Home Page Index

(Second) WRITTEN SUBMISSION OF THE MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE TO PART TWO OF THE PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO MATTERS ARISING FROM THE DEATH OF STEPHEN LAWRENCE

[basis of the oral testimony given by Nick De Marco, Shah Alam and Alex Owolade to the inquiry hearing at Tower Hamlets on 15 October, 1998]

 

Contents

PART1 INSTITUTIONAL RACISM

Responses to racist attacks

Deaths in police custody

Miscarriages of Justice

Police harassment, Stop & Search powers, and the use of CS Spray

Institutional racism in the courts and the legal system

Institutional racism at the level of political power in British society: the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees

PART 2 EVIDENCE FROM SHAH ALAM

PART 3 CONCLUSIONS ON THE NATURE OF POLICE RACISM

The failure of the training and consultation approaches to 'community relations'

The experience of the Movement for Justice

The problems of 'co-option'

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

 

INSTITUTIONAL RACISM

The term 'institutional racism' has been used with increasing frequency in the course of this inquiry, and with good cause. The actions of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service throughout the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the approach they have taken to the public inquiry itself, can not be explained by incompetence or blamed on a number of individual officers.

However, there is now a sustained attempt to co-opt the term and shift its meaning, reducing it to little more than a synonym for 'unconscious racism'. This can only lead to a profound misunderstanding of the lessons to be learned from this case.

The Movement for Justice takes the view that there is strong evidence of the pattern of police behaviour in the Stephen Lawrence case being repeated in the handling of other racist attacks and in other aspects of police relations with the black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, and that this pattern can only be explained by institutional racism. This is not simply 'unconscious' but is systematically linked to the way the police and the legal system see their function in relation to these communities, and thus to the role of racism in British society and politics.

We indicate below some (inevitably just a small proportion) of the evidence for this view, which is the basis for the conclusions and recommendations in the last part of our submission.

 

Responses to racist attacks

The inquiry has so far focused on police responses to racist attacks, starting with the case of Stephen Lawrence.

As part one of the inquiry has heard in extensive detail, the police showed a general resistance to treating this as a racist murder. For example:-

· Lines of inquiry suggested by the record of racist murders and attacks in the area, and by the racist language used by the attackers, reported by the main eye-witness, Duwayne Brookes, were systematically ignored.

· The first senior investigating officer, Det. Supt. Crampton, decided not to mention the rascist language of the attackers at the press conference the next day.

· Police officers showed an appalling inability to treat the death of a young black man seriously (e.g. the failure to follow up the considerable number of leads, the fiasco of the 'surveillance' operation).

· Officers systematically attempted to undermine and criminalise Duwayne Brooks

However, this pattern of dealing with racist murders and attacks is not a local problem in south-east London.

The approach by the police, the courts and the CPS to racist attacks in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets shows the same institutional racism. We will return to some aspects of these local cases later, but will outline some key features here.

1993 and 1994 saw a spate of particularly vicious racist attacks in the borough, at the time when the BNP had managed to get its candidate elected to a by-election for a council seat in the Isle of Dogs. Despite strong evidence in at least two of these cases, only one person was ever brought to court (in the case of Mukhtar Ahmed) thanks to the evidence of his former girlfriend. No-one else was ever prosecuted, the charges against him were lowered by the CPS, and though he was convicted he walked free at the end of his trial.

We will deal in more detail later with the example of Shah Alam's case below, but here to the police failed to carry out basic forensic tests and identification evidence by the victim and another eye-witness were ignored at committal hearings, with the result that the case never went to trial.

Shah's case, like the treatment of Duwayne Brooks, is evidence that the testimony of young black and Asian survivors of racist attacks in not treated seriously, either by police officers, or the CPS or the courts.

And as if to show that nothing has changed, the police have demonstrated the same approach over the last twelve months in the cases of Lakhvinder (Ricky) Reel and Michael Menson, which have received considerable attention recently. In the former case the police repeatedly refused to take seriously the disappearance of a young Asian man following a racist attack in Kingston, which was described to them by his friends. When his body was eventually discovered in the Thames the police stuck to a line that it was an accident, despite an independent pathologist's evidence that undermined their theory that he had fallen into the river while urinating.

In the case of Michael Menson the police immediately decided, without a shred of evidence, that his death was suicide, and failed to carry out a forensic examination of the scene of the crime. The police refused to take a statement from him while he was in hospital before his death, despite the requests of his family, and though he had described to his brother and to hospital staff how he had been attacked, had petrol poured down his back and set alight by four white youths.

