Police Racism: Bigots on the Beat

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If you want a licence to inflict racism on black and Asian people with impunity, then look no further than a career with the British police.

The Secret Policeman, the undercover BBC documentary of a police training college in Cheshire shown last month, shocked a lot of people with the level of extreme racism it revealed. PC Rob Pulling, the man who thought it 'fun' to dress up as the Ku Klux Klan, was caught articulating racist prejudices straight out of a BNP meeting: 'A dog born in a barn is still a dog. A Paki born in Britain is still a fucking Paki.' 'He [Stephen Lawrence] deserved it, and his mum and dad are fucking spongers.'

Or how about PC Adrian Hamilton of Manchester police: 'I class them as one thing and that's it - Pakis.'

These were not the opinions of a minority - the programme showed a large clutch of racist police trainees on the course who were relaxed in the knowledge that none of their fellow officers would report them. Pulling especially, who revealingly had spent time in the Metropolitan Police, was quite confident that his vile prejudices would fit nicely with his future colleagues in North Wales.

Top police and the government have been at pains to argue that racism in the police is merely a reflection of wider society. This is nonsense. It is clear from the programme that the 'canteen culture' of bigotry in the police is at a level way above most of British society - only matched by that in other authoritarian jobs such as the armed services and prison officers. The police are not like any other profession - they wield massive power over ordinary people. They have the tools to put their racism into action, safe in the knowledge that ultimately they have the protection of the powers that be.

And it is the response of the state and those in high office that has been as revealing as the programme itself. New Labour home secretary David Blunkett chose to attack the BBC and smear the programme as a 'stunt' that 'created' a story instead of reporting one. He was forced into an about-turn only because the majority of the public supported the programme makers.

Blunkett's pre-emptive strike was part of a wider campaign to bury the programme. The Home Office's most senior civil servant, John Gieve, presumably on Blunkett's say-so, wrote to the BBC in an effort to get The Secret Policeman pulled. And Mike Todd, the Manchester police chief, while in public weeping crocodile tears over the racism the programme uncovered, had also been in private threatening the BBC with withdrawing any future cooperation if the exposé was broadcast.

We should not be surprised at these attempts at political censorship. Despite all the public inquiries, the police still get away with violent and extreme racism.

A few days before the programme was screened, an inquest jury ruled that Roger Sylvester had been 'unlawfully killed' by officers from the Metropolitan Police. Roger, a black man from north London, died in 1999 after being pinned down by a gang of police. The jury delivered the verdict despite the Crown Prosecution Service having earlier decided not to charge the officers involved. These officers are working today on the streets of London. No disciplinary action has been taken against them. Indeed, no police officer has ever been successfully prosecuted with the murder of a black person, despite the long list of deaths in custody. One could describe this as a licence to kill.

After the Stephen Lawrence inquiry there was a concerted effort by top police and the Home Office to clean up the public image of the police. Attempts have been made to get a few black faces in the ranks. Top officers have declared that they are for an 'anti-racist' force. This has failed. Blacks and Asians still make up a tiny minority of officers. Most of those who are recruited don't last long.

The 'diversity' training the police get has only succeeded in teaching PCs not to be racist in front of senior officers. Now they wait until they get to the police locker room, canteen, or face to face with the public before they give vent to their bigotry.

The focus has been on the racist bobby on the beat. But it is those at the top who have been carrying out a huge campaign against the moderate Black Police Association (BPA), highlighted by the case of Ali Dizaei, the high-flying black officer brought low by a failed corruption investigation that smells of a frame-up. The situation is so bad that the BPA official policy is to urge blacks and Asians not to join the police!

We have a New Labour home secretary who is not afraid of playing the race card when it suits him. Where did officers in the BBC documentary get the notion that Asians don't belong in Britain? Look no further than a government that argues that Asians are to blame for the racism they suffer because they are not 'British' enough and don't integrate. Who recently argued that there was no such thing as 'institutional racism', and that the whole Lawrence inquiry had been a useless diversion? David Blunkett.

It is clear from the programme that the 'everyday' way that the police exercise racism over black and Asian people is through stop and searches. Yet after the Lawrence inquiry New Labour bent over backwards to defend and even extend these powers. One of the demands arising from The Secret Policeman debate should be that stop and search powers should be scrapped now - at least taking away one racist weapon from a racist institution.

Big questions should be asked of those who still argue that the police can be reformed. The Secret Policeman showed that the British police is an irredeemably racist institution. It's not a matter of rooting out a few rotten apples - the whole barrel stinks.