Institutional racism

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Writing in the Daily Mail on the anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry last month, Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), gave the police a clean bill of health.

He described the label of institutional racism as a "badge of shame that has hung over" the police for the past decade, "So, today, ten years on, is the accusation still valid? I don't think so."

What is the evidence? You are five times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black - and only one in ten searches result in an arrest. Scotland Yard has admitted its officers have been photographing children who are stopped and searched even after they have been found to be innocent. Sandra Moodie, a parent from South London, told how her son, Jordan, had been stopped and searched by plain clothes officers on his way home from school. They found he was carrying only schoolbooks, but took his picture nevertheless.

The experience of black police officers themselves is telling - in 2007 almost twice as many ethnic minority officers quit or were sacked in their first six months of service compared to their white colleagues.

In wider society institutional racism is stark. Ethnic minority unemployment has remained around twice that of the white population. The highest unemployment rates are those for the black Caribbean, black African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, but Indian men also tend to have higher unemployment rates than the white community.

Some highly educated groups, such as those of black African origin, are characterised by a strong presence in professional and managerial posts but they are not doing nearly as well as equally well-educated whites. There is a continuing wage gap, in some cases of £140 per week, between white males and black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi males.

In November 2008 Phillips declared, "If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour Party." While he stepped back quickly from that claim he maintains that it's not helpful to describe the police force as institutionally racist.

Once again Trevor gets it wrong. He is in danger of undermining anti-racist campaigning at a time when we need it as much as ever.