It is worth comparing these cases with the response to the death of Richard Everitt, who was killed in an incident involving a group of Asian youths in the Kings Cross area in August 1994. Within a few hours the local Asian community was swamped by a major police operation. Hundreds of youths were taken in for questioning. There was none of the inaction, delay, and supposed concern about evidence not being full enough, that was seen in the investigation of Stephen Lawrence's death. In the end two of those charged were convicted, even though the counsel for the prosecution and the trial judge accepted that neither had actually killed Richard Everitt.

It seems to us that the repeated pattern of police conduct in a series of racist murders and the contrast with the Richard Everitt case indicate that the police response in these cases is itself racist.

We do not think it is credible that time and again the police fail to recognise that black or Asian people have been attacked or murdered by white people for no other reason than their race, i.e. that these are racist attacks. In our view the evidence leads to a different conclusion, that the police do understand that these attacks and murders are racist, but are not prepared to follow any course of action that acknowledges the fact.

We agree on this point with the final submission to part one of the inquiry by counsel for Duwayne Brookes. We agree with his argument that the police would not publicly acknowledge the racist nature of Stephen Lawrence's murder because they see racism as a 'public order' issue, as shown by their concern about the two massive anti-racist demonstrations in the area in the six months following the murder. That is to say, they see black and Asian people, and their response to racism, as the main public order 'problem'.

 

Deaths in police custody

To see this pattern in the context of institutional racism we need to look at the other main areas of conflict between the police and legal system and the black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities. The starkest example of this institutional racism is the catalogue of deaths in police custody. At least 36 black and Asian people have died in police custody in England and Wales since 1990, 21 of them in the Metropolitan Police area.

The police like to point out that the majority of people who die in police custody are white. This is true, and there are of course many reasons why people may die in custody. However the number of black people who have died in police custody is out of all proportion to the general population, and this disproportion increases greatly when deaths resulting from violent conflicts with the police are taken into account. (We also think it should be noted that on the list of deaths in custody published two years ago by the Metropolitan Police, a disproportionate number of the white names indicated an Irish or Middle Eastern origin.)

It seems to us that these figures are a further expression of institutional racism, and this view is reinforced by the response of the police and the legal system to these deaths. There have been no successful prosecutions of a police officer for the death of a black person in custody. The only prosecution ever brought, in the case of the death of Joy Gardner, ended with the officers who had suffocated Joy to death by winding thirteen feet of tape round her face walking free.

In a number of cases over the last few years there have been neither suspensions, nor disciplinary measures, nor prosecutions where black men have died as a result of violent action by police officers. For example, Brian Douglas died from injuries to his skull resulting from truncheon blows inflicted by officers from Kennington police station, and Wayne Douglas (no relation) died as a result of a violent attack by Brixton officers during which, witnesses report, officers use racist language, but In no officers were suspended, disciplined or charged or charged in either case.

Within the last few weeks the CPS has decided once again not to bring prosecutions in the cases of Ibrahima Sey, who died after being asphyxiated and sprayed at close range with CS Spray in Ilford police station, and Shiji Lapte, who died as a result of a neck-hold by Hackney police officers. This is despite verdicts of unlawful killing from coroners courts in both cases.

Finally we would add that the PCA is holding a conference on deaths in police custody at Church House, Westminster tomorrow (Friday, 16 October) but until this week was refused to allow any of the victims' families to speakers, apparently on the grounds that they would be 'too emotional'. This desision was only modified because of a campaign by the United Families & Friends who called a picket of the conference. It seems to us that the CPS's attitude demonstrates the continuing strength of institutional racism and stereotyping in the legal system.

 

Miscarriages of Justice

The third aspect of institutional racism that has to be considered is widespread miscarriages of justice, where black people have been convicted for crimes of which they were innocent. In particular we would highlight the cases of the 'M25 Three' and Winston Silcott.

The 'M25 Three' were convicted for following a series of robberies close to the M25 motorway. They were convicted despite evidence that they were elsewhere at the time and even though witnesses described the robbers as white. There is an echo here of the conviction (since overturned) in the 'Cardiff 3' case in the 1980s, where three Somali seamen were gaoled for the murder of a prostitute, even though witnesses had described the suspect as white and they had evidence that they were at sea at the time of the murder.

