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Image © Sir William Macpherson

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry

February 1999

6.1 A central and vital issue which has permeated our Inquiry has been the issue of racism. The chilling condemnation, made by and on behalf of Mr & Mrs Lawrence at and after the Inquest in February 1997 (see Chapter 42, paras 13 & 37), of the police and of the system of English justice, has sounded through all the months of our consideration of the evidence. Mr & Mrs Lawrence allege and fervently believe that their colour, culture and ethnic origin, and that of their murdered son, have throughout affected the way in which the case has been dealt with and pursued. Similarly strong allegations are made on behalf of Duwayne Brooks. These allegations are plainly supported by many people, both black and white, in our Public Gallery and in the community at large.

6.2 The Kent Report "found no evidence to support the allegation of racist conduct by any Metropolitan Police Officer involved in the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence", (Kent Report, para 14.28). The Kent investigation was however (as is set out at paragraph 14.25) "an investigation into complaints against specific officers and as such could not cover the broader issues of racism and whether or not it existed within the MPS". Each of 17 officers interviewed by Kent was baldly asked whether his or her "judgment and subsequent actions were based on the fact that Stephen was black". In some cases Mrs Lawrence's condemnatory words about the lack of first aid were quoted to the officers. Each officer roundly denied racism or racist conduct. Each officer plainly and genuinely believed that he or she had acted without overt racist bias or discrimination. The answers given were thus predictable.

6.3 In this Inquiry we have not heard evidence of overt racism or discrimination, unless it can be said that the use of inappropriate expressions such as "coloured" or "negro" fall into that category. The use of such words, which are now well known to be offensive, displays at least insensitivity and lack of training. A number of officers used such terms, and some did not even during their evidence seem to understand that the terms were offensive and should not be used.

6.4 Racism in general terms consists of conduct or words or practices which disadvantage or advantage people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. In its more subtle form it is as damaging as in its overt form.

6.5 We have been concerned with the more subtle and much discussed concept of racism referred to as institutional racism which (in the words of Dr Robin Oakley) can influence police service delivery "not solely through the deliberate actions of a small number of bigoted individuals, but through a more systematic tendency that could unconsciously influence police performance generally".

6.6 The phrase "institutional racism" has been the subject of much debate. We accept that there are dangers in allowing the phrase to be used in order to try to express some overall criticism of the police, or any other organisation, without addressing its meaning. Books and articles on the subject proliferate. We must do our best to express what we mean by those words, although we stress that we will not produce a definition cast in stone, or a final answer to the question. What we hope to do is to set out our standpoint, so that at least our application of the term to the present case can be understood by those who are criticised.

6.7 In 1981 Lord Scarman's Report into The Brixton Disorders was presented to Parliament. In that seminal report Lord Scarman responded to the suggestion that "Britain is an institutionally racist society," in this way:-

"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". (Para 2.22, p 11 - Scarman Report).

6.8 In policing terms Lord Scarman also rejected the allegation that the MPS was a racist force. He said:-

"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". (Para 4.62, p 64).

6.9 Lord Scarman accepted that some police officers, particularly those below the level of the senior direction of the force were guilty of "ill considered immature and racially prejudiced actions .... in their dealings on the streets with young black people". (Para 4.63, p 64). He stressed that "racist" prejudice and behaviour "does occur and every instance of it has an immense impact on community attitudes and beliefs. The damage done by even the occasional display of racial prejudice is incalculable. It is therefore essential that every possible step be taken to prevent and to root out racially prejudiced attitudes in the police service. The police cannot rest on the argument that since they are a cross-section of society some officers are bound to be racially prejudiced. In this respect, as in others, the standards we apply to the police must be higher than the norms of behaviour prevalent in society as a whole". (Para 4.64, p 64).

6.10 Lord Scarman (Para 4.63) moreover referred specifically to the dangers of "racist" stereotyping when he said:

"Racial prejudice does manifest itself occasionally in the behaviour of a few officers on the street. It may be only too easy for some officers, faced with what they must see as the inexorably rising tide of street crime, to lapse into an unthinking assumption that all young black people are potential criminals".

