Racism: Stopping Them on Sight

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New Labour's Home Secretary David Blunkett has launched a new offensive around the issue of stop and search.

He claims, 'We must respect and tolerate differences but not tolerate unacceptable behaviour.' Behind Blunkett stand the newspaper tabloids and broadsheets with headlines such as 'Surge In Street Crime' and 'Black Gangs Lead Crime Wave'.

Both Blunkett and the press are building up a moral panic. Their comments stem from the false idea that following the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence 'the police are now afraid to stop and search black people', as one Tory put it.

To find attacks from this corner is to be expected. But this chorus has been joined by Mike Best, the editor of Britain's biggest black newspaper, the 'Voice'. Mike Best said on the BBC recently that anybody being stopped by the police with nothing to hide wouldn't mind the inconvenience. Worse, he called for more stop and searches of black people.

What's missing from most of these discussions is any sense of reality. While it is true that stop and search has fallen by 40 percent overall, the proportion of black people stopped and searched has risen from 5 percent to 7 percent since Macpherson. In fact black people are more likely to be the victims of crime. What has gone down (by 18 percent) is the number of stop and searches of white people.

There is overwhelming evidence to show that stop and search does not lead to a reduction in the level of crime. Despite a huge rise in the number of police the chances of a policeman detecting a crime randomly is about once every 8 years. A home office survey by Marion Fitzgerald described the policy as making 'no sense whatsoever' as it leads to unnecessary confrontation between the police and those policed.

Ever since the Macpherson report was released, the Metropolitan Police have been attempting to roll back the idea that they are institutionally racist. More stop and searches will lead to more black deaths in custody. When Tottenham was swamped by police in an experiment of zero tolerance, a minor incident and a routine call led to the death of Roger Sylvester. He died in the 'custody' of the police Tactical Support Group, who were only in the area because of this policy.

The policy of increasing stop and search comes in the wake of the visit of the right wing US politician and former mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani (given an honorary knighthood by New Labour). His policy of zero tolerance led to the murder of Amadou Diallo who was shot in the back 44 times by New York police in 1999. What is shameful is that Ken Livingstone, champion of the left, has also called for more bobbies on the beat.

Unfortunately these concessions have influenced others. Hence Gus John, author of the excellent Burnage Report in the 1980s, now talks about black parents becoming better parents as a way of reducing crime. Ken Livingstone's race adviser Lee Jasper recently said Brixton was too dangerous for his family to live in. Also the Hackney Labour MP Diane Abbott commented about a 'lawless gun culture' in the borough, yet this is where Harry Stanley was shot by police in broad daylight. Whilst they still talk about racism, all these people have played down the notion of class division in Britain today. As the 'Guardian' pointed out recently:

'Around 45 percent of London's unemployed are black. Failure rates among black schoolchildren are the silent catastrophe of London. The black prison population in Britain has doubled since 1994. Infant mortality rates are double those of white Londoners. Young black men occupy more than 40 percent of the psychiatric beds in London. Teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in Europe and the number of single parents is going through the roof. Sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, also have a disproportionate impact on the black community.'

In the 1970s and 1980s the response to police racism was black and white working class young people demonstrating and rioting together. The 'Voice' was launched in the wake of the 1981 Brixton riot. When Blunkett talks of fighting crime he means in effect suppressing and controlling the people who live in those areas without providing any hope of relief from the despair that exists.