The case of Winston Silcott is particularly worthy of note with regard to institutuional racism. Winston Silcott, along with three others, was convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock during the disturbances on the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham in 1985 (which were a response to the death of a black woman, Cynthia Jarrett, when her house was raided by the police). The conviction of was subsequently overturned, but Winston Silcott was then charged and convicted of an earlier murder (for which he had been on bail at the time when Blakelock was killed) despite evidence that he had acted in self-defence.

The police and sections of the media had tried Winston Silcott before the case ever came to court. They are still making it clear that they think the Blakelock murder charge was only overturned 'on a technicality'.

We would also draw the inquiry's attention to the series of miscarriages of justice involving innocent Irish victims - the Guildford 4, the Birmingham 6, etc - all now overturned after long public campaigns and the victims spending many years in prison. We believe there are parallels between these cases and the cases of Winston Silcott and the two Asian youths convicted of the murder of Richard Everitt. It seems to us these are all miscarriages of justice where members of ethnic minority communities were gaoled because the desire of the police, politicians and media to see someone convicted over-rode the concern for justice and proper evidence.

 

Police harassment, Stop & Search powers, and the use of CS Spray

The background to the fore-going expressions of institutional racism is evidence of widespread, harassment of black and Asian people by the police occuring on a daily basis. The clearest expressions of this harassment are the use of Stop & Search powers, 'Producers', differential rates of arrests and of the use of CS Spray.

Evidence recently published by Statewatch on the basis of Home Office statistics shows an alarming ethnic disproportion in the use of Stop & Search powers. In some areas black people are eight times more likely to be Stopped & Searched than white people. Nearly 90% of those stopped are not charged with any offence, and fewer still actually convicted.

The numbers of searches per 1000 in 1996/97, for all police forces in England and Wales were: white 14.9, black 108.05, Asian 25.37. In the Metropolitan Police area 141.23 black people were stopped per 1000 as against 35.11 white people per 1000.

It seems to us that the only purpose of this power is to allow the police to stop people against whom they have no actual evidence. In effect it allows the police to carry out a kind of ongoing surveillance of sections of the population they regard as potential problems. We believe the evidence of the figures indicates that this is the attitude the police have towards black and Asian people, and thus that the real purpose of Stop & Search is harassment of these communities.

The disproportionate use of 'Producers' where black and Asian drivers have been stopped, and the police's own figures showing the disproportionate use of CS Spray against black people in Lambeth, for instance, tell a similar story, as do the figures for arrests. Using 1996/97 figures again there were 154.46 black people arrested per 1000 and 46.8 Asians per 1000, as compared to 33.62 white people per 1000.

 

Institutional racism in the courts and the legal system

The examples referred to already have indicated that institutional racism in policing is not limited to the police force itself. It affects the wider legal system, and there is an intimate connection between institutional racism in the two areas.

In addition to the examples given above, this is indicated by the disproportionate numbers of black people held on remand or sentenced to imprisonment. Figures produced by NACRO for June last year show that 1249 black people per 100,000 of the population were in prison, compared with 176 white people per 100,000.

On the related example of the prison service, we would simply refer to the concerns about the numbers of deaths of black prisoners and the widely quoted comments of the director of the service, Richard Tilt, that black people were genetically more likely to die from asphyxiation.

 

Institutional racism at the level of political power in British society: the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees

The connections between institutional racism in the police and in the wider legal system (the CPS and the courts) are essential to understanding that it is institutional because it is part of a systematic discriminatory treatment of black and Asian people by the institutions of power in Britain.

Institutional racism reaches the highest institutions of political power and is expressed in policies and legislation which shape the treatment of large numbers of black and Asian people. Among such policies we must include the failure of successive governments to take deaths in police custody seriously or to take any action at all against inaction and cover-up on the part of police authorities. This reinforces the institutional racism of the police.

This attitude towards deaths in police custody is particularly alarming when seen in conjunction with the trend of both the previous and the present governments to increase the powers of the police and the immigration service, while at the same time restricting the right to trial by jury and access to legal aid.

Institutional racism at the level of government policy is expressed most clearly by asylum and immigration legislation, which overwhelmingly affects people from Africa and Asia (and now also groups such as Roma asylum seekers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and ethnic Albanians from Kosovo).

Such legislation, and the arguments which accompanies it, foster racist attitudes by presenting people from Africa, Asia etc. as a problem and a threat. Black and Asian people born or settled in Britain are inevitably affected by such a racist climate and by the increased powers of surveillance given to police and immigration officers, and required of employers.

