Tackling racism in the criminal justice system

Richard Garside
Friday, 12 June 2020

"Since 1999, there have been at least double the number of black deaths in police custody than ever before."

So wrote Gus John on the Centre's website around this time last year, as he reflected, twenty years on from the MacPherson inquiry into institutional racism in the police, on the lack of progress over the past two decades.

"50 years after David Oluwale was hounded and murdered by officers in West Yorkshire Police in May 1969," he pointed out, "not one police officer has been successfully prosecuted for the killing of a black person while in police custody". Far from being merely a policing problem, "institutional racism in the police cannot be separated from the structural racism of the state".

Against the background of the ongoing mobilisations for racial justice in the US, the UK and beyond, we wanted to share some of the resources on our website that speak to the problems of structural racism, and what might be involved in challenging and overcoming it.

A good place to start is a 2015 edition of Criminal Justice Matters magazine, which challenged the notion that racism and discrimination in the UK was a thing of the past. It includes contributions from:

  • Janet Alder, on the unlawful killing of her brother, Christopher, at the hands of the police.
  • Aggrey Burke, on the traumatic legacy of slavery on the current generations.
  • Antony Gunter, on the lived experiences of black young people of the justice system.
  • Rebekah Delsol, on racial profiling.

We also have a number of video resources, drawn from a series of conferences we organised with The Monitoring Group, Tottenham Rights and Imran Khan and Partners.

You can watch all the presentations from the 2015 conference, on police corruption, spying and racism, here. All the presentations for the follow-up conference a year later, on political policing and state racism can be viewed here.

Among our resources on racism in relation to criminal justice practices are this report by Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke on joint enterprise convictions, which we produced with Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA).

Police stop and search practices have long been criticised as racist. You can listen here to Katrina Ffrench talking about the important work of StopWatch in challenging this. You can also read our briefing on the lack of impact of stop and search, written for us by Ben Bradford and Matteo Tiratelli.

Since the awful killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the campaign to defund the police has grown in strength. We have long argued for the police to be shrunk down in size and scope. A couple of years ago we collaborated with Netpol on a public event addressed by the US scholar-activist, Alex Vitale, who has been a leading figure in the defund movement. You can watch the event here.

This week I spoke to VICE, along with Adam Elliott-Cooper and Adam Pugh, on what would happen if we defunded the police in the UK.

We hope that these, and other resources on our website, will prove useful to those challenging racism in the criminal justice system and beyond, and campaigning for racial justice.

This week we held the second of our three webinars on criminal justice in the time of coronavirus, on some of the long-term political implications. You can watch the whole event here.

Our third and final webinar, on how a positive legacy might be achieved, takes place next Thursday. You can book your place here.

Our latest coronavirus infographic – on the situation in Northern Ireland – is available here.