In 2003, the BBC screened the controversial documentary The Secret Policeman, in which undercover reporter Mark Daly revealed racism amongst police recruits in Manchester.
The Secret Policeman was screened amid a storm of publicity in October 2003.
Graphic images of police officers engaged in racist behaviour, filmed by undercover BBC reporter Mark Daly, caused a huge public outcry.
The acting deputy chief constable of North Wales Police Clive Wolfendale said he felt “physically sick” while watching the programme.
The film was commissioned by the BBC in the aftermath of the MacPherson report into the police investigation of the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Published in 1999, the MacPherson report concluded that the Metropolitan police force was “institutionally racist”.
The Metropolitan police was not the only force affected.
David Wilmot, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), launched Operation Catalyst in an attempt to tackle institutional racism within GMP.
He stated “categorically that there is a will and a determination to succeed”.
Police forces across the UK followed suit and promised change.
The report recommends a series of measures that would subject the police to greater public control, enshrine rights for victims of crime and extend the number of offences classified as racist. Freedom of information and race relations legislation will also apply to the police.
The 70 recommendations included:
- The Government establishing a set of performance indicators to monitor the handling of racist incidents, levels of satisfaction with the police service among ethnic minorities, training of family and witness liaison officers, racial awareness training, stop and search procedures, recruitment of ethnic minorities and complaints about racism in police forces.
- Police forces that reflect the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities they serve.
- A freedom of information act that applies to all areas of policing (with the exception of the “substantial harm” test for withholding disclosure in exceptional circumstances).
- Race relations legislation that apply to all police officers.
- The definition of a “racist incident” to include incidents categorised in policing terms both as crimes and non-crimes. This encompasses “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. A new Code of Practice recording all such crimes.
- The public to be encouraged to report racist incidents by making it possible to report them 24 hours a day, and not only at police stations.
- The Association of Chief Police Officers to devise new guidelines for reviews of investigations.
The MacPherson report came on the back of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager.
Stephen Lawrence was born on 13 September 1974. At the time of his death he was studying English, design and technology, craft and physics at the Blackheath Bluecoat School and was hoping to become an architect.
He was attacked at 10:35 pm on 22 April 1993, as he and a friend, Duwayne Brooks, waited at a bus stop in London.
As Brooks called out to ask whether Lawrence saw the bus coming he claimed that he heard one of Lawrence’s assailants saying: “What, what, nigger?” as they all quickly crossed the road and ‘engulfed’ Lawrence, who was then stabbed to a depth of about five inches on both sides of the front of his body, in the chest and arm. Both stab wounds severed axillary arteries. Although he tried to escape, he collapsed and bled to death after running 119 metres.
All three witnesses at the bus stop at the time of the attack said in statements that the attack was sudden and short; none were later able to identify any of the suspects.
In February 1999, officers who were investigating the handling of the initial inquiry revealed that a woman had telephoned detectives three times within the first few days after the killing.
In 2004, the police stated: “The witness who appeared on the right of the scene and walked into Rochester Way with Stephen and Duwayne behind is very important to us. We know who this witness is, she knows who she is, we know what she knows. She has never made a statement. This witness may have been the catalyst for the attack”.
A case was brought against two of the suspects, Neil Acourt, then 17, and Luke Knightwho was 16, who were initially charged with murder, but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case on 29 July 1993 citing insufficient evidence.
In April 1994, Stephen Lawrence’s family initiated a private prosecution against the initial two suspects and three others. The family were not entitled to legal aid and a fighting fund was established to pay for the analysis of forensic evidence and the cost of tracing and re-interviewing witnesses. The family were represented by counsel Michael Mansfield QC, Martin Soorjoo and Margo Boye who acted on an unpaid basis. The charges against the original two suspects were dropped before the trial due to lack of evidence, and the three remaining suspects were acquitted at trial when the judge ruled that the identification evidence given by Duwayne Brooks was inadmissible. Another man, named by the police only as “Phil” was also questioned at this stage.
On 14 February 1997 the Daily Mail newspaper labelled all five of those believed to have attacked and killed Lawrence “murderers”, challenging them to sue the newspaper for libel if they were wrong. The headline read “Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.” Underneath this headline appeared pictures of Gary Dobson, Neil Acourt, Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight, and David Norris. To date, the men have not sued, but they have used appearances in the media to protest their innocence. The Attorney-General later cleared the Daily Mail of contempt of court.
In 2002, two men accused in the Lawrence case, David Norris and Neil Acourt, were convicted and jailed for a racist attack on a plainclothes black police officer.
In July 2010, Gary Dobson was jailed for five years for dealing in drugs.
No one has been convicted of Lawrence’s murder. In November 2007, police confirmed that they were investigating new forensic evidence. Gary Dobson and David Norris were arrested in September 2010, and in May 2011 it was announced they are due to face trial, accused of killing Stephen Lawrence.
Institutional racism describes any kind of system of inequality based on race. It can occur in institutions such as public government bodies (such as the Australian Federal Police or the ACT Department of Treasury), private business corporations (such as Ernst & Young), and universities (public and private). The term was coined by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael in the late 1960s. The definition given by William Macpherson within the report looking into the death of Stephen Lawrence was:
“…the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.
