Shine A Light

When will there be policing for black people in Britain?

The Metropolitan Police spied on the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Violence against people from black and minority ethnic communities goes on and on. 

Jon Burnett
28 June 2013

Black people in Britain have been ever under suspicion as ‘illegals’, criminals or, if politically active, subversives. More than thirty years ago, when giving evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, the Institute of Race Relations showed in case after case how the police not only policed against black people but also failed to police for them when it came to their concerns – especially over racial attacks.

The Guardian's revelations about the gathering of information in the 1990s to smear the Lawrence family and Stephen’s friend and witness to his murder, Duwayne Brooks, and to spy on other campaigns by black families who had someone die in state custody, goes to show how deeply entrenched this trend has become. While members of the Police’s Special Demonstration Squad were infiltrating black campaigns, racist deaths on the streets of Britain actually increased.  In the ten years since Stephen Lawrence’s death, 48 people lost their lives – four of them on the streets of South London, where he had lived. In fact there have been 106 deaths with a racial element — 89 of them since the Macpherson Report in 1999.

Macpherson's report expressed the first official acceptance that the police were institutionally racist. His recommendations regarding the way attacks are investigated and deaths in custody families dealt with are being implemented by the criminal justice system in a patchy way. We still find cases and indeed inquests where police, prison guards, UK border police and private security guards close ranks, accusing directly or by implication a black victim for losing his own life in their custody. Witness the cases of Habib Ullah, Mark Duggan and the ongoing case of Jimmy Mubenga. And families such as the Duggans (after Mark’s death) find themselves being slurred.

And there is still evidence despite the necessity for police forces to log as a racist incident "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person", of victims being charged as perpetrators. Just last month, charges of actual bodily harm against Zulf Shah, a man in High Wycombe, were thrown out of court due to a lack of evidence. The charges against him were brought after he had been racially abused and beaten unconscious by a group of teenagers whilst his terrified 4-year-old daughter looked on. He later said there was "A total failure to give my family and me the support and care that was needed. For [the police] to try and charge me with an offence was a complete and utter travesty of justice."

It is a sad reflection that today, some fourteen years after Macpherson, black and minority ethnic people are still suspect, even when they are victims, and anti-racism itself is increasingly being derided by the authorities as just another form of ‘extremism’. Meanwhile as Britain’s political leaders maintain that racist attacks and abuse have become relegated to the periphery, confined to the actions of a few isolated or ill-adapted individuals, the reality is that racial violence continues unabated.

A selection of racist attacks and convictions that have taken place in the last few months are presented below.

