Having had over 30 years experience dealing with the issue of race and policing I speak with some authority on this subject. The parlous state of police black community relations is the worst I have ever known it and that is not just my view. Every single black commentator of note, has of late, pointed to this disastrous state of affairs. The responsibility for this lies with the Labour and Conservative parties, both of whom failed to recognise the importance of maintaining pressure on the police to fully implement the Stephen Lawrence Macpherson report recommendations.
The latest race crisis facing the MPS is profound and deeply disturbing. It represents the most significant political challenge facing London today.
Most of us would have read with horror the growing number of race cases in the media that have placed this issue on the top of the political agenda. The inconvenient truth is that there are many more cases that are at least as bad as these not yet in the public domain because of legal or other considerations.
One particularly horrendous case, involves a young black policeman who endured a racist nightmare whilst off duty at the hands of his ‘colleagues’.
These cases will emerge over the course of the next few months. This will continue to escalate the anxiety and concern. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe should be concerned: I predict that this could well lead to his sacking and being the fall guy for his masters’ political failures.
The National Black Police Association has called for the Prime Minister to ‘get a grip ‘of the issue of racism in policing. The Metropolitan Black Police Association is equally as critical: calling for the reinstatement of the Home Office Stephen Lawrence Steering Group that focused on monitoring the recommendations of the seminal McPherson Report.
I want to stress that given my past associations, as far as I am concerned this is not a party political issue. It was the Labour Government that first made the mistake of beginning the dismantling of the Stephen Lawrence monitoring framework under former Home Secretary Charles Clarke.
He had responded to political pressure from Chief Constables, the right wing press and all were engaged in a rearguard action to reject the label ‘institutional racism.’ Not only did I criticise this decision at the time, but the man who agreed to establish the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry, former Home Secretary Jack Straw, has subsequently admitted that on reflection he believes this was a serious mistake.
Of course the attack on the concept of institutional racism was facilitated by one of their own then picked up by Prime Minister David Cameron. Equalities Human Rights Commission Chair Sir Trevor Phillips, whose legacy will be remembered for his catastrophic agreement to abolish the Commission for Race Equality, was the poster boy for those arguing there was an over emphasis on race issues. . In a speech in January 2009 Phillips stated that the term ‘institutional racism’ levelled against the Metropolitan Police by the Macpherson Report into Stephen Lawrence's death was no longer appropriate.
"The use of the term was incendiary," he said. "It rocked the foundations of the police service and caused widespread anguish in government.”
No doubt Trevor will be elevated to the House of Lords as payment for his services to racism and keeping his mouth shut whilst the Government and the Mayor drive a coach and horses through the Equality Act and decimate the Commissions funding. The Phillips legacy to race relations will be to leave the country in a worse state than he found it.
We have a growing tradition within black communities of a posse of Black Anglo Saxons led by Trevor that ruthlessly seek personal influence and career progression by saying those things that the right wing would love to say, but lack the guts too do so for fear of being branded racist. So they employ people who look like us to fly their racist kites providing cover and credibility for their eager racism.
Rarely in our history have there been so many black people who are so willing, so eager to betray their communities for celebrity and mammon.
What Phillips comments unleashed was a virulent and sustained attack on the reality of multiculturalism in general and race equality policies specifically. The resultant political environment led to politicians, local authorities and police forces all over the country scaling back their policy priorities regarding race issues.
Whilst in office as Kens Policing Director I kept all the pressure I could on the MPS: insisting that despite Clarke and Phillips they retained their focus on implementing the McPherson report recommendations. With a progressive and fantastically racially diverse Metropolitan Police Authority and a progressive Mayor we made reasonable progress but in my mind this was always going to be a 20-year programme of reform.
The forthcoming Mayoral elections provide an opportunity to hold former Mayor Boris Johnson to account for his epic failures on race issues particularly on policing.
