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Baroness Doreen Lawrence speaks to The Voice

MUST DO BETTER: Baroness Lawrence says that many black people feel they are overpoliced

OVER TWO decades ago, in April 1993, the murder of Stephen Lawrence by a group of racist thugs changed the lives not only of his family, but of the whole country.

The family’s grief and public anger at the failure to properly investigate his killing fundamentally changed the way Britain viewed the police’s relationship with the black community.

The Macpherson report into the Met Police’s investigation of Stephen’s murder was supposed to change this relationship for the better.

PROGRESS

But as we approach the 20th anniversary of the report’s publication, Stephen’s mother, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, has told The Voice that British policing and society has made little progress in tackling what the report described as institutional racism.

Baroness Lawrence said: “I don’t think that since the publication of the Macpherson report the relationship between the police and the black community has changed that much.
“I think people find they are more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts. Racial profiling still does exist within the police force.”

“I always say that some senior officers understand these issues, but the officers on the beat don’t. They are the ones who are in first contact with members of the public,” continued Baroness Lawrence.

“Until they can get this right the black community will always feel as though they are overpoliced and being racially profiled. And they are the ones who will have that feeling that nothing has really changed.”


VICTIM: The death of Stephen Lawrence – and the subsequent handling of his death by the police

Among Macpherson’s recommendations were that the Government should establish performance indicators to monitor the handling of racist incidents, levels of satisfaction with the police service among ethnic minorities, racial awareness training, stop and search procedures and the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the police service.

Another recommendation was that police forces should re ect the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities they serve. While there has been some progress in these areas, most notably in the way in which the Met takes seriously race hate crimes, there are other ways in which the relationship between the police and the black community has not changed signi cantly from what it was 10 years ago.

According to analysis by the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Stopwatch coalition and drug law experts Release, black people are almost nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched for drugs.

While the police use of stop and search powers has fallen signi cantly, there has been an increase in racial disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences. By 2016-17, black people were stopped and searched at 8.7 times the rate of white people for drugs, and 7.9 times the rate of white people for other offences, the analysis found.

Figures also show the lack of progress in achieving Macpherson’s demand that police forces should re ect the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities they serve. In 1999, two per cent of police of cers in England and Wales were from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) background, compared to what was then a BAME population of 6.5 per cent.

Recent figures show that there are now 6.3 per cent of police officers in England and Wales from a BAME, compared to 14 per cent of the population. Among women, the percentage of BAME officers is even lower.

Speaking about the police’s efforts to tackle the issue, Baroness Lawrence said: “Police forces would say, ‘We’re doing all we can, we’re giving our of cers training’, but the fact of the matter is that nothing much has changed so they need to look at what it is that they’re doing to help root this out of the police force.

“There’s no point in people like myself and others saying, ‘This is what it’s like for us’ when those who are in a position to make a difference are not listening. If they were listening they would want to know what it is we need to do and nd a way to work with black police officers so they can have an input into whatever training they are doing so that people can begin to feel more comfortable in their jobs and on the streets.”

IMPRESSION

Regarding the lack of recruitment of black officers she said: “I was trying to find out information for myself about the recruitment, retention and progression of black officers within the police force.

“They use the word BAME. By using that word they give this impression that they are recruiting from a pool of African Caribbean people, but they are mainly recruiting from the Asian community. Asian officers are more likely to be promoted than an African Caribbean officer.

“So I believe there’s still a problem of institutional racism in the Met and in the police force as a whole because of how they are doing things.”

Asked whether she felt frustrated about the lack of progress since Macpherson, Baroness Lawrence said: “Yes. Just after the publication of the report many people were talking about the need for change, not just in the police service but in other areas such as employment. Macpherson was talked of as giving a green light to make a difference. But, like everything else, you need to monitor how Macpherson’s recommendations are being implemented to make things better for our people. Who’s monitoring it?

“In the first few years after its publication there was a government steering group where officials had to answer questions about what they were doing to implement the recommendations, but all that has stopped. No longer is anybody questioning officials about implementing the 70 recommendations.

“Authorities feel that because they’ve had the inquiry and the Macpherson report, they’ve dealt with the issues and we can move on. It’s like they’re saying, ‘We don’t want to talk about racism any more, it doesn’t exist’.

“But speak to those members of the public who are experiencing it. They will tell you, ‘No it hasn’t gone away’. People mean well and they want to see changes but you have to have the staying power to make sure they happen.”

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