From Scarman to Macpherson to Ellison

Since the release of the Ellison report on Thursday that looked at possible corruption and subversive undercover policing in the Stephen Lawrence case, as well as Theresa May’s announcement that there will be an inquiry into undercover police techniques since the 1990s, people have been debating whether the police had progressed in anyway since the Macpherson Report in 1999 described the Metropolitan Police as ‘institutionally racist’. Looking back at the progress (or lack thereof) between Lord Scarman’s 1981 report into the Brixton riots and Macpherson’s 1999 report, was it unrealistic for people to think that Macpherson’s findings would alter the way the police functioned (particularly in the relationship with ethnic minorities)? In 1999, Stuart Hall wrote:

Those expecting Macpherson to usher in a new epoch in black/police relations had therefore better think again. The sound of police doors – and minds – slamming shut against the drubbing and exposure they have had to endure resounds across the land.

A post-Macpherson police force coincided with a post-9/11 worldview and while elements of the police hierarchy were keen to comply with Macpherson’s recommendations, in many ways, the police became more combative, more secretive and more discriminatory. In 2009, The Guardian reported that between 2006/07 and 2007/08,  that stop and searches of Afro-Caribbean people had risen 322 per cent, while stop and searches of Asian people had risen 277 per cent. In the Reading the Riots report published in the wake of the 2011 riots, it noted that many respondents felt that the police operated as a criminal gang, with the report saying that there was a feeling that the police were ‘a collective force unto themselves’. Derek McGhee wrote about the police in the post-Macpherson era:

one could conclude that the desire to police ‘street’ criminality, or more accurately, ‘black’ street criminality, through the disproportionate stopping and searching of young African-Caribbean men on British streets has, in the end, overridden the desire to eradicate institutionalized racism from policing practices.

So Theresa May has announced another inquiry into policing procedures. While independent scrutiny of police conduct is always welcome, it is hard to believe that the matter of police corruption, discrimination and inappropriate operational behavior will be in any way resolved by this forthcoming inquiry.

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