  • 18 June 2013: In the early hours of the morning, a man poured petrol around the door of a mosque in Gloucester and set it on fire, before fleeing in a car parked nearby. Firefighters were called and the blaze was put out before it caused serious damage. (Independent, 18 June 2013)
  • 14 June 2013: Two men were found guilty of racially aggravated public order offences and, in one case, a further charge of common assault. Last August, they were with a group of men singing racist songs on the Tube in London. The two followed a Muslim man as he got off the Tube and racially abused him, with one of them saying ‘go back to your own country you f***ing Muslim c**t’. They then beat him to the ground, as their friends arrived. After the attack, the victim suffered ongoing pains in his neck and was left with breathing difficulties. One of the attackers was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and the other ordered to carry out 120 hours community work. (Asian Image, 14 June 2013)
  • 14 June 2013: A woman in Portsmouth was given an eight week jail sentence, suspended for six months, and ordered to pay costs for comments she posted on Facebook following the murder of Lee Rigby. Amongst the messages, the woman had tried to drum up support for burning down mosques in the locality, saying ‘Feeling like burning down some mosques in Portsmouth, anyone want to join me?’ (Guardian, 14 June 2013)
  • 11 June 2013: Two men, including a footballer who had played for the Northern Ireland junior international team, were jailed for a racist attack in Belfast. Last July the men vandalised a house, chased a Polish man from the property and severely beat him. Their victim was left semi-conscious, with lacerations around his nose and mouth and multiple bruises. The men were given 18-month and 21-month prison sentences respectively. The judge said the attack had ‘severe racist and sectarian overtones’. (Kick it Out, 11 June 2013)
  • 10 June 2013: In the third incident in a few weeks, bacon was posted to a mosque in Maidenhead. Prior to this, a window had been smashed and the building had been daubed with racist graffiti. (BBC News, 12 June 2013)
  • 10 June 2013: The letters ‘EDL’ were spray painted on a bin at the Oadby Islamic Centre in Leicestershire. (Leicester Mercury, 12 June 2013) 
  • 8 June 2013: A Muslim boarding school in Chislehurst was set on fire, and around 130 staff and pupils had to be evacuated. Two children were treated for smoke inhalation but nobody was seriously hurt. Four teenagers were later arrested on suspicion of arson. (Independent, 19 June 2013)
  • 8 June 2013: A 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life in relation to a serious fire at a newsagent in Liverpool. The attack, treated as a hate crime by the police, left a 48-year-old Sri Lankan man in hospital and tenants above the shop had to escape the blaze and were rehoused in temporary accommodation. (Liverpool Echo, 13 June 2013)
  • 6 June 2013: In Reading, a black woman walking with her friend was racially abused and assaulted. The attacker rode up to them on a bike, shouted racist abuse at the woman and barged between them, before elbowing her and then fleeing the scene. (Reading Chronicle,  10 June 2013)
  • 5 June 2013: An Islamic Cultural Centre in Muswell Hill, London, was seriously damaged in a firebomb attack. The letters ‘EDL’ were daubed on the wall of the building. It took firefighters over an hour to get the fire under control and parts of the building eventually collapsed. (Guardian, 5 June 2013)
  • 4 June 2013: Two men accused of "waging a campaign of hate against Muslims in Devon", including daubing mosques with graffiti and sending a series of threatening letters, were granted bail ahead of their next court hearing. The charges, which they deny, include one under the Terrorism Act. The alleged offences took place between July 2012 and January 2013. (Herald Express, 6 June 2013) 
  • 4 June 2013: A swastika was painted on the door of a proposed mosque in Worcester Park. (Sutton Guardian, 11 June 2013)
  • 3 June 2013: A 78-year-old Asian woman was attacked in Aylesbury by a man who went on what was described as a ‘racist rampage’. The 31-year-old man allegedly racially abused people in a park, vandalised an Asian family’s house and racially abused the elderly woman before pushing her to the ground. He was arrested and released on bail. (Bucks Herald, 5 June 2013)
  • 2 June 2013: Three men walked into a store in Manchester and one racially abused a customer. Another of the group then punched him with such force that he was instantly knocked unconscious. The two men then ran off whilst the third man put the victim in the recovery position before leaving. (Manchester Evening News, 10 June 2013)
  • 26 May 2013: A rail passenger on a train near Brighton was filmed calling a black passenger a ‘monkey’ and a ‘gorilla’ and threatening to glass him with a beer bottle, saying "See that, I will shove that in your f*****g eyes". When passengers showed the footage to station guards, the man was given a ‘slap on the wrist’ for having the wrong ticket and allowed to leave. (Argus, 6 June 2013)
  • 26 May 2013: A black teenager cycling in Bedford confronted a man who racially abused him. The perpetrator then racially abused him again and beat him unconscious. (Bedford Today, 26 June 2013)
  • 26 May 2013: A woman who assaulted and racially abused a black woman at a bus stop in Darlington claimed to be a constable "sent to get rid of illegal immigrants". She later pleaded guilty to racially aggravated common assault and received a three-month suspended prison sentence. (Northern Echo, 25 June 2013)
  • 25 May 2013: A 34-year-old woman walking in Middlesbrough was approached by three white men who racially abused and spat at her, before fleeing the scene. (Gazette, 29 May 2013)
  • 23 May 2013: A Chinese student walking with her boyfriend in Exeter was asked by a group of people about her opinions on the murder of Lee Rigby. They then surrounded her and one of them yanked her hair, punching her repeatedly in the face and subjecting her to racial abuse. (Exeter Express & Echo, 6 June 2013)
  • 20 May 2013: Two youth team coaches resigned from Notts County FC after allegations that they had racially abused black players. The allegations included one coach throwing a banana at a player with the words ‘f**k off’ written on it, and the other switching off the lights in a room and saying "Make sure you black lads smile so I can see you." The club’s internal investigation was derided as "not fit for purpose". (Voice, 20 May 2013)
  • 17 May 2013: A man in Keighley approached a taxi driver parked by the station and asked him to take him to Leeds. When the taxi driver told him his cab was already booked, the man threw food at him, racially abused him and spat in his face. (Telegraph & Argus, 31 May 2013)  
  • May 2012:  A football match in Hartlepool was abandoned at half-time after an assistant referee was subjected to racial abuse and was too upset to continue. The supporter responsible was given a caution by the police. (Voice, 20 May 2013).
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