In our view these tendencies will be accentuated by the present government's proposals, set out in the White Paper "Fairer, Faster And Firmer" (July 1998), for new asylum and immigration controls, including removal of monetary benefits and increased use of detention without trial.

We believe the inquiry has to take account of the impact of such laws in examining the role of institutional racism in Britain today.

 

THE POLICE AND COURTS' RESPONSE TO RACIST ATTACKS IN TOWER HAMLETS: EVIDENCE FROM SHAH ALAM

My name is Shah Alam. I am from the Movement for Justice and I want to talk about my experience of racial crime.

I was attacked in May, 1994, by 10-12 white racist men. I was stabbed, kicked and hit with a hammer repeatedly in the upper part of my body. By looking at me, you might not believe me, but I still have the scars that will stay for life.

I was in a coma and suffered injuries to my lungs, liver and kidneys. The doctor said I was lucky to live.

The police arrested some suspects for my attempted murder but claimed they were unable to trace the bloodstains found on them. How come the forensic people can trace a tiny drop of blood, and tell whose it is, but they couldn't trace the blood on the people who attacked me? I don't believe the police tried hard enough to get evidence against the suspects.

When the case came to committal stage at court, I was questioned harshly by three defence lawyers, while I was physically damaged inside, and mentally I was still suffering from the effect of the attack. The way the 3 defence lawyers were questioning me, I was put in such pressure that I was not able to remember what happened very well. I couldn't understand what the defence lawyers were saying to me, and I didn't have a lawyer of my own to explain things to me.

The judge was insensitive. When he saw the photos of my injuries he showed no emotional response at all. I think he may have been racist himself. After all the evidence he thought about it for about half an hour and then said the suspects would not go to trial as there was insufficient evidence.

After what I heard from the judge, I felt really depressed, as if they didn't care about my life and the lives of other black and Asian people who have suffered from serious injury and death.

After 2 weeks, I got together with the Student Union at Kingsway college, where I used to study, to form the Justice for Shah Alam Campaign to try and get the case re-opened. I also got a solicitor, Michael Schwartz, from Bindmans. I had to speak at many meetings, do interviews with radio and television to highlight my case. We had a march in East London, starting at Altab Ali park, because that park was named after a Bengali man killed by police. Hundreds of people attended and it was led by our campaign, my friends and my family.

After our campaign the case finally went back to court, the first time the CPS has ever brought back charges in a racist attack.

I was very happy about the news. In the second committal, the main eyewitness to the attack also gave evidence identifying the suspects. After hearing all the evidence, the judge again decided there was no case to take to trial.

To this day, not a single one of the men who tried to kill me has gone to trial. I am still depressed and even if I still see 3 - 4 white guys I get paranoid and don't know what to do, fearing the same thing will happen again.

The example of my case, and the case of Stephen Lawrence, gives me no confidence that the police and courts can deal with racially motivated crimes.

If the police and courts can't deal with racist attacks, I think that we should all get together and organise the community to fight back ourselves. But if the police and courts can't help us when we fight against racist thugs, then I don't want a single police officer or court to prosecute us. If the police and courts can't help us, I believe we have to take the law into our own hands and defend ourselves.

I would just like to say that I think there should be an inquiry into my case and all the other cases of those victims of racist and police violence.

 

CONCLUSIONS ON THE NATURE OF POLICE RACISM

It seems to us that there is a growing fashion in certain police circles to use 'institutional' racism as though it simply meant 'unconscious racism, or that racism is prevalent in the ranks of the police because it is prevalent in general society. The most recent example was the remarks made by the Chief Constable of Manchester when the inquiry heard submissions in that city on Tuesday.

In our view this interpretation does not explain the evidence we have referred to. We do not think it would be credible to argue that the responses to racist attacks and murders and the scale on which black people die in police custody or are stopped and searched are simply the result of something unconscious in the minds of police officers. We are concerned that this interpretation obscures the real nature of institutional racism.

Racism is in reality about the real disadvantages that certain ethnic groups experience, and thus also about real (if only relative) advantages enjoyed by members of other groups. Racist ideology, action and discrimination all serve to reinforce those relationship.

Putting it bluntly, racism is about keeping black, Asian and other ethnic minority people 'in their place'.

'Institutional racism' refers to all the ways is that this attitude is expressed and reinforced through the organised institutions that have authority in society, such as the legal system and the police.

It does not simply reflect racism in society, but shapes it.

