

“Having an honest conversation about that is really important,” Dr Aston said.

“[But] if you really want to transform -reform – our policing system, you have to address the central issue of power relationships."

Those relationships, she said, include those between the police and the people they police, as well as between police and local and central governments, and would require more than diverted funds to fix.

READ MORE: 

“The central ethos of the defunding movement is that we move emphasis from police and law enforcement - and we place emphasis on communities, and community bodies, and social bodies - to create social solutions to social problems.

“It requires a power shift from government to those communities.”

The National Wales: Protestors blocked the road outside Cardiff Bay Police Station earlier this yearProtestors blocked the road outside Cardiff Bay Police Station earlier this year

On historic cases of racial injustice, Dr Aston added: “We should take time to reflect, perhaps.

“It is disturbing that, forty years later, we’re having exactly the same discussions about ‘gang culture’ stereotypes, disproportionate use of stop-and-search, the over-policing of Black communities and the underrepresentation of Black communities in the more positive aspects of criminal justice.

“Or rather – Black communities often feel that they’re not recognised sufficiently as victims, and are over-recognised as criminals.”

For many communities, she said, the police “don’t deliver safety”.

Activists speaking at the event on behalf of Black Lives Matter highlighted the cases of Mohamud Hassan and Mouayed Bashir, two young men who died following police contact in Wales earlier this year, as well as the case of Siyanda Mngaza – a young disabled black woman who was imprisoned for assault last year, but who maintains she had acted in self-defence from a racially-motivated attack.

READ MORE: Daughter of Cardiff Three's Tony Paris on trauma of miscarriage of justice

“It’s clear that nothing has changed,” they said.

“The police cannot be reformed.”

Another speaker, Mr Rhodri Francis, said he “commended” Dafydd Llewelyn for attending the meeting, adding: “I can’t see Alun Michael meeting with Black Lives Matter.”

Alun Michael, Labour, is the Police & Crime Commissioner for South Wales.

Mr Francis went on: “The honest fact is – and I say this with love and compassion – nothing has changed.

“Black people and people of colour are suffering as a result of institutional racism.

“Dafydd, I plead with you – you’re the commissioner – if you want independence, it’s about attitude.”

It was questioned whether PCCs could adequately scrutinise the police on behalf of communities or whether they are too “embedded” in police forces.

The Dyfed Powys PCC emphasised that forces are working with “good will” to address ongoing mistrust of police by BAME communities, but said he accepted that he had been “sucked in” to the institution.

READ MORE: Nearly 500 people punished for begging or sleeping rough under 'cruel' Vagrancy Act

Host Savanna Jones told The National: “It’s important for me that we as a society have the opportunity to discuss issues that impact the whole population of Wales.

“It is an important discussion, given where we are and what we have seen, over the past couple of years. We really do need those opportunities to critique what would most benefit our communities.”

READ MORE: Concern at rising number of youngsters self-harming

The issues surrounding police call-outs to mental health emergencies, she said, seemed clear to all attendees.

“One of the things that struck me most about the debate was the awareness and agreement to an extent amongst all the contributors that the police are engaging in activities where they are not necessarily best placed to provide support,” Ms Jones said.

“How we change that in practice is a difficult question, but one that needs debating thoroughly.”

The National Wales: Mouayed Bashir, from Newport, died after Gwent Police responded to a mental health call by his family in JanuaryMouayed Bashir, from Newport, died after Gwent Police responded to a mental health call by his family in January

She believes that Welsh society is getting better at making room for these discussions.

Ms Jones added: “As we come out of the pandemic, I hope that we can have more and more conversations at a community level about what can be done.”

Melin Drafod intends to hold further discussions on Welsh justice, with the next expected to place in November.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.