institutional racism

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‘Critically analyse the concept of institutional racism in policing and evaluate policy responses to it’
‘By its very nature, much of policing is controversial and conflictual.’(Newburn 2005:525) This can be seen in the major debate of race and racism that has continued throughout contemporary British policing from the 80’s to the present, featuring increasingly in popular media and political debates. (Newburn 2005) The growing interest in the position of ethnic minority groups in relation to the criminal justice system was the acknowledgment that they do not receive equivalent treatment as their white counterparts. This was shown in a number of high profile cases (Britton 2000), leading to public concern over whether racism operated at the individual level or whether was it embedded in policies and practices of the police. (Easton & Piper 2005) In this period, two inquiries were carried out: The Scarmen report and the Macpherson report, investigating and probing police procedures to see if or where racism was present in the system. Both became of significant value to society, bringing, ‘to the surface fundamental issues concerning police powers, competence, accountability, personnel and training.’(Bowling 1998:xiv) Allowing fresh debates to surface on how to build a successful multi-cultural society in Britain.

These are the areas I will focus on to be able to critically analyse the concept of institutional racism in policing and evaluate policy responses to it. To be able to present my answer effectively, I will first concentrate on the relations between the police and minorities understood in the context of history, through the Brixton riots, which triggered the Scarmen inquiry and the Macpherson inquiry on the death of Stephen Lawrence. Analyse of the concept of institutional racism will follow this. Thirdly, I will look at the Stephen Lawrence case and the recommendations Macpherson presented to create change in policies. Finally, I will look at the policy responses by evaluating them, concluding that a lot of work still needs to be done to overcome institutional racism.

The widely known phrase ‘There is a crisis in modern policing’ has clearly strong evidence against it. (Wright 2002) In this section, one specific area of this crisis will be discussed: the relationship between the police and the growing black community. There was recognition of racist policing inside these communities in Britain in the 50’s, down to the failure of solving and investigating racist murders and attacks. (Rawlings 2002) Research done at this period showed ‘that racism and racial prejudice in police culture were more widespread and more extreme in wider society.’(Newburn 2005:529)These accounts also documented the use of oppressive policing techniques, including those of mass stop and search operations in ethnic minority communities. These practices are collectively known as ‘over-policing.’(Maguire 2002) These increasingly strained relationships, producing tensions between the police and black communities as police practices, heightened and reinforced racialisation. However, relations tipped the edge in 1981 with a high incidence of racist attacks but also the widespread outbreaks of violence between the police and ethnic minorities, occurring in many English cities. (Benyon 1986) ‘Each riot was precipitated by an incident involving police officers and black people and each occurred in areas in which there was widespread antagonism between some members of the ethnic minorities and the police.’(Benyon 1986:3) The most serious disorder occurred in Brixton, this was triggered by ‘Operation Swamp 81’ resulting in over 300 people being injured. (Bowling 1998)

After these incidents, Lord Scarmen’s report on the Brixton riots were published. The report analysed the cause of disturbances and made a wide range of recommendations. (Bowling 1998) Scarmen believed the riots occurred because they were, ‘essentially an outburst of anger...
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