In the week where we finally saw (some) justice for Stephen Lawrence and his family, it was obvious there was going to be a mass of subsequent media interest. Ensuring the public are aware of all the facts is wholly correct however; is it right for our media machine to constantly eek out every last little morsel, no matter how remotely connected or linked to the original story? And with that mostly emotive media methodology, doesn’t it also serve to create a more biased viewpoint on the subject in its readership?
I want to try to expand on the issue of racism and how we (and the media) handle the subject in our society; socially, legally and politically but most importantly on this subject, from a police officer’s perspective. It’s a topic that is (unfortunately) often fraught with danger for those who try to talk about it. It’s also a subject I’ve touched upon previously in my post entitled – A Public Display of Racism – Thankfully!
Therefore, when public figures, politicians and academics, often fuelled by emotive media reporting, seek to constantly castigate the police as “institutionally racist”, isn’t it probable that any tendency in that direction is in fact simply a reflection of society as a whole? Not specifically a trait of the police in general.
As I’ve said, racism is an issue which can cause immense personal difficulty and/or embarrassment for anyone brave enough to talk about it. A fact evidenced by the debacle surrounding the Twitter comments from Diane Abbot MP. She said she had not meant to generalise when she wrote: ”White people love playing ‘divide & rule'”.
Whatever she actually meant at the time subsequently brought about widespread condemnation from both sides of the house, not least that from many of her previously vociferous allies within the Labour Party.
Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott has apologised for any offence caused by comments she made on Twitter, after claims they were racist…(bbc.co.uk)
Yesterday the BBC reported that; “North Yorkshire Police should be far more robust in tackling racially motivated crimes.” The story came about as a result of comments made by a voluntary group called ‘Racial Justice in North Yorkshire’ (RAJINY). They were commenting upon Home Office figures which show “racially motivated incidents in the county rose by 25% between 2008/9 and 2010/11.”
The group’s treasurer, Professor Gary Craig is reported to have been “concerned” that, although the number of racially motivated incidents were falling in most police force areas across the country, in North Yorkshire they were continuing to rise. But is this a ‘real’ issue that we should be genuinely concerned about?
“This is quite disturbing and I would have liked to see a much more aggressive and public campaign against racism in the area.” (Prof. Gary Craig)
One should always note; the true value of any recorded statistics are only as good as the level of honesty used in reporting them. It’s a factor I (and others) have commented about on numerous previous occasions (see here).
In addition, an underlying reason for the ‘apparent’ rise in ‘Race Crime’ within North Yorkshire, could also easily be attributed to the methods employed to record such crimes in recent years. Or in other words, the increase in crimes ‘recorded’ doesn’t automatically correlate to an increase in crimes ‘committed’ per se.
Prof. Craig went on to suggested that “police and other public agencies in the area were far too “complacent about racism” and hate crime.
I would partly agree in that; no one should ever be complacent about any crime, least of all one that is racially motivated. It’s a fact that Sue Cross, Assistant Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) also agreed with when she said she was “concerned that racist attacks were still happening in York and North Yorkshire.”
‘Concerned’ she should be, it’s the job of the police to prevent and detect such crime. However, this type of media pandering to the undoubted public disgust, about something so abhorrent in our society, is not only a little off track, but is also partly mischievous.
Comments from people like Prof. Gary Craig, whose subject knowledge (see here) is renowned and respected within academic circles, can also have an unintended consequence in that, they often serve to inflame a problem. One which may not actually be as large as is suggested; especially when the county of North Yorkshire actually has one of the lowest demographics of BME residents of any county in the country. Views on the issue also have a tendency to be skewed, when comments are being reported without a full explanation of the full context in which they are being delivered.
Sue Cross went on to say; “the work we [NYP] do is effective and I see the rise in reports of racism hate crime as a positive because it shows people are more confident in reporting the crime.” She also pointed out how the force was “far from complacent” and finished by saying; “We have very good relationships with minority groups in York and North Yorkshire.” Which, despite my often cynical condemnation of police PR methods, I would also tend to be in agreement with.
One thing the officers aren’t is complacent, they simply can’t be any longer. Since the recommendations of the Macpherson Inquiry, which examined the Stephen Lawrence murder case, there has been a constant drive by all police managers, not just locally, to get things right. To promote and ensure the correct handling of all issues involving diversity.