Institutional racism is the differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society. When the differential access becomes integral to institutions it becomes common practice, making it difficult to rectify. Eventually, this racism dominates public bodies, private corporations,and both public and private universities and is reinforced by the actions of conformists and newcomers. Another difficulty in reducing institutionalized racism is that there is no sole, true identifiable perpetrator. When racism is built into the institution, it appears as the collective action of the population.
Professor James M. Jones postulates three major types of racism: (i) Personally-mediated, (ii) internalized, and (iii) institutionalized:
- Personally-mediated racism includes the specific social attitudes inherent to racially-prejudiced action (bigoted differential assumptions about abilities, motives and the intentions of others according to), discrimination (the differential actions and behaviours towards others according to their race), stereotyping, commission and omission (disrespect, suspicion, devaluation, and dehumanization).
- Internalized racism is the acceptance, by members of the racially-stigmatized people, of negative perceptions about their own abilities and intrinsic worth, characterized by low self-esteem and low esteem of others like them. This racism can be manifested through embracing “whiteness” (e.g. stratification by skin colour in non-white communities), self-devaluation (e.g. racial slurs, nicknames, rejection of ancestral culture, etc.) and resignation, helplessness, and hopelessness (e.g. dropping out of school, failing to vote, engaging in health-risk practices, etc.).
Persistent negative stereotypes fuel institutional racism and influence interpersonal relations. Racial stereotyping contributes to patterns of racial residential segregation and shape views about crime, crime policy and welfare policy, especially if the contextual information is stereotype-consistent.
- Institutional racism is distinguished from racial bigotry by the existence of institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures which place non-white racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution’s white members. Examples include the under- and mis-representation of certain racial groups in the mass media and race-based barriers to gainful employment and professional advancement. Additionally, differential access to goods, services and opportunities of society can be included within the term institutional racism, such as unpaved streets and roads, inherited socio-economic disadvantage, “standardized” tests (each ethnic group prepared for it differently; many are poorly prepared), et cetera, all of which can be found in rural and remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.
Institutional Racism in the Australian context
There are many examples I could use to illustrate the nature and extent of institutional racism in Australian society. The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Mr Ward in Western Australia, Kwementyeye Ryder in the Northern Territory, Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island in Queensland, “TJ” Hickey in Redfern New South Wales or Veronica Baxter, a transgender Aboriginal woman who died in a male jail after being arrested at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2009, would in their own ways illustrate how far institutional racism has permeated the very marrow of Australian society. Detractors and racists will however argue that each of these people were in some way responsible for their own deaths because they were either criminals (evidenced by being in police custody or being pursued by police at the time of their deaths) or vagrants. The critical issue here is that being in police custody or pursued by police is not proof of actually having committed an offence. It is for the courts to determine NOT the police.
If we take the case of Ms King and use it to further illustrate the point, none of the above arguments police pursuit, custody or vagrancy apply.
Ms King is Australia’s most senior Aboriginal bank executive. She is tertiary qualified in Arts and Law and has been gainfully employed in the banking sector in Australia since graduating from the University of Sydney. Like Stephen Lawrence, she was getting about her own business when she was racially and indecently attacked at the Waldorf Café in Canberra. Like the Lawrence attack, hers was “sudden and short”. Further similarities are that they both occurred in the capital cities of their respective countries of residence. Lawrence in London, King in Canberra. Both were racially motivated and both have been denied justice because of institutional racism within the respective police services responsible for investigating these crimes. both were victims of an assault which has been insufficiently investigated by the relevant authorities, if investigated at all.
In the Lawrence case witnesses report his assailants saying: “What, what, nigger?” This can be compared to what witnesses reported Ms King’s assailant saying:
“So you’re the big tittered dumb slut who fucks boongs”: this person then leant across the table and slapped Mrs King across the face while shouting that she was a “whore who fucked boongs”. I then stood-up in an effort to protect Mrs King from any further assaults as I did, the man assaulting us grabbed the front of Mrs King dress and ripped it, exposing her bra, he then touched her breast and said “[sic] Looking, the bumb cunt isn’t man enough to protect you, he knows if he touches me, I will go to Quinlan and he will be thrown into jail, that’s where all boongs belong”
The difference is that the GMP have diligently perused Mr Lawrence assailants over the years and have now commenced a further prosecution of them. The Australian Federal Police in the King case not only refused to take a statement from the victim at the time of the alleged offence, but have gone to the point of approaching members of her family to threaten them that they will pursue her if she makes a complaint!
So while Mr Lawrence’s assailants await trial for their crimes, Ms King assailant continues in his employment as a senior ACT Department of Treasury official safe in the knowledge that in Australia Aboriginal victims of ‘white’ crime have no right of redress via the Australian Federal Police, because of the institutionalised racism that is part of every police service and every government department in Australia. Well, perhaps if Ms King waits eighteen years she will also be able to see her assailant finally in the dock answering for his actions back in 2005. Hang in there sister, only another twelve years to go!
Jones, J. M. (1997). Prejudice and Racism (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.