Dead Men Left

Monday, August 23, 2004

"White police claim racism"

Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be an edifying example of self-criticism on the part of the Metropolitan Police. Rather, it would seem that a selection of London's finest have decided the blacks and Asians are getting a little uppity:

Around half of the long-running race cases being taken to employment tribunals by Met officers now involve white complainants, according to evidence submitted to the Morris inquiry, which is examining the force's treatment of its staff.

The inquiry has uncovered a bitter undercurrent of resistance to change in anonymous interviews with officers, one of whom complained that 'if you are from a [visible ethnic minority] whatever you want, you can have.'

(What, I wonder, stood in the place of "visible ethnic minority"?) In response to the Macpherson Report's finding of "institutional racism" in the Metropolitan Police in 1999, a certain amount of pressure has been applied to the Met to reform. In true New Labour fashion, this has meant the adoption of targets: the Met wishes to see 25% of its force come from ethnic minorities by 2009.

But here is the flaw. The Met maintains this target and provides the pretence that it is dealing with the problem - but nothing much changes. As the figures on stop and search demonstrated, the Metropolitan Police remains as biased against blacks and Asians as ever, continuing to harrass disproportionate numbers of both communities. Racism - not just the perception of racism, but a deeply-ingrained ethos - remains rife inside the Met. The result is that few black and Asian recruits come forward to join London's police - since who would wish to join a flagrantly racist organisation? - and, even more telling, those who do still drop out far sooner than their white counterparts. Last year, for example,13%of ethnic minority recruits failed to complete their training at Hendon, compared to just 6% of white. So great is this lag that Ray Powell, president of National Black Police Association, suggests that to meet the 25% target by 2009 would require up to 80% of new recruits to come from ethnic minorities - which, for the Met, "is ridiculous".

The result is that a variety of apparently far-reaching reforms are having little result but to antagonise the white officers who make up the great majority of the Met's force. Well immersed in the so-called "canteen culture", treating anti-racist initiatives with derision, this pampered group are profoundly unwilling to accept any responsibility for reform. The Morris inquiry itself was established precisely in response to pressure for change, after the collapse of high-profile internal investigations of ethnic minority officers added to the sense that the Met's own procedures are deeply flawed. It has been a grave error to allow the Met to attempt to scrub itself clean; any significant changes must come from outside. Inquiries like Morris' or Macpherson's provide a much-needed exposure of the Met's underbelly, but to enforce inquiry recommendations is another issue: London has never known the benefits of effective, democratic controls over its police force, and the Met's current status of privileged quasi-autonomy is profoundly open to abuse. Whilst racism runs much deeper than just through this sorry organisation, a serious and persistent scrutiny of the police and the application of substantial political pressure may compel some real changes.