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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Are police racially prejudiced?
Approximately half of blacks and Asians say they believe the police in Britain are racist, according to a survey commissioned by BBC News Online.
The opinion in the survey reinforces claims consistently made that people from ethnic minorities believe that the UK's legal system discriminates against them.
Discrimination has been fiercely debated for years. The Macpherson report into the death of the black London teenager Stephen Lawrence labelled the Metropolitan Police institutionally racist.
On the other hand, the government says that it has worked hard to tackle the problem. It says it has strengthened anti-racism measures in the police. Police forces also have targets for the numbers of ethnic minority officers they must recruit.
Do you think that Britain's police forces are institutionally racist? Have you suffered discrimination in the justice system? What can be done to improve the situation?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Are most policemen guilty of racism? No.
Jason Calder, temporarily in Australia
I believe there are a minority of the police that are definite racists.
I personally have experienced racism, from the police being called
a 'typical nigger' on one occasion for refusing to be searched in the street. I have been stopped on many occasions for no reason whatsoever and been falsely arrested for no good reason by an officer who stated he would think of a charge later. I have also met an officer who pulled out a knife from his own pocket and threatened to charge me with possession of an offensive weapon and affray. I will however state that not all police are racist and some are fair and unbiased, it is unfortunate that the real crooked ones spoil the reputation of the rest.
Roger Taylor, England
I have now spent many months preparing for a paper on institutionalised racism and the results of such a survey are amongst much evidence I have used. Although there appears to be a stronghold of police racism, brought to light through the treatment of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, I feel that, for the most part, racism within the police force merely reflects the amount of racism in society.
If you live within the law and respect the authority of the law makers and implementers then no the police will never be racist. They are only there to do a job, although there may be one bad apple in the pack as anywhere else.
I am a serving police officer and was very glad to have read this discussion. I admit that I have become disheartened lately with my job as the daily drip feed of criticism has worn me down. I was very happy to read the sensible and mature comments that came from many respondents. Police officers represent the population from which they are drawn, right or wrong. Some police officers are saints and some are sinners. I felt ready to return to the fight against crime after reading these comments.
I come from Southern Africa where I have experienced racism that is not just "Institutional" but actually enshrined in the law. Britain is NOT a racist country and nor is its police force. The actions of a few individual officers may have received wide media attention but extrapolating that to brand the whole organisation is unhelpful at best and self-defeating at worst. The racial harmony we have in Britain may not be perfect, but the liberal hand-wringing and enforced political correctness will make it worse, not better.
A friend of mine got pulled up 27 times in less than two months and told to produce his documents on practically every occasion. The police couldn't actually charge him in any of the cases as everything was in order. He is white with no criminal convictions or even attempted prosecutions against him, his only crime was being aged 18 to 25 driving a vehicle at night (part of his job). Now imagine the fuss from the media had he been black. The truth is that the media just report what will sell and a tasty anti-police story about racism makes money. It's a shame that the media is never held accountable for the scaremongering or the victims of the crimes. I'm surprised there are any police left in this country, I wouldn't want their job no matter what it paid.
I'm a Police Officer and all I'm trying to do is a good job and prevent crime. I get sick of hearing people complain when I stop them that it's because they're black and I have no reason to. This is not true. Police always have a reason when they stop a person and this is explained to the person stopped. The truth is that people don't like being stopped and know the police have a right to do it so use they're colour for grounds to complain. If you think you could do a better job why not try and join the service.
I personally think that a lot of police are racist. I think the main reason is that they stereotype black people too much, just because of the colour of my skin, I have to of done something wrong. I'm 17 and I have been stopped by the police many times, for no reason at all. I think it would be a different story if the colour of my skin was white.
They spend too much of their time stopping the innocent people, when they should be getting the real criminals.
It was hard work trying to talk to anyone who felt disadvantaged by society, black, white, Asian etc. The police have to clear up the mess society has made. After all are there any black royalty yet, Prime Minister or other posts? So please don't think the Police are all against you, it is really those who control Government, who have failed to help at least two generations and the next is already looking around and seeing the Government has nothing to offer in the way of hopes, dreams ideas for them to aim for. Instead they and the press portray them as the problem - that's before they met the police and yes we could do better, but how do you enforce the law with out upsetting someone?
A percentage of police officers are definitely racist, but a percentage are also excellent police officers. Likewise, a percentage of bankers are racist, a percentage are excellent bankers. It's wrong to label the whole group on the actions or opinions of a few. Sadly, the high profile role of the police puts them in the front line of public opinion. I just hope that they can work to reduce/eliminate the percentage of bad apples.
While debate about the "racism" of the police service is a healthy exercise, real change will only occur when the U.K. wakes up to the fact that the world is multi-cultural. This is evident from the behaviour and attitudes of many British tourists abroad. The myths, stereotypes, and plain old dumbness they exhibit make us realize that the well-worn British comedic device of the "funny" foreigner is a not so subtle, passive-aggressive form of xenophobia. Police officers are not a separate species, they reflect the mainstream attitudes of the culture from which they are drawn - provincial, chauvinistic and insecure. Soccer hooligans, race-based humour and simplistic tabloid sensationalism are but three of the more troublesome symptoms the are so obvious from over here. Your police are doing a tough job made more difficult by the fact that mainstream Britain needs change but would rather someone else did the changing.
