Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Louis Kushnick (1999) '"Over Policed and Under Protected": Stephen Lawrence, Institutional and Police Practices'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 1, <>

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Received: 23/03/99      Accepted: 23/03/99      Published: 31/3/99


In February 1999 Sir William Macpherson's Inquiry into matters arising from the death of Stephen Lawrence concluded with respect to the failed police investigations into Stephen Lawrence's death that:

There is no doubt but that there were fundamental errors. The investigation was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶46.1, p. 317)

Macpherson also concluded - after holding public meetings in London, Ealing/Southall, Manchester, Tower Hamlets, Bradford, Bristol and Birmingham and taking written evidence to help make recommendations as to the 'investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crimes' - that:

Wherever we went we were met with inescapable evidence which highlighted the lack of trust which exists between the police and the minority ethnic communities. At every location there was a striking difference between the positive descriptions of policy initiatives by senior police officers, and the negative expressions of the minority communities, who clearly felt themselves to be discriminated against by the police and others. We were left in no doubt that the contrast between these views and expressions reflected a central problem which needs to be addressed. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶45.6, p. 311)

The Report quotes David Muir, representing senior Black Church Leaders, saying that 'the experience of black people over the last 30 years has been that we have been over policed and to a large extent under protected.' (Macpherson, 1999, ¶45.7. p. 312)

One of the most significant contributions of Macpherson to public debate about racism in British society was the Report's acceptance of the concept of 'institutional racism'. Macpherson addresses institutional racism not only in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) but throughout all public institutions. This represents a major change from the last major inquiry into race carried out by the state, the Scarman Report of 1981. Scarman denied the existence of institutional racism:

If, by (institutionally racist) it is meant that it (Britain) is a society which, knowingly, as a matter of policy, discriminates against black people, I reject the allegation. If, however, the suggestion being made is that practices may be adopted by public bodies as well as private individuals which are unwittingly discriminatory against black people, then this is an allegation which deserves serious consideration, and ,where proved, swift remedy. (Scarman, 1981, ¶2.22, p. 11)

And he also rejected charges that the Metropolitan Police were racist:

The direction and policies of the Metropolitan Police are not racist. I totally and unequivocally reject the attack made upon the integrity and impartiality of the senior direction of the force. The criticisms lie elsewhere - in errors of judgment, in a lack of imagination and flexibility, but not in deliberate bias or prejudice. (Scarman, 1981, ¶4.62, p. 64)

Macpherson's recognition of the existence of institutional racism challenges these conclusions and is central to the Macpherson Report. Macpherson concludes that:

The failure of the first investigating team to recognise and accept racism and race relations as a central feature of their investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence played a part in the deficiencies in policing which we identify in this Report. For example, a substantial number of officers of junior rank would not accept that the murder of Stephen Lawrence was simply and solely 'racially motivated'. The relevance of the ethnicity and cultural status of the victims, including Duwayne Brooks, and Mr and Mrs Lawrence, was not properly recognised. Immediately after the murder Mr Brooks was side-lined, and his vital information was inadequately considered. None of these shortcomings was corrected or overcome. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶6.21, p. 23)

The Institute of Race Relations, in its evidence for Part 2 of the Macpherson Inquiry, had identified these processes and argued that:

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 (e.g., violent and racist assaults) which most adversely affect them. (Institute of Race Relations, 1999a, p. 1)

The Report found institutional racism apparent in the following areas:

  1. in the actual investigation including the family's treatment at the hospital, the initial reaction to the victim and witness Duwayne Brooks, the family liaison, the failure of many officers to recognise Stephen's murder as a purely 'racially motivated' crime, the lack or urgency and commitment in some areas of the investigation.

