While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that there was “much more that we need to do” to tackle racism, it took him days to address the death of Mr. Floyd or the protests in London, and he accused some demonstrators of “thuggery.” Many have also found his recent declarations lacking credibility because of his past use of racist language.
Britain has a fraught racial history and in recent months several cities have faced a reckoning with their past, including Bristol, in southwestern England, a cosmopolitan cultural hub that was once a crucial port in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In June, protesters toppled a statue of a 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, and threw it in the city’s harbor. A British sculptor later replaced it with the statue of a local Black protester, but the city authorities had the new artwork removed after just one day.
The Metropolitan Police also have a long history of discriminatory conduct and shortcomings in investigating racially motivated crimes. One turning point came in 1999, when the force was accused of “pernicious and persistent institutional racism” by William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge leading an inquiry into police failings around the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager who was killed by five white youths in southeast London in 1993. (Two men were ultimately convicted in the case in 2012.)
The police force came under fire again early this year for the discriminatory use of stop-and-frisk tactics, after a spike in their use was reported during the first coronavirus lockdown.
In July, the police apologized to Bianca Williams, a 26-year-old champion sprinter, and her partner, both of whom are Black, after they were detained while driving in West London with their toddler sitting in the back. They were handcuffed for 45 minutes while officers searched the vehicle. Nothing was found in the car.
Mr. Khan, who oversees the city’s police forces along with Britain’s Home secretary, said after the arrest of Ms. Williams that he had commissioned the action plan. But it was unclear whether Mr. Khan’s decision was prompted by the incident, which caused outrage, or if he had commissioned it earlier.
Other recent episodes included a bungled investigation into the assault on three Black women last December that the police said was “compounded by racial motivation,” and a picture of two murdered Black women taken by officers in June that was reportedly sent to a group of people, including civilians.