6.11 Such assumptions are still made today. In answer to a question posed to a member of the MPS Black Police Association, Inspector Leroy Logan, he referred to "what is said in the canteen", citing simply as an example his memory that " ... as a Sergeant I was in the back of a car and a female white officer on seeing a black person driving a very nice car just said "I wonder who he robbed to get that?", and she then realised she was actually voicing an unconscious assumption". (Part 2, Day 2, p 215). This is a mere example of similar experiences repeatedly given to us during our public meetings.

6.12 Lord Scarman further said:-

"All the evidence I have received, both on the subject of racial disadvantage and more generally, suggests that racialism and discrimination against black people - often hidden, sometimes unconscious - remain a major source of social tension and conflict". (Para 6.35, p 110).

6.13 Thus Lord Scarman accepted the existence of what he termed "unwitting" or "unconscious" racism. To those adjectives can be added a third, namely "unintentional". All three words are familiar in the context of any discussion in this field. The Commissioner used all three in his letter written to the Inquiry on 2 October 1998, after his appearance at Hannibal House during our hearings.

6.14 Dr Oakley indicates (in his first submission to the Inquiry, Paragraph 2) that in spite of Lord Scarman's use of the words "hidden and unconscious" and "unwitting" the concept of "racist conduct" that became established following his Report "was one of overt acts of discrimination or hostility by individuals who were acting out their personal prejudices. Racism was therefore a problem specifically of individual officers, of 'rotten apples' within the service who 'let the side down'. On this diagnosis, the solution to the problem would lie (a) at the selection stage, at which prejudiced individuals should be identified and weeded out, and (b) through the application of disciplinary sanctions against those who display such behaviour on the job. This conception of racism appears still to be the normal understanding in police circles, and appears also to have informed the conclusion by the PCA".

6.15 When Lord Scarman asserted in his final conclusion that "institutional racism does not exist in Britain: but racial disadvantage and its nasty associate racial discrimination have not yet been eliminated", (Para 9.1, p 135), many took this statement as the classic defence against all allegations that "institutional racism" exists in British society. His earlier words "knowingly, as a matter of policy, discriminates" and "practices may be adopted .... which are unwittingly discriminatory," were not separated and given equal weight. Whilst we must never lose sight of the importance of explicit racism and direct discrimination, in policing terms if the phrase "institutional racism" had been used to describe not only explicit manifestations of racism at direction and policy level, but also unwitting discrimination at the organisational level, then the reality of indirect racism in its more subtle, hidden and potentially more pervasive nature would have been addressed.

6.16 The officers questioned by the Kent investigators expressed their indignation at any suggestion of overt racism. The Kent Report in our view however, never dealt satisfactorily with the other evil of unwitting racism, in both talk and action, played out in a variety of ways. The evidence we heard in this Inquiry revealed how unwitting racist discriminatory language and behaviour may arise.

6.17 Unwitting racism can arise because of lack of understanding, ignorance or mistaken beliefs. It can arise from well intentioned but patronising words or actions. It can arise from unfamiliarity with the behaviour or cultural traditions of people or families from minority ethnic communities. It can arise from racist stereotyping of black people as potential criminals or troublemakers. Often this arises out of uncritical self-understanding born out of an inflexible police ethos of the "traditional" way of doing things. Furthermore such attitudes can thrive in a tightly knit community, so that there can be a collective failure to detect and to outlaw this breed of racism. The police canteen can too easily be its breeding ground.

6.18 As Lord Scarman said (Para 4.97) there can be " .... failure to adjust policies and methods to meet the needs of policing a multi-racial society". Such failures can occur simply because police officers may mistakenly believe that it is legitimate to be "colour blind" in both individual and team response to the management and investigation of racist crimes, and in their relationship generally with people from minority ethnic communities. Such an approach is flawed. A colour blind approach fails to take account of the nature and needs of the person or the people involved, and of the special features which such crimes and their investigation possess. As Mr Dan Crompton, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC), helpfully said to us it is no longer enough to believe "all that is necessary is to treat everyone the same. .... it might be said it is about treatment according to need." (Part 2, Day 2, p 57).

6.19 Professor Simon Holdaway (in his helpful statement to the Inquiry, para 3.3, 12 June 1998) says this:-

"By policing normally, in what officers regard as common sense ways, in failing to reflect on the implications of their ideas and notions, negative relationships between the police and ethnic minorities are created and sustained".