  2. countrywide in the disparity of 'stop and search figures'. Whilst we acknowledge and recognise the complexity of this issue and in particular the other factors which can be prayed in aid to explain the disparities, such as demographic mix, school exclusions, unemployment, and recording procedures, there remains, in our judgment, a clear core conclusion of racist stereotyping;

  3. countrywide in the significant under-reporting of 'racial incidents' occasioned largely by lack of confidence in the police and their perceived unwillingness to take such incidents seriously. Again we are conscious of other factors at play, but we find irresistible the conclusion that a core cause of under-reporting is the inadequate response of the Police Service which generates a lack of confidence in victims to report incidents; and

  4. in the identified failure of police training; as evidenced by the HMIC Report, 'Winning the Race' and the Police Training Council Report, and the clear evidence in Part 1 of this Inquiry which demonstrated not a single officer questioned before us in 1998 had received any training of significance in racism awareness and race relations throughout the course of his or her career. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶6.45, pp. 29-30)

The Report argues that

Racism, institutional or otherwise, is not the prerogative of the Police Service. It is clear that other agencies including for example those dealing with housing and education also suffer from the disease. If racism is to be eradicated there must be specific and co-ordinated action both within the agencies themselves and by society at large, particularly through the education system, from primary school upwards and onwards. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶6.54, p. 33)

In the discussion which follows, I focus on two particular aspects of police practice that are connected with the dynamics of institutional racism.

Institutional Racism and Police Practice No. 1: Stops and Searches

One of the areas of policing in which we find the greatest level of racially disproportionate treatment and which produces the greatest denial of liberty and justice and anger is stop and search. The evidence in this section will show how little has changed since the Institute of Race Relations' 1979 Police Against Black People and the Policy Studies Institute's 1982 study of the Metropolitan Police - despite assertions by successive Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police that they were giving high or the highest priority to combating racism within the MPS. In 1979, the Institute of Race Relations raised this as a central issue and after providing a large amount of evidence of police practice concluded that:

All this evidence suggests that arrest and police powers are now being used to keep the black community in its place: physically, by penalizing blacks found out of their 'ghettoes', and psychologically, by penalizing those who attempt to demand their rights or protect another's. (Institute of Race Relations, 1979, p. 44)

When the police operate stop and search policies and routinely stop a disproportionate number of black people in comparison with any other ethnic group (see for example, Statewatch, 1995: p. 20; Statewatch, 1996a: p. 1) and when the police regularly harass prominent black people driving their expensive cars we are seeing the maintenance of order and putting these people in their place. In the 1983 Policy Studies Institute study the disproportionate ratio of young black men being stopped compared with young white men, of the same 'crimeogenic' age, was about 8:1. It was part of an historical targeting of young black men under the 'sus' law - a law originally instituted to control the early 19th Century working class, making it a criminal offence to be a suspicious person loitering with intent to commit a crime.

A central theme of the racialisation of crime, and the criminalisation of the Afro-Caribbean youth in the 1970s and 1980s was the construction of mugging as a threat to British society and as a crime committed by young black men. The media, the police, the courts and the politicians succeeded in importing a racialised concept from the United States - widely recognisable from imported TV crime shows and 'Dirty Harry' type films - to 'explain' street crime. Street crime, well known in British cities since the days of Dickens and Mayhew was transformed into black criminal attacks on the rest of us , which called for increased police powers to protect us from them (Hall et al, 1978). Concern for the safety of their youth led to the anti-sus campaign being a central component of Afro-Caribbean community politics and campaigns throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Their victory in finally overturning sus was, however, short-lived. So completely had the racialisation and criminalisation taken place, and so valuable was this process to the police, politicians and the right-wing media that the special policing continued apace.

There is widespread evidence that these patterns have continued throughout the 1990s. A disproportionate number of black people are continuing to be stopped and searched in comparison with any other ethnic group. For example, since April 1993 all police forces have been required to publish annual figures on the ethnic origin of all those stopped and searched. The figures for 1993/94, the first year's figures show that there were 331,383 stop and searches of white people and 110,522 stop and searches of 'ethnic' people (covering the 42 police forces in England and Wales). These figures are very dramatic given the 6.2% overall percentage of ethnic minority people as part of the total population. The police forces where the number of people of 'ethnic origin' stopped and searched was over 10% of the number of white people are:

White People'Ethnic Origin'
Met (London)132,56595,751
Gtr Manchester38,3764,134
West Midlands4,0981,927
Thames Valley3,817615
West Yorkshire2,636386

The number of people of 'ethnic origin', therefore, stopped and searched in London constitutes 42% - 86.6% of those of 'ethnic origin' stopped in England and Wales - and 21.6% of the overall total number of 441,905 stops and searches in 1993/94 (Statewatch, 1996a: p. 1).