In 2008 during the post election euphoria, Boris and the London Tories were infected by their own racist propaganda. The racist hysterical media smear campaign manufactured by the Boris Johnson campaign led by Lynton Crosby, prosecuted by Andrew Gilligan and printed by the London Evening Standard, resulted in Boris, in an act of great hubris determining that Ken Livingstone’s strong focus on race equality was nothing more than ‘ethnic group pandering’ a left wing idiocy that was both divisive and counterproductive.
The result was that Johnson dismantled or simply disregarded racism as a real issue for London. Boris Johnson’s most dangerous delusion was that racism was simply the ‘grievance politics’ of blacks with ‘huge chips on their shoulders’ or ‘special group pleading’.
In one of the most diverse cities in the world this was a critical and profoundly political error that cost London and the entire country dear. Boris’s ignorance and naivety led him to believe that simply focusing on the policing of youth violence would be enough to win over a black community that was rocked by the rising levels of youth violence. His failure and betrayal of the black community on this issue alone should be enough to see him lose the Mayoral election.
His sole preventative measure of note was his mentoring scheme for black boys. This has been a miserable and desperate failure, described as such even by his personal supporters. This and his over reliance on the use of stop and search and his cavalier attitude to black men dying in police custody should result in him losing every single black and progressive white vote in London.
The fact is that institutional racism is the cultural default setting for British institutions and the reason for this calamitous state of affairs is the rampant return of institutional racism. Without significant and constant political pressure to reform, the Policing Empire strikes back. What this abrogation of political responsibility born of ideological prejudice has produced is a black community that now perceives itself as subject to an unremitting wall of racism, by an army of occupation that now characterises the MPS policing of parts of London. Such an acute failure to both appreciate and understand the fraught history of relations of black communities and accept the reality of institutional racism within the service is an error of catastrophic proportions.
Neither the current Mayor, nor the Commissioner, Prime Minister or the Home Secretary believe that the MPS nor British policing in general is in any way systemically racist preferring the ‘few rotten apples’ analysis.
When considered in this light, Boris’s failure to recognise rising black community concerns about the eye watering rise of stop and search rates that he specifically requested and the huge rise in suspicious deaths of black men in police custody, such malign neglect is simply criminal. We should remember that Boris had plenty of warning of rising tensions both in private and public prior to the August riots. As such, Boris’s failure on race can be seen as the most serious and ultimately tragic political error of his term of office.
Boris’s blind spot on racism indirectly resulted in people losing their lives in London during the riots and elsewhere and shops and businesses being burnt to the ground as Boris, dangerously oblivious to these issues sauntered on with his 6th form debating style of chummy bravado. The fact is Boris was and remains out of touch with multicultural London and therefore out of touch with reality. To adopt a famous quote: ‘If a man is tired of multicultural London, he is tired of life itself.’
Boris had no credible political adviser or advice from the black community. That’s because after the Ray Lewis debacle (ironically Lewis became a victim of the climate of racism Boris’s campaign had engendered) he decided that he would not have any black advisor at all, despite being urged to do so. He felt that it was unnecessary as our community could be bought off cheaply and to a certain extent, at least for the first 2 years, he was right. However, his failure to do so would ultimately cost London and the country dear.
|Boris Johnson and Ray Lewis. (Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA)|
The real improvements in police and back community relations made since the publication of the Macpherson report have been squandered by the former Labour and current Tory led governments and a Mayor who shares this cross party ideological blind spot on race.
In a multicultural city like London such wilful ignorance is fatal. The Commissioner and the incoming Mayor have to accept that the MPS remains institutionally racist and reinstate all the focus on restoring trust and confidence as a top priority.
It is a fact that, had Ken been in office, I would have met with the Duggan family, co-ordinated the IPCC response and organised public meetings with community leaders from Tottenham to provide reassurance and support. I believe that such an intervention would have averted the riots. This is exactly what we did and more when Roger Sylvester died in Tottenham after being arrested. We even insisted that the MPA paid the Sylvester’s legal expenses.
The Mayoral elections in London are an important opportunity to debate these issues. Mayoral candidates should be ruthlessly pressed as to where they stand on the issue of London’s multiculturality, racism and racial disadvantage.
