Justice Secretary Jack Straw says the Metropolitan Police is no longer institutionally racist, current Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says it’s no longer a helpful concept, and his predecessor Sir Ian Blair now denies that the police who investigated the murder of Stephen Lawrence were institutionally racist:
Sir Ian Blair, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said today that he did not “necessarily” believe that the police officers who investigated the murder of Stephen Lawrence were racist.
Blair, who was himself engulfed in a racism row in his final days in office, said the police involved in the investigation into the black teenager’s murder had merely been guilty of treating people in a “monochrome” way.
Giving evidence to the Metropolitan police authority’s inquiry into racism in the force, the retired police chief added that the description of the Met as “institutionally racist” by the Macpherson inquiry had proved helpful in prompting subsequent reforms.
In his first public appearance since he was ousted by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, last October, Blair told the race and faith inquiry panel of the continuing struggle to ensure that all members of the community were treated equally by police.
Blair said: “Anybody who had read the Macpherson report would recognise an institution that was treating people in a very monochrome way. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything racist about the activities of the Metropolitan police in relation to the Lawrences. What the investigators did was they treated the Lawrences as they treated a whole range of working-class people and they just did not understand the expectations and experiences of the black community. That is what has changed.”
On the one hand he accepts that the concept of institutional racism, introduced into the British public sector by the Macpherson Report into the police’s handling of Stephen Lawrence’s death, had been ‘helpful’. He then demonstrates no understanding of why it was applied. The officers who investigated the murder didn’t themselves have to be racist in order to bring about an institutionally racist outcome, defined by Sir William Macpherson as:
“the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”, which “can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.”.
Make your own mind up whether his conflation of racism with institutional racism is deliberate and self-serving, or whether he’s simply as ignorant as the rest of his institutionally racist former force. The latter would at least offer a partial insight into why the Met has found it so persistently difficult to stop itself being perceived as persistently riven with bigotry.