The figures for 1994/95 for London showed 37% of those stopped were from ethnic minorities. (Travis, 1996) The 1996 annual report of the Police Complaints Authority reported that complaints from black people arising from stop and search rose from 22 to 29% of all such complaints (Campbell, 1996, p. 5) A more detailed analysis of the 93/94 London figures found that in three areas, Brixton, Kilburn and Battersea, more than half of all people stopped and searched were black - whereas the proportions of black people living in these areas were 22%, 11.7% and 16.3%. Statewatch has concluded that in some districts at least the double the proportion of black people are being stopped and searched.

In some areas the proportion of blacks being stopped and searched, as opposed to any other ethnic group, is at an unacceptable level. These figures confirm what black people have known for some time, i.e. that they are being targeted by the Police. There is a concern that we are seeing the return of the old 'sus laws' which were repealed in the early eighties, and which led to the very serious distrust between the Police and the black community. This concern is greater because of the enhanced Stop and Search Powers contained in the Criminal Justice Act. (Statewatch, 1995: p. 20)

Statewatch's latest findings coincided with the publication of the Macpherson Report. They carried out a comprehensive analysis of the figures for 1996/97 and reworked the data using an adjusted set of population figures, supplied by the Office of National Statistics, to provide an independent analysis of the institutionally racist manner in which the police carry out stop and searches.

These figures show remarkable continuity over decades, and Statewatch concludes that:

There is little evidence from these statistics that the widespread use of police powers on the streets is leading to higher numbers being formally processed through the criminal justice system. Yet there is considerable evidence of the differential use of the powers to back the widely held belief that there is institutional racism within the police.

Moreover, the evidence from this survey shows that the problem of institutionalised racism pervades the criminal justice system extending to the roles played by HMIC (Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary), the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the Police Complaints Authority and the Home Office. Each bears responsibility for the failure to tackle racism since the 1981 uprisings and the Scarman report. (Statewatch, 1999: p. 2)

Institutional Racism and Police Practice No. 2: Physical Abuse

There are more drastic and deadly consequences of these patterns. For example, the first deaths from the introduction of new technology, the long-handled baton and CS gas, in Britain were black people and the use of chokeholds and tape covering the mouths of black people have led to deaths - and to demonstrations and protests and to urban uprisings. The stereotypes of the violent and unruly black, who represents a threat to the physical safety of the police and the immigration officers, have justified the use of such methods not only by the police officers who have used them but by their superiors, by the politicians and by the media.

The Institute of Race Relations identified a pattern of almost 70 deaths of black people in custody between 1987 and 1991 (Institute of Race Relations, 1991). Inquest, a non-governmental organisation working directly with the families of those who die in custody, in its evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in February 1996 identified 37 Black deaths between 1991 and February 1996 in police custody, prison or related to immigration detention of which 14 were in police custody - with 12 of those deaths occurring in 1995 (Inquest, 1996: pp. 20-1). It is important in light of previous discussion of police racist attitudes to note their conclusion on the link between attitudes, language and behaviour:

The evidence points to discriminatory views held by police officers, prison officers and immigration service officials which are motivated by racial/ethnic stereotypes - the linking of Irish people with drunkenness and Black people with superhuman strength and violence. (Inquest, 1996; p. 9; it is significant that the justification used by the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King - and accepted by the 11 white/1 Asian-American jury which acquitted them - was the need to use such force because of King's superhuman strength)

Another worrying sign of institutional racism associated with deaths of physical abuse - and which parallels attempts by the former Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Daryl Gates to evade responsibility for deaths of African Americans at the hands of the LAPD - was the attempt by Richard Tilt, Director of the Prison Service, to absolve the PS of responsibility for the deaths of a number of black prisoners in the early and mid-1990s by claiming that one of these men, Alton Manning, 'died because people of African Caribbean origin were more physiologically susceptible to restraint asphyxia'. Despite the inquest jury's verdict of Unlawful Killing the Crown Prosecution Service announced in February 1999 that no charges were to be brought against the prison officers who killed Mr Manning. Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, commented:

