Listen as Gamal Turawa, “G”, recounts his experiences from childhood to becoming the Met police’s first openly gay black officer.
This powerful documentary, released TODAY by The Guardian, juggles and explores issues of Black masculinity, racial conformity, belonging, and intersectionality within the UK.
Now retired, the documentary begins by reflecting on his early upbringing, he was one of thousands of Black children who were ‘farmed’ through private fostering/adoption arrangements in the UK, where white families took care of them.
As a young child, G grew up in a white community in Kent, where the local policeman was friendly, and racism existed in backhanded jokes from his foster family.
When he was aged around 7, he travelled to London with his foster father, where, unbeknown to G, he was permanently returned to his biological family. “I came from an almost all-white environment to a totally black environment.
“I didn’t understand the blackness, the food had changed, the language had changed.”
The documentary details how he came to hate the police, who treated him much more negatively as a child in London than as a child in Kent, constantly undermining his race and attacking him because of his skin colour.
One day he saw a Black officer directing traffic, with lines of cars obeying his command to stop and go. This sparked Gamal’s interest in joining the force. His relationship with the police turned from hatred into aspirational and in 1992 he joined the police force, retiring in 2018.
Throughout he suffered constant reminders that he was different from his colleagues. He realised to fit in he had to impress the white officers and perpetrate the racism, through stop and searches, or joking with them about the colour of his skin.
“My mindset was to behave and become as white as possible, because white people don’t suffer.”
He had no choice but to enable the racism in order to fit in at work, and quickly became the ‘token’ Black police officer who would meet with all of the Met’s important guests, photograph with royalty and politicians, be on the cover of every recruitment campaign.
“The days when I was used for every recruitment campaign and publicity shot” he says, recalling an anti-knife-crime campaign in which he was asked to come in and hold the knife for a picture.
Still from Black Cop of Gamal Turawa holding knife for Met’s anti knife-crime campaign.
“I love the limelight you know, but in some ways, it made me feel like a performing monkey.”
The abuse continued until G couldn’t take it anymore, he went to the doctor and was signed off work due to having a breakdown. His person and sense of self had been so diminished, “everything I believed about myself, everything I thought about myself had come crashing down. I was in this space of I don’t know who I am anymore.”
“I eventually agreed to see a counsellor whose first question ‘who defines you’, confused the hell out of me. It made me realise I was always trying to be who someone else wanted me to be. Looking back on my childhood I had always been lost.”
He details his acceptance of his sexuality, “I just went round telling everybody.”
With a smile from ear-to-ear G takes stage in front of a crowd of cheering people, his hands in the air,
“It’s taken me forty years. But I’m here. Forty years of hiding and I’ve come out. As I stand here, I feel proud to be here, proud to stand in front of all of you, proud to say I’m Black, I’m gay, but more importantly I’m a human being. My race and sexual orientation belong to me. You have as much impact on them as I allow you to have.”
Still from Black Cop of Gamal Turawa on stage speaking of his sexuality.
Reflecting on the speech he says, “It was the first time in my life where I had owned me. This was 100% me. I was going on that stage to be me.”
G, now retired from the force, often goes back as a speaker, to help others understand how our stories shape us. He says to a group of officers, “You’re going out there as police officers. How you treat them will have an impact on how they see the police.”
Proud of how far he’s come in his journey to acceptance, G takes pride in the influence he has bestowed in his later years.
“If I have said or done something that will help you be more comfortable with you, that is the biggest joy of my life.”
This Guardian short, produced and directed by Cherish Oteka, is undoubtedly one to watch. It is concise yet its insight into the life of G, what it was like to be a Black British police officer in the late 20th/ early 21st century, is crucial and needs to be heard.
The Black Cop is BAFTA longlisted for British Short Film of 2022.
Watch it now on The Guardian, here.