Like the summer riots, the Stephen Lawrence case provides us with yet another attitudinal Rorschach test; we screw our eyes up, peer closely, and conclude that what we have seen is just what we expected. At least, that’s my view, after hearing Paul Dacre’s astonishing self-congratulation on Tuesday. For him, the verdict was ‘a glorious day’ for the Lawrences, the police, British justice, politicians, British newspapers (especially, of course, the Daily Mail, without whose ‘relentless campaigning’ none of this would have happened). For me, it was a good day; but it was also a reminder of the arrogance, incompetence and racism of the police, the ambiguousness of our justice system, the laissez-faire attitude of our political class, and, of course the hypocrisy of the British press. (The relentless campaigning the Mail is famous for is reflected by these recent headlines: ‘One out of every five killers is an immigrant’, ‘Each illegal immigrant costs us £1m, says study as Government faces calls for amnesty’, ‘UK migrant total is ‘three times the world average’’.)
The police response wasn’t much better. Cressida Dick tells us that the police force has been ‘completely transformed’ in the last twelve years. Hmm. I wonder if that’s the force which has seen section 60 stop and searches rise from 7,970 in 1997/98 to 149,955 in 2008/09? With black people 26 times more likely to be stopped than white people?
I do wonder if we’ve been distracted by the ‘institutional racism’ tag. I’m thinking of the long string of cases which have nothing to do with racism, where the police have not only misbehaved, but have also completely misunderstood public reaction to their behaviour. Harry Stanley (1999). Pamela Somerville (2008). Ian Tomlinson (2009). Nicola Fisher (2009). Mark Duggan (2011). In all these cases (and more) the police have been asked to account for their actions, and have essentially given us a two-fingered salute. When the standard response from the police to any query about why they have shot/hit a fellow citizen amounts to little more than ‘We felt a bit threatened’, it might be a good time to re-look at the whole relationship between the police and us, who pay their wages.
There is clearly a disconnect between the police and the citizenry. Here are some issues which currently concern people:
1) police officers collecting their wages from the taxpayer, and bonuses from journalists for providing information;
2) police officers working as agents provocateurs (Mark Kennedy, 2009);
3) hundreds of serving police officers having criminal records (including burglary, robbery, supplying drugs, perverting the course of justice)
4) senior police officers promoting the use of plastic bullets and water cannon at protests;
5) and, of course, the inequality in stop and search mentioned above.
Brian Paddick suggests: “The police must accept that many people feel they are over-policed and under-protected. The police need to work a lot harder to convince some people that they are on the same side as the communities they serve.”
It would be a shame if the end result of the Stephen Lawrence saga amounted to little more than black people being entitled to the same shabby treatment as whites. A glorious day for the press, the police, the politicians? I don’t think so.