Simon Holdaway (1999) 'Understanding the Police Investigation of the Murder of Stephen Lawrence: A 'Mundane Sociological Analysis''
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/lawrence/holdaway.html>
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Received: 22/03/99 Accepted: 23/03/99 Published: 31/3/99
In this paper, I argue that the Lawrence Inquiry report directs us to mundane features of policing. Crucially we need to understand the complex ways in which the occupational culture of policing constructs and sustains particular forms of racialised relations. There are two key features of this culture. One is a tendency to use stereotypical thinking generally and in relation to ethnic minorities in particular. The other is to neglect the pertinence of race to rouitne police work. The presence and absence of 'race' is woven into the routines of the occupational culture. Police action can, as the Lawrence Inquiry report suggests be 'unwitting'. To argue the existence of 'unwitting' action, however, it is necessary to demonstrate that police officers could have acted differently. The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the police investigation into it have to be placed within this context if an adequate sociological analysis is to be undertaken.
The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour; culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people (Macpherson 1999, p. 28.)
It was alleged to me by some of those who made representations to me that Britain is an institutionally racist society. If by that is meant that it is a society which knowing, as a matter of policy, discriminates against black people, I reject the allegation.
'Institutional racism' does not exist in Britain: but racial disadvantage and its nasty associate racial discrimination have not yet been eliminated. They poison minds and attitudes: they are, and so long as they remain, will continue to be, a potent factor of unrest (Scarman OBE 1981 pp. 11 and 135).
I recognise that individual officers can be, and are, overtly racist. I acknowledge that officers stereotype, and differential outcomes occur for Londoners. Racism in the police is much more than 'bad apples'. Racism, as you have pointed out, can occur through a lack of care and lack of understanding. The debate about defining this evil, promoted by the Inquiry, is cathartic in leading us to recognise that is can occur almost unknowingly, as a matter of neglect, in an institution. I acknowledge the danger of institutionalisation of racism. However, labels can cause more problems than they solve (Macpherson 1999: p. 24).
Institutions are patterns of behaviour in any particular context which have become established over time as 'the way things are'. An institution has relevance and meaning in the social situation concerned; people will recognise it - will know it - if only in the normative specification of 'how things are done'. Institutions are an integral part of the social construction of reality, with reference to which, and in terms of which, individuals make decisions and orient their behaviour (Jenkins 1996, p. 127)
... we should not underestimate the occupational culture within the police service as being a primary source of institutional racism is the way that we differentially treat black people.
Interestingly I say we because there is a marked difference between black and white in the force essentially. We are all consumed by this occupational culture. Some of us may think we rise above it on some occasions, but, generally speaking, we tend to conform, to the norms of this occupational culture, which we say is all powerful in shaping our views and perceptions of a particular community. (Macpherson 1999: p. 25)
'Racism, in whatever form, is an evil and destructive force in our undeniably multi-racial society. We are in no doubt that racial attacks and racial harassment, and the spread of literature that preaches racial hatred, are increasing and must be stopped'. They ended their report on a note of urgency, 'As racism is spreading so rapidly, time is short' (House of Commons 1994).
Police officers were asked what they thought were the barriers to an effective police response. The relief officers spoken to seemed to be unaware of the scale and extent of racial attacks and harassment, or of what patterns if victimisation existed. As a consequence there was a tendency to deny that there was a problem or that there were shortcomings in the existing police response. Home-beat and Newham Organised Racial Incident Squad officers in particular felt that the reliefs were unaware of the scale of the problem. Mid-managers, reliefs and the racial incidents squad officers each commented that there was sometimes insufficient exchange of information between sections of the organisation (Saulsbury and Bowling 1991: p.125).
At virtually every stage of the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's murder, an inadequate understanding of action to be taken when a crime is thought to have been committed by a person or persons with a racial motive was apparent. To understand why officers acted in this way it is necessary to place them within the wider context of police culture. The officers were 'colour blind', denying the relevance of the racial status of the victims, the racial motive of the assailant and, therefore, the need for a particular approach to the investigation of the Lawrence murder. The failure of police officers dealing with the Lawrence case to recognise and accept 'race' as a central feature of their investigation is in my view central to the deficiencies in policing identified by Kent Police.
11.3. The sustaining of negative relationships with the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks; a failure to undertake an adequate investigation; a lack of competent management; and a lack of a particular approach to the investigation of a racial attack were compounded precisely because the officers in charge of the inquiry did not place race at the centre of their understanding of the Lawrence murder and its investigation. Race relations were consistently under-played or ignored. Adequate police action was never considered (Holdaway 1998).
The sustaining of negative relationships with the Lawrence family and Duwayne Brooks; a failure to undertake an adequate investigation; a lack of competent management; and a lack of a particular approach to the investigation of a racial attack were compounded precisely because the officers in charge of the inquiry did not place race at the centre of their understanding of the Lawrence murder and its investigation. Race relations were consistently under-played or ignored. Adequate police action was never considered (Macpherson 1999: p. 28).
2 In this section of the paper I draw closely on the evidence I submitted to the Lawrence Inquiry. It is based on a reading of official papers made available by the inquiry team, including the papers of the Police Complaints Authority, which had previously carried out an inquiry into the police investigation of the Lawrence murder. My evidence was written for and submitted by The Commission for Racial Equality.
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