Institutionalised Racism in Police – Official

As we go to press, the provisions of the report resulting from the inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence by five white youths have been leaked to the press (the Macpherson Report is due to be officially released on Wednesday 24 February). The report fully justifies the charge which the Lawrence family and their supporters have consistently levelled against the police, namely, that the police force is characterised by `institutional racism’. The report concludes that the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Condon, must unequivocally acknowledge the existence of `institutional racism’ within the force or reconsider his position.

Need for unequivocal acknowledgement

“There must be an unequivocal acceptance,” says the report,

“of the problem of institutionalised racism and its nature before it can be addressed as it needs to be in full partnership with minority ethnic communities Any chief police officer who feels unable to respond will find it extremely difficult to work in harmony and co-operate with the community in the way that policing by consent demands.,”

Not only does the report reject Sir Paul’s view of only limited racism – the bad apple theory – in his force, it also contrasts his approach with the more positive view of other Chief Constables who have accepted that racism is ingrained in the police service.

Pernicious and institutionalised racism

Rejecting Sir Paul’s assertion that there is no culture of racism within the force, the report says that racism within the Metropolitan Police is


and a

“corrosive disease.”

Condemning the abysmal failure of the Met to investigate Stephen’s murder properly, Sir William in his report attributes that failure to an inability to provide a

“professional service”

to ethnic minorities, i.e., to the existence of institutional racism. There was, says Sir William Macpherson in his report, a “

collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture and ethnic origin.

“It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.”

The officers investigating the murder of young Stephen persistently “

underplayed or ignored”

the significance of race relations, they refused for a long time to accept that the attack on Stephen, resulting in his tragic death, had been racially motivated – while at the same time mislaying vital evidence.

Acceptance of flawed internal review

The report makes a direct criticism of Sir Paul’s handling of the Lawrence murder inquiry, accusing him of a

“lack of vigour”

in accepting a flawed internal review which gave the team investigating Stephen’s murder a clean bill of health. Continuing on that internal review, Sir William says:

“The cross-examination was robust and searching but the problems were caused by the failure of the police and answers to questions rather than the nature of the questions. It is of central importance that the Commissioner and his officers should recognise and accept this fact.”

No knowledge of hindsight was needed, says the report, for realisation by senior officers, including the Commissioner, that something was badly wrong.

The report says: “

There was a lack of rigour in the reception of the review document first and foremost by Mr Osland but also by those above him, including the Commissioner himself. Without the need for hindsight the review should have generated questions from the senior officers which may have uncovered the difficulties which have substantially been revealed in this investigation.”

The report also dismisses the criticisms levelled by Sir Paul at the Lawrence inquiry as neither “


or “



While making 70 recommendations aimed at transforming relations between the police and the black community, Sir William goes on to warn those senior police officers, who may find the report’s conclusions unacceptable, that their jobs will become

“extremely difficult.”

His recommendations include, inter alia,

“the Court of Appeal being given the power to permit prosecutions after an earlier acquittal”

when fresh evidence is produced; the outlawing of the use of racist language; advance disclosure to the victims’ families of evidence at inquests. One of the most important recommendations is that which calls for a stiffer Race Relations Act covering the police and possibly the Armed Forces and Immigration Service. Under this recommendation the police officers would lose their exemption from the provisions of the 1968 and 1978 Race Relations Acts in the course of the performance of their duties. Such a change in the law would empower the Commission for Racial Equality to launch investigations into the police.

Most of the conclusions and recommendations of this report are a welcome breath of fresh air, for they drag into the open daylight the hideous racism that has for so long permeated the British police force. But for the dogged and dignified persistence of Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, their dedicated team of lawyers, and the hard work of their supporters, this case would not have gripped the public imagination the way it has done. From being just a victim of a cruel murder, Stephen has posthumously come to represent all such victims of racism, while Doreen and Neville Lawrence, from being the bereaved parents whose young son was cruelly plucked away from them by racist and mindless thugs, have come to symbolise a crusade against racism – one of the filthy and continuing by-products of the system of exploitation of one person by another. Knowing fully well that nothing can bring back their son, they have reason to be well satisfied and to take pride in the fact that they have had the strength to turn their grief at the tragic loss of their son into a torrent which may at long last sweep away at least some of the pernicious racism which characterises the police force – and other parts of the establishment.

There is speculation as to the future of Sir Paul Condon. Whether he stays, goes, or is pushed over, is not that important. Of much greater significance is the question of the fight against racism. The proletarian movement must not act as a mere spectator. It must intervene actively and force the ruling class, and its present executive committee – the Labour government – to put into effect the changes demanded by their own inquiry. For, in the final analysis, it is the proletariat alone which is the true champion of the equality of all workers, irrespective of their race, religion, sex or national origin, for racism divides and weakens the working class and constitutes a major hindrance to its struggle for its own social emancipation. The working-class movement in this country, and in all other European counties, must never for even a moment forget the following immortal words of Karl Marx:

Labour in the white skin can never be free if in the black it is branded.

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