Such is the depth of the current crisis that I believe that if another critical ‘policing incident’ occurs on the streets then London and the country could see further widespread unrest. The word on the street is not ‘if’ but when.
This Coalition Government and the former Mayor Boris Johnson’s ideological blind spot on race issues in general has become hugely problematic in relation to policing.
Their expressed belief is that institutional racism is no longer an issue for the MPS. In the last four years in London Boris failed to address this issue and that trend was accelerated during the last two years following the general election.
This has contributed to an unrestrained and now resurgent culture of institutional racism in the MPS. There are many more cases that are not yet in the public domain.
In the last four years in London stop and search rates have increased by over 300%. Deaths in custody rates have increased by 100% and suspicious deaths of black men by 120%. There are less black senior officers today than there were in 2007. Add to this the phone hacking scandal, the shootings of Mark Duggan and George Asare and the allegations that the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence was derailed by a corrupt officer; and the whole issue of the riots and any fool can see why things as bad as they are .
As a result the relationship between black communities and the Metropolitan Police Service is at crisis point. Not content with destroying the Macpherson legacy this Mayor is drastically cutting the finding to the borough Police Consultative Group's that were created after the 1980's disturbances as recommended by Lord Scarman. It is beyond belief that so much damage could have been done in four years.
Whilst sections of the right wing press and the Tories feel that they can usefully ignore these issues as a means of securing short-term electoral support from some Londoners, this has and will come at enormous cost to Londoners in the long term. London’s demography demands that tackling racism is and will always remain a priority.
When taken in the context of the naked political attempt by Boris through his useless deputy Kit Malthouse to scale back the MPS inquiry into phone hacking, the revolving door at the Commissioner’s Office, institutional racism, the failure to maintain a focus on tackling racism, all lead us to the inescapable reality of the emerging and deeply damaging culture of political interference in policing.
Those who disagree with this should maybe find another city where political ignorance and personal ambition does not come at such enormous cost: like Henley. I can almost guarantee that if we repeat the arcane stupidity of party ideology coming at the expense of multicultural common sense, London will descend into a racially divided quagmire of conflict and violence. That process has already begun and has been amplified and refracted through the lens of austerity. We need a Mayor who can act in the longer term interests of London, not one who cannot see past his own career ambitions and ideological prejudice.
I don’t want my children fighting the battles of the 1980’s. I do not want them to suffer the kind of racial disadvantage that reduces them to third class citizens in a first class city. I don’t want to see relations and conflict with the police and the black community militarised .I don’t want to see a descent into ghettos of inner city inequality brought on by cuts, surrounded by wealthy gated communities with police officers policing the symptoms of poverty and racism and criminalising both black and poor white communities.
The ultimate logic of my position is that the failed Mayor Boris Johnson has to go, for the reasons above and the need to send a clear message to Prime Minister Cameron that social and economic injustice of the cuts is unacceptable and that in multicultural London, race equality is ignored at his peril.
Any new Mayor should:
- Accept that institutional racism is the core problem. (This is the key question all candidates should be asked in the run up to the Mayoral elections).
- The new incoming Mayor must commit to supporting the call on Government for a public inquiry into all suspicious deaths in custody as called for by the victims support group, the United Friends and Family Campaign. If they refuse the new incoming Mayor should hold a London inquiry.
- The new Mayor must re-establish all the MPA race equality policy boards within the Mayors Office including public consultative forums that were all abolished when Boris Johnson took control of the MPS and abolished the Metropolitan Police Authority.
- Introduce a robust annually published race equality-policing plan that targets racism and disproportionality with clear targets for black police recruitment, promotion and a reduction in all areas of racial disproportionality regarding policing.
- To restore confidence, the new elected Mayor should establish an accountable and diverse Policing Board for London with genuine experienced and credible members.
- Establish an independent London Police Monitoring Group that can monitor and challenge police abuses of power, support informed community consultation and promote good practise in building effective police community relations in London.
- That the new Mayor who has the power to appoint the Policing Commissioner for London allows for democratic elections as a means of improving public confidence.