Policing a multicultural society in the 21st century

Mark Blake
Tuesday, 11 March 2014

I wrote this blog a week or so after the death of Stuart Hall. I coudn't let its publication on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website go without mentioning the release of the Ellison report into allegations that the Met Police sought to smear the Lawrence family and  the pained statement of Baroness Lawrence in the House of Lords.

The long fight for truth and justice for the Lawrence’s goes on as does the fight for the criminal justice system to wake up and face the challenges of inequality and racism that still loom large in the system.

The death of Professor Stuart Hall, one of the leading activists and academics of the post-war generation, was a huge loss for many. For me, as somebody who grew up in the times he critiqued - through the years of Thatcher, the inner city riots of the 1980’s, the cultural, economic, political and social transitions that changed the UK markedly during that decade - and then as a mature student who as an academic failure during my school days came back to education reading Hall’s work, he was a huge figure.

His work, like for many of my ilk, helped me understand my own journey as a young black man in Britain. There was also that personal connection with Hall, the son of Jamaican parents mired with the vestiges of the history of colonialism and slavery that that small island encapsulates (a simultaneous source of strength and doubt in equal measure), as I am.

I am sure Hall found the current debates about policing and how the issues of race still interplay at the forefront fascinating. If we are to believe what we read in the press the Home Secretary is mired in a Whitehall scrap with Downing Street around possible reforms to the Police powers of stop and search. I am sure Hall would have been filled with a sense of irony and mischievous humour at this sequence of events.

Stop and search and deaths in custody seem to be destined to forever loom large on this territory. The inquest verdict into the death of Mark Duggan and subsequent legal challenges from his distraught family are familiar tales of the journeys of hurt of families whose loved ones have died in seemingly avoidable circumstances at the hands of the police.

But Hall would I believe have had a wry smile at the calls of senior police officers for positive discrimination in the recruitment of officers. Sir Peter Fahy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester has stated that the under-representation of black and minority ethnic (BAME) officers in the force is now hampering the police at an operational level. The Labour Party’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has also hinted that this is an issue a future Labour Government may take action on.

The whole debate around policing is now full of so many oddly aligned forces that would have been unheard of only 10 years ago. A Tory Home Secretary who has been convinced of the need for some reform of police stop and search powers: commentators of the libertarian right such as Simon Jenkins whose polemic on the overbearing post 9/11police state echo those of Stuart Hall a few decades earlier; and a former Cabinet Minister allegedly brought down by a police conspiracy.

For me we need a sea change in policing culture and political leadership that can bring that change about. We need young people from BAME communities to join the police, but as part of a cultural shift. Part of that shift must include reform of stop and search and an accountability and investigative framework that can hold the police to account. This will not weaken the police but strengthen their validity to the public.

This should have happened after the Lawrence inquiry but clearly has not. I once heard the late Bernie Grant MP say getting groups of lads (black and white) joining the Met from working class, multi-racial impoverished areas like his former constituency in Tottenham is how we will get the Met to change. We simply need a police force that represents all of the communities it serves. If it can be done in Northern Ireland why not in in the rest of Britain, and certainly for starters in London?

We also as a society need to understand that enforcement driven policing, is an absolute disaster, particularly for young people, but even more so for BAME communities generally and black communities in particular. But it’s a disaster not just for those communities who have clearly been on the rough end of discriminatory policies such as stop and search but for society as whole. The youth justice system in the UK has been on a road where we see youth offending institutions holding hugely disproportionate numbers of young people from BAME communities. Many of which should have been diverted away from the youth justice system.

The cost to the UK in wasted human capital, are enormous. In its most recent Annual Report, the Youth Justice Board has reaffirmed its commitment to tackling the overrepresentation of BAME young people held in custody. As figures from Beyond Youth Custody make clear, the trend of a reduction in the use of custody by the YJB has benefited white young people to a far greater degree than BAME young people.

The Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), on behalf of CORE, led the delivery of a series of community consultation events in September 2013 which were submitted to the Home Secretary’s Stop and Search consultation.

At BTEG we are committed to carry on engaging with our institutions and politicians on these huge challenges to reverse the awful trends in our justice system afflicting BAME communities and to create a future where the notion of policing by consent rings true for all Britons. Objectives Stuart Hall would have undoubtedly approved of.

Related items

I would give up... the police service (5 March, 2014)
Police can't be trusted to stop and search fairly (23 January, 2014)
Ethnicity, harm and crime (1 October, 2008)