Institute of Race Relations Evidence submitted for Part 2 of the Inquiry into Matters Arising from the Death of Stephen Lawrence
- IRR believes that it is essential to place the events surrounding the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent police investigation in the context of organised racial violence and relations between the police and other criminal justice agencies and the black community. It was the lethal combination of racialism and incompetence which led to the failings of the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. And this should be viewed in the context of institutional racism. [Racial prejudice or racialism refers to personal attitudes; the acting out of that prejudice in socially harmful ways is racial discrimination, and, when that discrimination is then institutionalised in the structures of society and the apparatuses of the state, it becomes institutional racism.]
- In 1981 the Scarman Inquiry dismissed the notion of institutional racism in Britain, choosing instead to locate the problems of police-black community relations at the time in racial discrimination and ‘disadvantage’ of ethnic minorities. Hence, the Scarman Report juxtaposed racial discrimination and racial disadvantage without seeing how the former had actually caused the latter and went on to reduce discrimination to a matter of personal prejudice in individuals. For the police the solution lay, therefore, in re-focusing their training on increasing officers’ understanding of the cultural and social ‘disadvantage’ of ethnic minorities and recognising their own, individual racial prejudice through such techniques as racial awareness training.
- There is an overwhelming body of evidence to support the proposition that black communities in Britain are subject to a differential and discriminatory pattern of policing which has two effects. First, it serves to stereotype whole sections of the black community, especially young people, as involved or potentially involved in criminal activities ranging from street robbery (so-called ‘mugging’) and drug dealing through to violent public disorder. Secondly, because of its focus on supposed black criminality, policing in the black community tends to downplay the position of black people as victims of crime and those types of criminal activity (eg. violent and racist assaults) which most adversely affect them.
- There has been little evident use of such sophisticated policing techniques in combating crimes in which black people are most often victims, in particular racist attacks, or directed at white ‘gangs’ of the type with which those accused of Stephen Lawrence’s murder were associated. While the young black person involved in crime will tend to be characterised and dealt with by the police and other criminal justice agencies as part of a general pattern of criminal or ‘anti-social’ activity prevalent in the black community, violent assaults on black people are very often treated by the police as isolated, individual incidents, even to the extent of being portrayed as ‘youthful pranks’.
- The ideologies fomented by racist organisations such as the British National Party have come to define popular culture among large sections of the white population in certain areas. One of the most worrying features of the murder of Stephen Lawrence was the fact that those who perpetuated such a culture had, for so long, had their racist attitudes and violent behaviour go unchallenged by those in authority in the education system, youth services, and the police. For many such institutions and those working within them, popular racism has come to be seen as a ‘fact of life’.
Rethinking measures to combat racism
- The so-called ‘anti-racist’ programmes adopted by the police since the Scarman Report have been profoundly misguided and now require a major re-examination. As noted above, these programmes have focused on individuals in positions of authority and on increasing their ‘awareness’ of the cultural and social ‘disadvantage’ of black communities and of their own, individual racial prejudices. In the process, the wider social, economic and political basis of racism in British society has tended to be ignored.
- Future policy and training needs to be re-directed in two ways. First, should no longer focus on black people as a source of ‘social problems’ but rather on the need for all institutions in this society, not least the police, to respect their civil rights and afford them proper protection against racial harassment and attacks. Second, it is racism, not black people, that needs to be targeted for remedial action, not just in policing but across a wide range of social, educational and legal policies.
- The institutions of ‘white’ British society cannot be trusted on their own volition to adopt such a systematic approach to combating racism. The lessons of the past, not least in the events leading up to the Lawrence Inquiry itself, are that it requires constant vigilance and campaigning from the black community to ensure even the most limited accountability of official institutions on issues of racism. Yet, ever since the mid-1980s, support through public funding of community-based campaigning and monitoring groups to combat racism and promote black rights has been diminished, even as the civil rights of black defendants have been consistently eroded.
- The police, Crown Prosecution Service and other criminal justice and social agencies should develop, in conjunction with black community groups, an integrated strategy for combating racism and racially-motivated crime and other ‘anti-social’ activities. This should include a policy of vigorously investigating and prosecuting all crimes involving a racial element, including ‘low-level’ harassment as well as those resulting in serious injury to black people and or damage to their property.
- Public funding for local racial attack and police monitoring groups based in the black community should be immediately restored and enhanced. Such groups should have a major role to play in formulating and implementing strategies for combating racism and racially-motivated crime and other ‘anti-social’ activity in their communities.
- Police training should be re-focused on their role in applying and upholding the rule of law and the civil rights of all members of society, including affording proper protection to the black community and treating black victims, suspects and defendants with full respect for their legal rights. Less emphasis should be placed on so-called ‘racial awareness training’.
- Further erosions of the rights of suspects and defendants in the criminal justice system, including of the right to jury trial, should cease. Instead, a comprehensive, independent review of policing and criminal justice policies as they impact on black people should be conducted outside the Home Office.
- Racism should become a major focus of school discipline, ‘anti-bullying’ and ‘anti-exclusions’ policies. Teachers and school governors should receive training on the role of racism in attacks and harassment on black pupils and in their treatment by teachers and others in authority over them. There should be regular consultations on these issues between schools and black community groups. Similar policies need to be adopted in respect of other social agencies such as youth workers and youth groups, social services, and the probation service.