The evidence which emerged at the inquest established that Alton Manning died a brutal, inhuman and violent death as a direct result of the unlawful and excessive violence used against him by prison officers and yet nobody is to be held criminally responsible or indeed accountable for this appalling death. This decision once again brings the entire criminal justice system and the role of the CPS into disrepute. When is the Government going to act so that when someone dies at the hands of the State the procedures that follow ensure accountability, openness and justice? The failure of the current system denies bereaved families justice and sends a clear message that Black deaths in custody do not matter. (Inquest, 1999: p. 4)

The Institute of Race Relations has released on its Online Resources web page the results of its research on Blacks as Victims of Crime. Among its findings are:

A 1994 poll of black people carried out by a British black newspaper found that 67% of people knew some one who had experienced physical abuse by a police officer; 40% had personally experienced racial abuse from an officer and 78% believed that police treated a crime in which the victim was white more seriously than one with a black victim. A 1995 study by Oxford University of prison inmates, found that that over a three month period, half of all African and African-Caribbean prisoners and one-third of Asian prisoners had been racially victimised by staff; 64% of black inmates said they had witnessed an average of 8 incidents over the same period. For black people, the power that prison officers and policemen hold over them can have devastating effect. Between 1991 and 1995, 10 black people died in custody in incidents where excessive force appears to have been used. So far, no officer has been punished for any of these deaths. (Institute of Race Relations, 1999b: p. 1)

Police assaults against black people, or use of excessive force, have been so widespread that an increasing number of civil actions were taken out against the police, and in particular against the Metropolitan Police. Statewatch reported in 1996, for example, that the Met had paid out 20 million over the previous ten years, with annual figures increasing from 393,000 in 1986 to 1,560,000 in 1995 and record damages having been awarded in March 1996 of 220,000 to one man and 64,000 to another. In another case, a young black man was awarded record damages of 302,000 against the Metropolitan Police on 26 April 1996 for being hit with a truncheon by a constable after he had been handcuffed. Despite the fact that it was accepted by the police that PC Trigg had used excessive force and that the Commissioner had found, on the criminal burden of proof that PC Trigg had truncheoned Mr Goswell after he was handcuffed, the police still defended the action. (Statewatch, May-June 1996, p. 3) These cases not only involve taxpayer's money being paid out for the use of excessive force and other violations of individual rights but also are characterised by the lack of disciplinary measures taken against those who perpetrated this violence. In 1994, for example, Statewatch found that the police won outright only 24 of the 304 against them, but no officers were prosecuted and only four disciplined: one was cautioned, another fined and two 'given words of advice'. (Statewatch, 1996a: p. 2) [2]

Back to Scarman: Black Police?

In his Report on the Brixton uprising, Lord Scarman declared that 'there is widespread agreement that the composition of our police forces must reflect the make-up of the society they serve' and emphasised that 'A police force which fails to reflect the ethnic diversity of our society will never succeed in securing the full support of all its sections' (Scarman, 1981: p. 76). Given that conclusion and the importance Lord Scarman placed on the need for the police to secure the 'full support of all ... (society's) sections' how far have the police gone in meeting this requirement?

The findings of two recent reports by CRE (CRE, 1996; Oakley, 1996) and two by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, 1996; 1998) show how far there is to go and explain the continuing patterns discussed above of racist policing. Overall representation of ethnic minority officers is slowly increasing but they still, in 1998 made up only 2% of all officers in England and Wales, although people from ethnic minorities make up 5.2% of the economically active population. In Scotland the figures are 0.2% and 1.0%. In terms of promotion, the figures are even more disturbing. In England and Wales, 23% of all police officers hold ranks above that of constable, compared with only 10% of ethnic minority officers. (CRE, 1996: p. 10) All the reports make a series of recommendations about the creation and implementation of equal opportunities policies and programmes.

