Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Institutionally beyond reform

Wheeling out Cressida Dick to give the Metropolitan Police’s reaction to the conviction of two men for the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence almost 19 years ago says it all really.

Dick, acting deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, was notoriously in charge of the bungled police operation that resulted in the virtual execution of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes as he sat in a Tube carriage at Stockwell in 2005.

Menezes was shot seven times in the head after being mistaken for a terror suspect, denied a chance to identify himself. Immediately the Met went into cover-up mode, claiming that Menezes had vaulted the gates at the station and was wearing bulky clothing that could have hidden a bomb.

None of this was true, of course. Menezes’ simple misfortune was to be identified as a possible wanted man by watchers for whom one “foreigner” clearly looked like another. Not to mince words, this was racism in practice.

Now the police did not murder Lawrence. But they did their best to prevent his killers from being convicted by wilfully ignoring the evidence that this was a racist killing involving David Norris, Gary Dobson and other local gang members.

Dick claimed that the recommendations in the 1999 Macpherson inquiry report into the Met’s failures over the Lawrence killing “have transformed policing”. Oh really? Among other things, Macpherson found that the Met was “institutionally racist”.

Leaving aside the absolutely indifferent handling of the forensic evidence which threatened to wreck the case against Norris and Dobson, other facts do not back up Dick’s claim.

Statistics show that a black person is more than nine times more likely to be searched than a white person. This is a higher ratio than before the Macpherson report was published.

The number of black and Asian people stopped and searched by the police increased by more than 70% in the five years between 2004 and 2009, according to Ministry of Justice figures. They show that more than 310,000 black and Asian people were searched by the police on the streets in 2008/09, compared with 178,000 in 2004/05. Although the Met covers only 14% of the population of England and Wales, their officers carried out 42% of all stop and searches. The figures for 2008/09 show there were three times more arrests of black people than white people, based on per 1,000 population figures.

Ann Juliette Roberts, of Edmonton, north London, was initially targeted by officers in September 2010 because she did not have enough money on her Oyster card for her journey. But the situation soon escalated after they insisted on searching her bag because she was holding it "suspiciously", the High Court heard last year.

The black special needs assistant was restrained face down on the floor and handcuffed. Officers found bank cards with different identities, which she explained were in her name, her maiden name - having recently married - and her son's name. She was arrested on suspicion of fraud and given a drugs test.

Roberts is asking the High Court to rule Section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act "incompatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Section 60 allows officers to search anyone, without suspicion, for dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in a designated area for a 24-hour period.

Most recently, of course, are the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of black man Mark Duggan, shot by police in north London in August outside the vehicle he was travelling in. The official version of events indicated that Duggan fired a gun and a bullet lodged in a police radio. An investigation has since found no forensic evidence that Duggan was carrying a weapon at the time. Duggan’s killing triggered a wave of inner-city rioting across England.

The facts (including involvement with News International over phone hacking, leading to top resignations and Dick becoming acting no 2) point to a Met that is yet another unreformable section of a state that oppresses rather than serves most of its citizens – black and white – in one way or another, most of the time.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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