By Martin Campbell - Director of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association, serving police officer and advisory board member to the Traveller Movement.
“You want to be a Muskra?!” was what my family said, they just didn’t understand why I wanted to join. The way I saw it, if I’m wearing the uniform its one less Officer who is going to disrespect us.
Now I’m progressing through the ranks I can influence how other officers behave and educate them on the issues many in our communities face rather than let them try and learn from some scandalizing TV programmes. I can make sure we get fair play when I’m around.
My first on patrol as a new Officer before I declared my background, I was taken onto an encampment. The Officer who took me there noticed as we drove on I was looking “a bit nervous boy”.
He locked the doors and just drove around the siren on slowly. It was 2am. He took me back to the station and in the canteen made fun of me in front of the others for “Being nervous around them P***y’s.” I wasn’t nervous of my own people; I felt like a dinlo for joining in the first place. I’d just let him wake up them children and did nothing. I felt rage and then ashamed of myself. I had no excuse for saying nothing.
For almost a decade I’d felt alone until I saw a news article about another Gypsy man, Jim Davies who took Thames Valley Police to court for discrimination. Here was another mush giving his best against discrimination whilst I hid from it; “Kaka Rocka Nixix” wasn’t good enough now. Coming out as a Gypsy in the Police felt like I was committing career suicide.
I’d told a few friends where I was from but most of them had figured it out already over the last few years. Once I’d confirmed it the gossip spread like wildfire. Before I knew it I’d walk into a new office full of people I’d never met and all would already know I was a Gypsy. Some people I’d known for years all of a sudden just acted strangely around me and invites to social events seemed to disappear overnight. It all came to a head when at the annual Police Children’s Christmas party we had been going to for a few years. My child was sat on the dance floor with all the other kids. I’d let her wear Spanish dress for the first time. Each child was called up one by one to get the present from Santa, the delighted kids then went and sat with the parents. My child was there alone at the end all alone crying. I went and asked the person running it what had happened because I’d pre-paid for the present I’d never had a problem before and just couldn’t understand why they had left her out when they could see a “mistake” had been made. The person running it was a close friend of the Officer who first took me to the site I mentioned before. I then realised he was the one giving out the presents. It doesn’t take a detective to work that one out as she laughed in my face. I left that force just after.
I moved to a new force (Cheshire) and hoped that things would be better. They are, but we still have such a long way to go. Everybody knows I’m a Gypsy and I’ve not had much bother at all. The majority get it now.
The biggest moment came for me when I was asked at short notice (45 Minutes) to speak on Jim Davies behalf representing the GRPTA at the forces senior leadership conference. Now it wouldn’t be just telling a friend and mostly confirming what people already thought; instead I was walking into a room of over 100 Officers, most of them senior ranks running the show, to speak in public for the first time. I had one simple message “Treat Traveller as an ethnicity and give us the respect others get; before you use Traveller, just change it for any other ethnicity and see if you would still say it”.
Most of the police officers I’ve spoken to now understand there is more to us than encampments and TV Programmes, but for true change and equality we have to join the establishments of the UK and be out and proud about who we are. It’s hard for an individual or organisation to get away with racist behaviour and practices when the person sat next to them or in charge of them is a Gypsy.