The depth of the problem is indicated in the findings of formal inspections carried out within 13 police forces in England and Wales by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. They found, as had the CRE, that progress by ethnic minority officers up the promotion ladder or into departments and specialisms was far slower than for white officers. They also found rising levels of reports of oppressive bullying and continuing high levels of sexist and racist banter and of harassment of and discrimination against civilian staff - all too often unchallenged by peers and supervisors - and a continuing lack of commitment of equal opportunities policies by the majority of officers. There was a lack of confidence by women and ethnic minority officers in the top-level commitment to such policies and intents. It is quite clear that in such circumstances the ability of ethnic minority officers to significantly challenge and change the police culture, the grievance system and the confidentiality of some welfare departments of racist and sexist stereotypes and the behaviour based on and justified by such stereotypes is severely limited.

HMIC carried out a follow-up investigation two years after its 1996 report, Winning the Race, and found that a corporate lead is still lacking despite its earlier recommendations. For example, 40% of the police forces in England and Wales (17 forces) still did not have a Community and Race Relations strategy in place which signifies in the Inspector's eyes, 'coupled with other evidence, that CRR issues remain peripheral rather than at the core of policing for many forces' (HMIC, 1998: p. 7). Their other findings are:

With regard to recruitment and retention, the Inspector found that of the 15 forces visited, officers from visible ethnic minorities accounted for:

The Inspector concludes on the basis of these figures:

There was little evidence of any significant response to these issues, and much to suggest that the rich seam of experience and enthusiasm of ethnic minority officers is not being utilised to inform recruitment and retention strategies. (HMIC, 1998: P. 45)

Simon Holdaway, who was a police officer for eleven years, identifies the importance of the occupational culture in shaping the experiences of black and Asian officers - which leads to levels of resignation and negative attitudes about their experiences and the continuing suspicion and antagonism of the communities towards the police. He reports very different views of the problem held by Assistant Chief Constables (ACC) with responsibility for recruitment and a sample of serving black and Asian officers interviewed in the early 1990s. 'The ACCs minimised problems of prejudice and discrimination their black and Asian officers might face; these same issues were of primary importance to the constables' (Holdaway, 1996: p. 147). He quotes black and Asian police officers who resigned on their experiences of racial jokes, banter, comments and at times discriminatory behaviour. One resigner spoke of isolation:

... I always stayed out of that because I was drained, drained. It's like being drained daily because of all these incidents. They did take their toll. I tended to keep most to myself because of these incidents and reports kept coming in, 'He's not socialising.' They expected me to socialise. With these reports coming in, these remarks being made, how can you socialise? No matter how hard or strong you are it does affect you, especially when you have to come there every day, and work with your colleagues, with other people. (Holdaway, 1996: p. 166)

This resigner's experience and response to it is remarkably similar to the experiences of black and Asian people generally to what Satnam Virdee calls 'low level' harassment. (See Virdee, 1995: p. 46) A survey of 202 Police officers and 130 civilian staff of the South Yorkshire Police, carried out in 1995, - and a parallel volunteer survey of which 14 were male and 7 female and 18 were from the ethnic majority and 3 from ethnic minorities - found that 'bullying, racial and sexual harassment, racial and sexual discrimination and other forms of intimidatory behaviour are happening regularly in the South Yorkshire Police'. They also concluded that:

The important exceptions are:

The Sunday Express expose quotes WPC Janet Blagsted, who along with her colleague WPC Karen Duffield sued the Metropolitan Police for sexual discrimination and sexual harassment dating back to 1992, about the Met's commitment to equal opportunities:

The Met is always handing out glossy leaflets on new new equal opportunities policies but they might as well be binned. (Blackman and Alford, 1996: p. 11)

The survey carried out by the South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation found that

Virtually all the volunteer respondents contributed suggestions when asked if there were any improvements they would like to see in policies and procedures at South Yorkshire Police. Two recurrent themes were that the existing policies and procedures were satisfactory but that they should be fully and consistently implemented and that supervisors and managers should be more fully trained in these policies and procedures and in inter-personal skills. (Police Federation, 1996, ¶105)

At the same time there were a number of comments which the authors find are disturbing, e.g. 'I don't think ethnic minorities are going to get equal opportunities within South Yorkshire Police'; and another one which points to the determination of supervisors to tackle the problem: 'Supervisors should sort out the racist remarks.' (Police Federation, 1996, ¶107)

Conclusion: Symbolism or Substance?

