Is it because Justice Secretary Jack Straw has a particularly keen sense of irony? Is it because he’s spectacularly ill-informed? Or is it classic NuLabour spin? Whatever the reason, on the 10th anniversary of the Macpherson Report, which accused the Metropolitan Police of being ‘institutionally racist’ following the investigation into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, Straw has claimed:
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday the Metropolitan Police is no longer “institutionally racist” ahead of the 10th anniversary of a landmark report which made the claim.
He told the BBC’s Politics Show: “If you are asking me whether I believe the Met as a whole is still institutionally racist, the answer is no.”
Of course he would say that. It trips as easily off the tongue as it does for Jacqui Smith to say that it’s perfectly safe for a man to be gay in Iran as long as he’s ‘discreet’. Such a pity for him that noone agrees with him, and that the force’s endemic racism is being revealed more by the day. But I’ll start the rebuttal with Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen, who has had to live with the outcomes of the police’s attitudes, making her especially well qualified to judge them:
Before the inquiry, black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Now, after all the years, and after all the work that has been put in, they are seven times more likely to be stopped. Police should be using proper intelligence, and frontline officers should not have the power to discriminate like this.
Only a minority of black people carry knives, and if the community could trust the police more, they’d help them catch criminals. Institutional racism has not been eradicated.
On the positive side, though, there are more community consultation and advisory groups today, which give people a chance to influence policing. And there has been a lot of police training, and officers are more sensitive about how they handle the public. I can look at cases such as Anthony Walker and Damilola Taylor and see that what was exposed in the case of my son’s killing has allowed other victims to get justice.
She’s right of course in saying that things have moved forwards as a whole. It would be churlish to deny it. But of course as we’ve seen in the last few days they remain particularly bad in their bigotry against each other:
Racist police officers were given a “licence to bully” their ethnic minority colleagues by bosses who turned a blind eye to threats of violence and a culture of apartheid that gripped a London police station, it was today alleged.
The allegations are contained in legal documents submitted by Asad Saeed, a Muslim PCSO who is suing the Met for racial discrimination at an employment tribunal that began today.
He says he worked for barely a month at Belgravia station in central London in February 2007, before being suspended after two white racist colleagues who “framed” him. He was sacked from the force, but later reinstated on appeal with CCTV evidence disproving a claim from one of his accusers that Saeed, 35, had assaulted a vagrant while on duty.
The claims from Saeed and other black officers are some of the worst concerning racism to hit Scotland Yard in modern times. But more troubling for the new Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson who last week declared the force’s racist past was behind it, are the repeated claims from Saeed and his colleagues that when senior officers were told, they tried to silence the whistle blowers.
I think this is ghastly. And it should be noted that the Met is challenging Saeed’s claims. Despite cast iron evidence of the force’s guilt (Stockwell 2005 anyone?), it refuses to own up to its own institutional abuses. Doreen Lawrence is right, and as previously referred to, Sir Paul Stephenson is now dismissing the entire concept of institutional racism:
“I do not want the Met distracted by a debate about institutional racism – the label no longer drives or motivates change as perhaps it once so clearly and dramatically did.
“What matters to the people of London is that we continue to change. It is actions not definitions that solve problems.
A fundamentally dangerous attitude to take. Definitions allow attitudes to come into view where they were previously hidden. If the label of institutional racism doesn’t motivate change as much as it once might have, I’d question why. The term brought the idea that outcomes are more important than policies into the forefront of the diversity agenda. If Sir Paul no longer thinks that’s necessary he’s either part of the problem or even less up to the job than his predecessor. Time I suspect will tell which is the case.