6.20 In the Rotterdam Charter, "Policing for a multi-ethnic society; Principles, Practices and Partnership (1996)" (para 2, p 10), the following words appear:-

"A multi ethnic society places special demands on the police organisation. As a result the police must accept the need to adapt their professionalism, quality of service and their legal and wider responsibilities to the needs of a continually changing population. The goal is to provide services that are applicable and accessible to all citizens regardless of their ethnic background".

6.21 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 & 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.

6.22 What may be termed collective organisational failure of this kind has come to be labelled by academics and others as institutional racism. This is by no means a new term or concept. In 1967 two black activists, Stokely Carmichael and Charles V Hamilton stated that institutional racism "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society. It relies on the active and pervasive operation of anti-black attitudes and practices. A sense of superior group position prevails: whites are 'better' than blacks and therefore blacks should be subordinated to whites. This is a racist attitude and it permeates society on both the individual and institutional level, covertly or overtly". (Black Power: the Politics of Liberation in America, Penguin Books, 1967, pp 20-21).

6.23 Reference to a concept described in a different national and social context over 30 years ago has its dangers; but that concept has been continuously debated and revised since 1968. History shows that "covert" insidious racism is more difficult to detect. Institutions such as Police Services can operate in a racist way without at once recognising their racism.

6.24 It is vital to stress that neither academic debate nor the evidence presented to us leads us to say or to conclude that an accusation that institutional racism exists in the MPS implies that the policies of the MPS are racist. No such evidence is before us. Indeed the contrary is true. It is in the implementation of policies and in the words and actions of officers acting together that racism may become apparent. Furthermore we say with emphasis that such an accusation does not mean or imply that every police officer is guilty of racism. No such sweeping suggestion can be or should be made. The Commissioner's fears are in this respect wholly unfounded.

6.25 Sir Paul Condon himself said this in his letter to the Inquiry dated 2 October 1998:-

"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 it 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."

Sir Paul will go thus far, but he did not accept that there is institutional racism within his force.

6.26 We understand Sir Paul's anxiety about labels. But the fact is that the concept of institutional racism exists and is generally accepted, even if a long trawl through the work of academics and activists produces varied words and phrases in pursuit of a definition. We repeat that we do not pretend to produce a definition which will carry all argument before it. We approach the question by setting out some helpful quotations from evidence put before us, and we then set out our current standpoint. We began our Inquiry without presuppositions in this field. All the evidence and submissions that we have heard have driven us to the conclusions set out in this Report.

6.27 The MPS Black Police Association's spokesmen, in their written submission to the Inquiry, para 3.2, said this:-

".... institutional racism .... permeates the Metropolitan Police Service. This issue above all others is central to the attitudes, values and beliefs, which lead officers to act, albeit unconsciously and for the most part unintentionally, and treat others differently solely because of their ethnicity or culture"

6.28 The oral evidence of the three representatives of the MPS Black Police Association was illuminating. It should be read in full, but we highlight two passages from Inspector Paul Wilson's evidence:-

(Part 2, Day 2, p 209):

"The term institutional racism should be understood to refer to the way the institution or the organisation may systematically or repeatedly treat, or tend to treat, people differentially because of their race. So, in effect, we are not talking about the individuals within the service who may be unconscious as to the nature of what they are doing, but it is the net effect of what they do".

(Part 2, Day 2, p 211):

"A second source of institutional racism is our culture, our culture within the police service. Much has been said about our culture, the canteen culture, the occupational culture. How and why does that impact on individuals, black individuals on the street? Well, we would say the occupational culture within the police service, given the fact that the majority of police officers are white, tends to be the white experience, the white beliefs, the white values.

Given the fact that these predominantly white officers only meet members of the black community in confrontational situations, they tend to stereotype black people in general. This can lead to all sorts of negative views and assumptions about black people, so we should not underestimate the occupational culture within the police service as being a primary source of institutional racism in the way that we differentially treat black people.

Interestingly I say we because there is no 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".

We believe that it is essential that the views of these officers should be closely heeded and respected.

6.29 The 1990 Trust in their submission wrote:-

".... racism can be systemic and therefore institutional without being apparent in broad policy terms. Racism within the police can be both covert and overt, racism can be detected in how operational policing decisions are carried out and consequently implemented, and indeed how existing policy is ignored or individual officers' discretion results in racist outcomes".