Sir Herman Ouseley, Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, wrote to Macpherson and stated that:

This Inquiry offers a unique opportunity to make a difference; not only with the MPS and its failings, but for all our institutions ... there should be coherence across all institutions and organisations as part of a national framework for change. Without this any change would be merely piecemeal, limited, and unlikely to be long-lasting. (Macpherson, 1999, ¶6.39, p. 29)

The question facing us is whether the Government will be willing to meet this challenge. It is interesting to note that Lord Callaghan, the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, admitted in January 1999 that the Labour Government of 1968 had made a mistake when it failed to include the police in their operational functions within the terms of the Race Relations Act 1968. At the time the justification was that the police disciplinary code would be amended to include an offence of racial discrimination. Callaghan reported to the Cabinet in November 1968 that the Government were withdrawing this proposal because of the universal opposition it had engendered from the Police Federation, the Chief Constables, the Police Advisory Board and from the local government members of the Board. In his memorandum of 6 November 1968, (C (68) 122) he states:

3. The strength of criticism from within the police service, and from police authorities, has proved too formidable....I had occasion to address the Annual Conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales and was left in no doubt of the unanimous opposition of the delegates to the proposal. Their views are intense and deep-seated. At the Board itself ... the proposal was strongly criticised by all the bodies present, including the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations as well as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. ...

4. Themain points made by and on behalf of the police service was that members of that service make a declaration upon appointment that they will serve the Queen in the office of constable 'without favour' and that to have a specific provision in the code about racial discrimination would be to pick out the service in such a way as to put a slur upon it. If any acts of discrimination should occur they were already covered by one or other of the provisions of the existing code. (C (68) 122, 1968, p. 1)

Callaghan gives the game away in the next paragraph when he shows that the Government's commitment to the racial discrimination clause was 'presentational' and was no longer necessary:

5. We originally thought that the proposal would have a presentational advantage in that it could be used to counter any Parliamentary criticism of the fact that the Bill did not cover the police in their operational role. In the event, this issue was not raised in either House. There is no evidence for any enthusiasm for the proposal on the part of the immigrant organisations. (C (68) 122, 1968, p. 2)

Not only did the Home Secretary and his colleagues come to the conclusion that such protection of black people's rights against police racism was no longer necessary with the balance of disadvantages clearly outweighing the presentational advantages, there were other, related considerations which they had to consider - and which might play a role in the present discussion as well:

6. ... If I were to proceed notwithstanding the unanimous advice of the representatives of the service and of the police authorities on the Police Advisory Board, there is no doubt that there would be very great resentment in the lower ranks of the service, a considerable outcry by them and strong opposition in Parliament at a time when, as the events on 27th October showed, we are dependent on the loyalty of the police in dealing with manifestations of civil unrest, both racial and general. (C (68) 122, 1968, p. 2)

What gives pause even in the face of the acceptance of the term institutional racism and the reopening of cases of racial murders which had been ignored in the past - even after Stephen Lawrence's death[3] - is the continuing refusal by Sir Paul Condon to accept that need to actually discipline or dismiss police officers guilty of lying or abusing black people. His opposition to the extension of race relations legislation to cover the MPS is a far from positive sign. The opposition of the right wing media and their attempt to make reforms illegitimate by claiming that they give privileged treatment to black people is another hurdle that we must overcome. There has already begun a campaign to challenge the legitimacy of Macpherson and to argue that it goes too far, that it vilifies decent, hard-working police officers, and that it represents a threat to our liberties.

Much of the initial media and political response to Macpherson focused on whether Sir Paul Condon should resign. It is significant that not a single national newspaper supported calls from the Society of Black Lawyers or from Diane Abbott, MP and Bernie Grant, MP for him to resign. Instead there were calls to 'resist scapegoating' or making him a 'sacrificial lamb' and to allow him the remaining months of his tenure to carry out the changes he had already instituted.

