The hatred within North Wales Police Officers…..
‘You know why there aren’t more black coppers? They’re too fucking lazy, that’s why… I don’t think they’ve got the brain power for it. You can get a whole community, you wouldn’t get an O-level between them.’
So spoke a detective sergeant with 16 years’ service, interviewed by television documentary-maker Roger Graef for a book, Talking Blues: The Police in Their Own Words, 20 years ago. Another police officer told him: ‘There is only one point of view. In my opinion… that coon with the ghettoblaster… doesn’t give a shit about anything.’
Last week, it was ‘Pakis’ as well as Afro-Caribbeans who were verbally coshed, this time by a group of trainee police, employing bigoted and violent language, covertly filmed by BBC reporter, Mark Daly. Behaving with almost cartoonish aggression, they aped the simulated racist attack played out, in private, by those suspected of killing Stephen Lawrence, which was also secretly filmed.
Whether a reflection of the trainees’ true capacity for physical harm or an example of stupid young men, Tarantino-esque, playing out ‘the Bill who kill’, the skirts of the police have once again been lifted and the result is shame. None of which, of course, is news to a fat slice of the population.
In The Secret Policeman, PC Rob Pulling of North Wales Police fantasises about burying ‘a Paki bastard under a railway line’ and declaring that Stephen Lawrence deserved to die. PC Andy Hall proclaims: ‘He’s a Paki and I’m stopping him because I’m fucking English.’ PC Tony Lewin confesses: ‘I’m a racist bastard. I don’t mind blacks… Asians? No.’
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Yet another action plan has now been agreed to tackle racism, including ‘remedial development’ for culprits presumably deemed capable of jettisoning prejudice when the risk of losing a police pension looms large. Senior police officers have described the core values of their profession as ‘integrity, respect for diversity, compassion for others and commitment to public service’.
Undoubtedly, some do adhere to that ethos and the police have undergone significant reform since their behaviour first triggered riots in Brixton in 1981. Daly reported that he saw no racist behaviour once he was on the beat.
At the same time, the police are a tribe. The more libertarian, diverse and self-assertive the society it is required to oversee, the more entrenched and besieged the tribe may become, with sometimes ugly consequences. This is a process exacerbated by a battle for resources, a dearth of talent and the fact that the police operate at a time when authority has lost much of its self-confidence (rightly some would argue) and society’s definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ shifts as easily as the twist of a kaleidoscope.
In 1975, Sir Robert Mark, then commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told a class of trainees that their occupation was ‘the anvil on which society beats out the problems and abrasions of social inequality, racial prejudice, weak laws and ineffectual legislation’. One of the truly revelatory developments of the last few days is how frighteningly unaware senior police officers are about racism – as it manifests itself beyond crude jack-boot behaviour – and what’s required to contain it. In that, they reflect a depressingly large section of society.
For instance, Clive Wolfendale, the then deputy chief constable of North Wales Police (a ‘white’ patch if ever there was one), called his trainees as a ‘disgrace’. They have now resigned or been suspended while, paradoxically, Mark Daly faces two charges. The recruits may well have broken the law. If so, it’s they who should face punishment and prosecution.
On Thursday, Mr Cameron claimed that ‘the vast bulk of police officers are… not in any shape or form racist’. That’s plain daft. Racism isn’t just about our attitude to the colour of someone else’s skin; it’s also about how uncomfortable we feel in our own. For 25 years, we have had a series of recommendations from, among others, Scarman, Ouseley, Cantle and Macpherson, too timidly tackling the issue of race, produced after and before a recurring series of riots in Brixton, Oldham, Burnley and Bradford.
In that time, the Establishment has failed to include the politically marginalised and economically disenfranchised. It has also damningly misunderstood how racism is as insidious as it is overt.
After 30 years of legislation and initiatives, it remains a mess and a muddle; a cat’s cradle of prejudice that involves some Welsh who hate English; Afro-Caribbeans who dislike Nigerians; many Hindus who despise Muslims and so on. The difference, of course, is that whites, if they are also male and middle class, hold power.
Only a tiny fraction of blacks or ethnic minority people are in the top echelons of industry or the public sector. The glass ceiling wastes vast amounts of talent. Black Caribbean men earn on average £115 a week less than white males while Pakistani and Bangladeshi men earn £150 less. Unemployment among non-whites is massively higher than whites.
Among women, Pakistanis earn £34 less a week than white females but Indian females earn £14 more and Afro-Caribbean females earn £30 more. We might celebrate the seeds of change here, but concealed racism persists. The task of rooting out institutional racism in public authorities, according to a recent study, is still half-hearted. In the three years since 1999, while the total prison population has risen by 12 per cent, the proportion of black inmates has increased by 55 per cent. New research shows that black defendants are treated differently in the prosecution process.
In the 1980s, academic Barry Troyna demonstrated how schools believed that if they didn’t have any non-white children, they needn’t worry about racism. When they did have ‘new arrivals’, they treated them ‘just like us’. (Many local authorities still hold to that view). This ‘myth of fairness’, the conviction that British ‘values’ are based on tolerance, belies the experience of many. As a result, a samizdat culture persists. What happens on the street isn’t what the media or officialdom report.
New Labour has guardedly tried to modernise what Britishness means. Cool Britannia, Peter Mandelson’s bulldog and Gordon Brown’s rainbow society are now replaced by a distressing narrative in which ‘the foreigner’ is the unwelcome ‘other’.
Historian Linda Colley has argued, rightly, that what matters isn’t traditional patriotic Britishness or colour or multiple identities; rather, it’s citizenship, anchored in a human-rights framework. Much more difficult is translating citizenship into a common set of values. For me, that would involve questioning increasing institutional racism but also the separatism now emerging, for instance, in Barnsley and Bradford – faith schools; the oppression of women and, in Western culture, the sexual exploitation of the young.
For the past 20 years, we have gone through the motions of tackling racism without first acquiring an understanding of what it truly means – or why it breeds. The Government’s rhetoric has remained ambivalent, feeding ignorance as the media have peddled propaganda, often resulting in bloodshed. It’s telling that, last week, many of us were shocked by what we watched on television without linking it to what’s already in our hearts and minds.