6.30 The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in their submission stated:-

"Institutional racism has been defined as those established laws, customs, and practices which systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in society. If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs or practices, the institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have racial intentions".

(Para 2).

".... organisational structures, policies, processes and practices which result in ethnic minorities being treated unfairly and less equally, often without intention or knowledge". (Para 3).

6.31 Dr Robin Oakley has submitted two helpful Notes to our Inquiry. It is perhaps impudent to cite short extracts from his work, but these passages have particularly assisted us:-

"For the police service, however, there is an additional dimension which arises from the nature of the policing role. Police work, unlike most other professional activities, has the capacity to bring officers into contact with a skewed cross-section of society, with the well-recognised potential for producing negative stereotypes of particular groups. Such stereotypes become the common currency of the police occupational culture. If the predominantly white staff of the police organisation have their experience of visible minorities largely restricted to interactions with such groups, then negative racial stereotypes will tend to develop accordingly."

In Dr Oakley's view, if the challenges of 'institutional racism' which potentially affect all police officers, are not addressed, this will:-

"result in a generalised tendency, particularly where any element of discretion is involved, whereby minorities may receive different and less favourable treatment than the majority. Such differential treatment need be neither conscious nor intentional, and it may be practised routinely by officers whose professionalism is exemplary in all other respects. There is great danger that focusing on overt acts of personal racism by individual officers may deflect attention from the much greater institutional challenge ... of addressing the more subtle and concealed form that organisational-level racism may take. Its most important challenging feature is its predominantly hidden character and its inbuilt pervasiveness within the occupational culture."

He goes on:-

"It could be said that institutional racism in this sense is in fact pervasive throughout the culture and institutions of the whole of British society, and is in no way specific to the police service. However, because of the nature of the police role, its impact on society if not addressed in the police organisation may be particularly severe. In the police service, despite the extensive activity designed to address racial and ethnic issues in recent years, the concept of 'institutional racism' has not received the attention it deserves." (Institutional Racism and Police Service Delivery, Dr Robin Oakley's submission to this Inquiry, parts of paras 6, 7, 8, and 11).

6.32 Dr Oakley in his second Note (17 December 1988) echoes the view of Professor Holdaway who has argued rightly that emotively powerful words such as "racism" must not be used simply as rhetorical weapons:-

"Such terms need to be given a clear analytic meaning which can demonstrably help illuminate the problem at hand". (Para 1.4).

"The term institutional racism should be understood to refer to the way institutions may systematically treat or tend to treat people differently in respect of race. The addition of the word 'institutional' therefore identifies the source of the differential treatment; this lies in some sense within the organisation rather than simply with the individuals who represent it. The production of differential treatment is 'institutionalised' in the way the organisation operates". (Para 2.2).

Towards the end of his Note Dr Oakley says this:-

"What is required in the police service therefore is an occupational culture that is sensitive not just to the experience of the majority but to minority experience also. In short, an enhanced standard of police professionalism to meet the requirements of a multi-ethnic society" (Para 5.6).

6.33 We are also grateful for the contribution to our Inquiry made by Dr Benjamin Bowling. Again it must be said that summaries of such work can be unhelpful. But we hope that he will forgive us for quoting here simply one important passage:-

"Institutional racism is the process by which people from ethnic minorities are systematically discriminated against by a range of public and private bodies. If the result or outcome of established laws, customs or practices is racially discriminatory, then institutional racism can be said to have occurred. Although racism is rooted in widely shared attitudes, values and beliefs, discrimination can occur irrespective of the intent of the individuals who carry out the activities of the institution. Thus policing can be discriminatory without this being acknowledged or recognised, and in the face of official policies geared to removal of discrimination. However, some discrimination practices are the product of uncritical rather than unconscious racism. That is, practices with a racist outcome are not engaged in without the actor's knowledge; rather, the actor has failed to consider the consequences of his or her actions for people from ethnic minorities. Institutional racism affects the routine ways in which ethnic minorities are treated in their capacity as employees, witnesses, victims, suspects and members of the general public." Violent Racism: Victimisation, Policing and Social Context, July 1998. (Paras 21-22, pp 3-4).

6.34 Taking all that we have heard and read into account we grapple with the problem. For the purposes of our Inquiry the concept of institutional racism which we apply consists of:

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.

It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of the organisation. It is a corrosive disease.

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