The failure of the training and consultation approaches to 'community relations'

Attempts to deal with police racism since the Scarman Report into the 1981 Brixton disturbances have treated it as a problem of individual psychology or a 'canteen culture', or as the result of a lack of understanding between the police and the ethnic minorities. This has led to 'racism awareness' components being introduced into police training; and attempts to organise closer consultation between the police and the black and Asian communities.

In the earlier sessions of part two of the inquiry there was some discussion of the apparent failure of these approaches. Our conclusion from the all the evidence is that these measures failed because they ignored the true nature of insitutional racism, and that attempts to introduce a strengthened system of community/police consultation and a stronger racism awareness component in police training now will therefore fail in the same way.

 

The experience of the Movement for Justice

The Movement for Justice has been involved in a series of issues of institutional racism over the last three years, including opposition to the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, dealing with individual asylum cases, taking up cases of police brutality, campaigning against the use of CS Spray and Stop & Search powers, and distributing legal rights cards.

Our members in Lambeth attend the local Community/Police Liaison Group every month, but the existence of this body for many years in Lambeth did not prevent the deaths of Brian Douglas and Wayne Douglas, nor lead to any action being taken against the officers involved. It has not prevented the continuing racist character of the use of Stop & Search powers referred to above.

When CS Spray was issued to officers in Lambeth it took an independent campaign in the community, highlighting its dangers and the figures showing its disproportionately greater use against black people, to persuade the Consultative Group to debate the use of CS Spray and request its withdrawal pending a scientific investigation. Following that campaign the use of CS Spray has been considerably reduced in Lambeth.

It is our conclusion, from our own experience as well as from the evidence discussed above, that independent organisation by communities is the only effective way to oppose institutional racism.

 

The problems of 'co-option'

The general experience of community organisations that become part of consultative or liaison structures, or become dependent on funding from the police, legal system or government, is that they are drawn into institutional relations which inevitably lead to their role and their voice become muted.

In particular, we believe that the inquiry should consider the lilelihood that any consultative bodies set up at the same time as asylum legislation is introduced which further restricts the rights of asylum seekers and encourages a more racist climate will in reality endorse institutional racism.

For these reasons we would conclude that it is the ordinary members of the black and Asian communities, together with ordinary members of the white population, who are the real agents of change, whether it is through their collective response to their experience of institutional police racism, or through their exercise of the elementary right of self-defence against racist attacks.

It is thus our view that, similarly to the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, the institutional racism the inquiry has exposed and the expectations it has aroused need to be addressed by the creation of an independent civil rights movement.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the evidence and arguments above, the Movement for Justice believes that there are important measures which the inquiry can take or recomment, which would seriously weaken the role of institutional racism in British society.

We therefore present the following recommendations for the inquiries consideration:

1. Since the inquiry has done so much to expose institutional racism and has aroused so many expectations that the truth will come out, a full and clear statement of the nature of institutional racism, demonstrating its role in the Stephen Lawrence case, would be one of the most important outcomes of the inquiry.

2. Since Sir Paul Condon had overall responsibility for the Metropolitan Police at the time of the Stephen Lawrence investigation and has continued to deny that there is institutional racism in his force, we believe that the inquiry should recommend his removal to the Home Secretary.

3. In the light of the evidence that Stop & Search powers are essentially a form of harassment and surveillance of the black and Asian communities we believe the inquiry should recomment that they are abolished. Similarly, it is our view that the inquiry should recommend the complete withdrawal of CS Spray.

4. We believe that urgent steps to address the issue of deaths in police custody are essential, and that the inquiry should therefore recommend that officers involved in such deaths should be suspended whille the circumstances are investigated by a coroners' inquest, with a jury in all cases, and that officers responsible for unlawful killing or negligence in such cases must be prosecuted.

5. We believe that plans to restrict legal aid will make it more difficult for people to pursue cases against the police, and that plans under consideration to limit the right to trial by jury will unduly strengthen the position of the prosecution in criminal cases. Because such measures will inevitably make it more difficult to challenge institutional racism, it is our view the inquiry shouls recommend the withdrawal of such proposals.

6. Given the evidence of a miscarriage of justice and the widespread concern about this, particularly in the black community, we think it would be extremely important for the inquiry to recommend the reopening of the case of Winston Silcott.

7. Because of their racist impact, as well as the real injustice to thousands of predominantly black and Asian people, we believe that any set of measures to address institutional racism must include the repeal of the 1996 Asylum & Immigration Act and the withdrawal of White Paper on immigration and asylum controls, "Fairer, Faster And Firmer", and urge the inquiry to include this among its recommendations.

Links to: Contact us Back to top Back to home Index