The right-wing press quickly moved beyond the general condemnation of the police failure to bring about the conviction of any of Stephen Lawrence's murderers to attacks on Macpherson and the Labour government and denials of the existence of institutional racism. Polly Toynbee in an article entitled, 'The White Backlash' in The Guardian of 3 March 1999 quotes a number of these articles and editorials. After quoting a number of racist letters published in the Daily Telegraph, she quotes a leader in that newspaper entitled 'The Lynch Mob' - but:

... not referring to the lynch mob that knifed Stephen Lawrence but to that conservative judge Sir William Macpherson: 'His report is appallingly patronising towards the police. ... their canteen culture is constantly disparaged. ... It is already reported by front-line officers on patrol last night that black youths were taunting them saying they would not be able to arrest them now. There will be more and more of that, and worse. Middle England has been slow to wake up to what is happening. ... [The report] represents an attempt, inspired by the worst excesses of American academe, to make life intolerable for the defenders of bourgeois democracy. (Toynbee, 1999: p. 20)

The issue, however, is not one of privileged treatment for black people. It is how the conditions can be created for black people to enjoy the democratic rights that they are entitled to in British society, how they can enjoy the security and safety which are the prerequisites of life and playing a full part in the society. Democracy and security cannot be provided for some in society and denied others.

This struggle for democracy must involve public agencies working in conjunction with black community groups to develop a co-ordinated strategy for combating racism and racially-motivated crimes. Local racial attack and police monitoring groups based in black communities must be supported with public money and must play a role in the development of policies and strategies to counter racism. The Institute of Race Relations identifies these and a number of other key priorities, including the need for a comprehensive, independent review of policing and criminal justice policies as they impact on black people to be conducted outside the Home Office. Their last recommendation crucially identifies the need to change education practice - and parallels Macpherson's final recommendation which also addresses these issues:

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. (Institute of Race Relations, 1999a, p. 2) 67. That consideration be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order to better reflect the needs of a diverse society.

68. That Local Education Authorities and school Governors have the duty to create and implement strategies in their schools to prevent and address racism. Such strategies to include:

  • that schools record all racist incidents;
  • that all recorded incidents are reported to the pupils' parents/guardians, school Governors and LEAs;
  • that the numbers of racist incidents are published annually, on a school by school basis; and
  • that the numbers and self defined ethnic identity of 'excluded' pupils are published annually on a school by school basis.

69. That OFSTED inspections include examination of the implementation of such stratgies.

70. That in creating strategies under the provisions of the Crime & Disorder Act or otherwise Police Services, local Government and relevant agencies should specifically consider implementing community and local initiatives aimed at promoting cultural diversity and addressing racism and the need for focused, consistent support for such initiatives. (Macpherson, 1999, Recommendations, pp. 334-335)

The challenge facing British society and the Labour Government is to withstand the ideological assaults on Macpherson and the appeals to theories of 'rotten apples' and 'special treatment' and to make the fundamental changes in British institutions which will be necessary to provide justice and democracy.


1I would like to thank Huw Beynon for his assistance and the Department of Sociology, University of Manchester for its support. This chapter is based on a chapter in the forthcoming, Race Card: Race and Politics in Postwar Britain, by Huw Beynon and Louis Kushnick. London: Rivers Oram Press.

2Chevigny reports on the findings of the Christopher Commission (investigating the Los Angeles Police Department) and of the Kolts Commission (investigating the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department at the same time as the Christopher Commission was sitting). He quotes their findings that there were fundamental failures of internal discipline and of prosecutions to control police brutality to such an extent that the city of Los Angeles paid more than $20 million just for the excessive-force cases involving the LAPD that the Christopher Commission was able to trace between January 1986 and 1990. The county was found to have paid more than $15 million between January 1989-May 1992 for excessive-force cases involving the LASD (Chevigny, 1995, 52-53).

3See report in The Observer, 21 March 1999: p. 4 - 'Police told to re-open 25 racist murder cases'.


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