As an unintended consequence of this constant, almost obsessive drive for political correctness, many officers now hold an almost constant fear of discipline proceedings. The usual result of getting something wrong, or doing anything remotely politically incorrect, even if that ‘wrongdoing’ resulted from a genuine mistake. It is therefore puerile and somewhat unrealistic to suggest officers are still doing things wrong, at least intentionally.
Another major contributory factor to the ‘perceived’ increase in race crime across North Yorkshire relates to information and data gathering.
The methods for recording details about complainant/victim ethnicity have changed immensely over recent years. The whole process is more accurate, more robust and more easily searchable and collated than was ever previously possible. That coupled with an increased drive to more accurately record anything and everything that has a racist connotation, no mater how tenuous, has probably led to over recording if anything.
Just because a complainant reporting damage to his/her car happens to be non white, it doesn’t automatically follow that the damage is a racially motivated crime (although it may be). The danger is that staff, often poorly trained but constantly berated over data quality, will air on the side of caution and create a ‘racially motivated incident’ based simply upon the ethnicity of the complainant. Add to that a distinct lack of meaningful follow-up in data quality control, then you should be able to better understand the areas of concern.
The original article, although mostly innocuous at face value, is also serving to galvanise our often harmful political correctness in society. A process which is now tending towards unintended consequences from the problems and issues it seeks to curtail. Decades of PC policies, positive discrimination in recruitment and promotion, along with diversity targets et al are now actually creating resentment.
Today we also see the ludicrous situation whereby adverts for employment vacancies (particularly in the police service) include wording such as; “We will look favourably upon female applicants and those from the BME or LGBT communities as they are under represented in this role.” I fully understand what we are trying to achieve and I also understand why. However, our constant drive for equality is, in reality, actually creating the inequality we seek to remove. But, even more worrying is the fact; we may well be further alienating those we are trying to educate, in effect building on what once was, a declining culture of racism.
In some respects Diane Abbott was correct with her choice of words, even if they were taken out of context. To be fair, she was subjected to the Twitter 140 character limit, she may not have meant it this way however; we are actually creating a greater ‘divide’ in our diverse nation and the ‘ruler’ is in reality, defeating the quest for greater levels of tolerance, understanding and equality.
It’s like using antibiotics to treat the discomfort of an illness; we may well get some relief from the symptoms but the germs are still there. Excessive over use of the drug actually results in rendering it inadequate, as the illness develops resistance to the treatment. We end up being immune to the treatment instead of the illness!
Surely we should be attempting to operate all our organisational business, throughout the public sector, not least the police, in a more fully inclusive manner? Not simply hiding behind PC worded policies and mostly paying lip-service to the equality agenda.
Finally, I came across an article today in The Huffington Post from Alex Andreou which although examining the general subject, the points made are from a slightly differing viewpoint. What the article does however do is, wholly illustrate many of the issues that turn up when we are examining this particular topic.
Some Racism, It Seems, Is Acceptable – …So, while we deservedly celebrate the refusal to accept certain types of discrimination – be it in the Stephen Lawrence verdict, the punishment of overpaid footballers or the chastising of a Hackney MP for saying something about “white people” – let us also be vigilant that it is not replaced by a more generalised xenophobia. Because folks need to blame someone when they’re scared and right now folks are terrified. Let’s be measured rather than hysterical; progressive rather than backward; reasoned rather than screeching…(Read more)
Grumpy Note: I’m Not, Never have been and Never will be a racist or bigot, some of my greatest friends have come from BME backgrounds (and LGBT for that matter). I value every one of them on their own personal merits, irrespective of race, colour, creed or sexual orientation… Stop constantly branding me (and others like me) as such; suggesting that I/we me might be, is simply counterproductive!
- Stephen Lawrence murder sentences to be reviewed by attorney general (guardian.co.uk)
- Owen Jones: Beware the assumptions the Lawrence verdict gives rise to (independent.co.uk)
- Racism: still real, but no longer speaking its mind? (guardian.co.uk)
- Leading article: Justice at last – but this chapter in our history is not closed (independent.co.uk)
- If we go by the daft definition of racism proffered by Diane Abbott’s own social set, then she *is* a racist (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)