“Kill the Black One First” is a memoir by Michael Fuller, Britain’s first ever black Chief Constable. A story about race, identity, belonging and displacement, this memoir is not only a stark representation of race relations in the UK, but also a unique morality tale of how humanity deals with life’s injustices.
Born in 1959 to Windrush-generation Jamaican immigrants, Fuller was placed in foster care at a young age after his parent’s relationship broke down. Growing up in a mainly white environment with white carers, Fuller did experience instances of racism and prejudice but was largely shielded from it by his foster mother Margaret, with whom he developed a very close relationship. It was Margaret who would later encourage him to pursue his ambitions to become an officer in the Metropolitan police force.
Despite this encouragement, members of Fuller’s family, most notably his biological father with whom he had regained contact, understandably had some misgivings about his career choice. In the 70s relations between the Black and the police force were very poor, with high levels of mistrust on both sides. The racially motivated stop and search tactics or ‘sus laws’ as they were referred to then, and the lack of justice for Black people within the criminal justice system had pushed tensions to a critical point. So it was pretty much unheard of for a Black person to willingly join an organisation that was perceived as an established threat to Black communities throughout the UK.
Undeterred and fuelled by a sense of wanting to see justice served for everybody regardless of race, Fuller persevered in his ambition and was accepted to train at Hendon Police College after he left school. What follows is a detailed description of Fuller’s meteoric rise through the police force, from policing on the beat to being on the frontline during the Brixton riots of the 80s. He would later take a pivotal role in the formation of Operation Trident, which tackled crime and gang warfare in London, as well as the Black and Asian Police Association, before later being appointed as Chief Constable of Kent.
This is an interesting book to read (or rather in my case, listen to on audiobook), because of the unusual and somewhat unique position Michael Fuller occupies in the history of British policing. He is to date, the only Black police officer to have reached the position of Chief Constable, which goes to show just how far diversity initiatives have impacted on the Met police. Obviously, one of the main issues that stands out is his handling of the racism he experienced personally by his colleagues as well as the disdain he experienced from the Black community.
It soon becomes clear that Fuller occupied this sort of identity no-mans land in which he wasn’t fully accepted by his colleagues because of his colour – “he wasn’t one of them”, and was more or less treated with suspicion and at time full on disgust by the Black community who saw his position as a betrayal of his race – he also “wasn’t one of them”. The rather provocative title of the memoir is actually taken from words that were shouted in direction to him by another another Black person during a standoff between the police and Black youths during the Brixton riots.
It’s hard to fully imagine or understand the toll this must have taken on Fuller’s psyche, especially as by his own admission he’s always occupied a space in between two contrasting worlds from early childhood. You see his struggle to accept that his colleagues would always see his colour first and therefore perceive him to be inferior to them no matter how hard he worked, and though this pushed him to strive harder and further to prove them wrong, nonetheless there were times where he was deeply discouraged and wanted to leave the Met.
In addition to this Fuller had to contend with his own sense of identity and understanding of his heritage and where he came from. The final concluding part explores this in some detail, as Fuller goes back to search through state archives to find out more information about his placement in care and his parents’ lives. It was quite emotional and poignant end to quite an intense book about a significant period of Black British history.