I am sure that there are racist officers in the force. However I think that much is deemed as racist when it is not. I was hassled by the police a lot and stopped many times when I was younger by the police. I am not black or Asian but it happened and it did so because I was a young man who the police deemed as being up to no good. What can I do about this? If a black or an Asian gets stopped its racist. If a white gets stopped for no reason it's because they are deemed as up to no good. I don't think it's a black and white argument but rather that the police treat most people with contempt
I spent 2 years working in the Metropolitan Police Service. I was horrified by some of the racism I witnessed. Being Jewish I am sensitive to these issues. Because I happen to be white the racist felt they could reveal their despicable opinions in my presence. While I didn't find every member of staff, civilian or uniform, to hold racist attitudes, a significant number proved themselves extremely racist. I believe that this racism is so deeply entrenched that the only possible resolution is the wholesale recruitment of large numbers from the ethnic communities. All police staff should undergo sensitivity training and anyone found to be racist should be summarily dismissed from the service.
Dr. O. I-A, London, England.
I think that a lot of the political heat the police have taken is self-inflicted. If they had not tolerated racism in the first place it would not be an issue. All blacks and Asians are not crooks. We have work together to dispel the prejudices and stamp out crime. White people have to place themselves in ethnic minority shoes and learn, instead of trying to absurdly switch race bias around and we, racial minorities, need to stand up to the rotten apples in our communities.
Are the police racist? No. Are we all racist? Yes. Racism is something we are all guilty of at one point in our lives, whether we know it or not. The sooner everyone accepts this, the sooner we can find real solutions and stop all of the childish bleating about 'racist institutions'.
Let's look at the case of a police station in Stoke Newington, north London. The community is 90% ethnic. The police are all white. How can this be right? Each police station should reflect its community.
Dean Page, UK
To Mr David Hartley, Stourbridge - to brand the police as a bigoted and outdated organisation is a sweeping generalisation, wholly unjustified and frankly offensive. The police as an institution are undervalued by the people they serve (you) and poorly rewarded by their employer (the government). The majority of officers are intelligent, caring people who work long, difficult hours dealing with situations (from domestic violence and child abuse to grisly traffic accidents and public order) that most people couldn't begin to cope with. Instead of arguing about the levels of racism in the police, people should begin to think about what they can do to make a difference. For example, it's no wonder that ethnic minorities are so poorly represented in the force when so few people from those groups are prepared to become police officers. Finally always remember that the police only apply the law as set out by the government, if you want to make your voice heard, use your vote and your MP!
The police are an outdated, bigoted organisation and it's about time we shouted a little louder about this fact and stop treating them with kid gloves.
Nick H, UK
I'm a British Asian and I don't believe the police force is racist. It's not fair to label the whole force by the actions taken by a few officers. I agree with some of the comments below, that the police are now afraid to stop black and Asians because of the fear of being labelled racist. I think the ethnic communities need to take responsibility and accept the facts and help the police where necessary. I don't think colour should be an issue when addressing crime, and the police should target those who they feel are responsible.
Jerry B, UK
I don't think that the majority of police officers are racist. I do believe that they are doing an increasingly impossible job, with no thanks and criticism levelled at them at every turn. With the way they are treated, I'm surprised we have anyone still willing to be police officers.
I've been in the police for 15 years and have seen morale drop to an all time low. Many officers have begun to doubt the support of the people they are there to serve. The comments I have read on this page have restored my faith that most decent UK citizens support the police - no matter what their race or colour - and realise it is often the media that stoke the flames of racist fears, not the reality on the streets.
Because of the possible damage to their careers, policeman will increasingly avoid situations where they may be accused of racial prejudice. The main victims of this hands-off approach will be decent and honest blacks and Asians who live in high-crime areas. In the UK, as in the US and Canada, the police in ethnic areas will become just "tourists in blue" to no one's advantage except the criminals.
There are police officers at every rank that allow racist views to cloud their judgement. Many also have strong views on the role of women, disability, religion etc. In fact the police and their views pretty much resemble the predominantly white macho 18 to 35-year-old age group that most officers occupy. (I am a retired police officer!)
As an ethnic person, who has lived in three different European countries (Italy, France and the UK), I find it utterly surprising when people describe the UK as racist.
In the seven years that I have resided in this country, I have had racist comments made against me and my family on two or three occasions, does this make the UK racist? I don't think so.
People should start realising that one cannot enjoy the benefits of living in a democratic society whilst refusing to respect the law of the land.
The police are doing an increasingly difficult job, in a society where unscrupulous lawyers go to great lengths to get their clients off the hook usually at taxpayers' expenses.
Most of society is racist in one way or another, including minorities. When the media get off the police's back and the government recruits more officers, perhaps we will feel safe in the streets in our cities again.
When are you in the media going to learn that when you walk up to people and ask them to respond to a survey whose negative findings may benefit them, that they will answer negatively?! Or is it just a case of headline generation? I'm Chinese by birth, and when I was last in London I actually got shown around by a policeman his spare time, after chatting to him on the beat! I must have encountered the only non-Nazi on the force, at least according to the BBC, which seems to be engaging in a fit of nauseating mea culpa yet again.
I think the meaning of the phrase "institutionally racist" is being missed. The point is not to say that all police officers are racist (which I am sure they are not) but rather to say that the structure and culture of the policing system in the UK does little to discourage racism within the force, and may even reward it.
As an ex-special constable with five years' service, I can honestly say I never encountered any discrimination of any kind to any member of the public or any other police officer.
I'm not saying it doesn't happen but in my personal experience it would be in the minority of cases. Police officers cannot afford to be anything but impartial, otherwise it costs them their careers and in some cases, jail terms.
Paul Tyrrell, UK
In my opinion the police are too scared of being branded racist. I am thinking about joining the police force myself, and having friends in the force I have discovered that a lot of the time a police officer will think twice about stopping a black or Asian, as opposed to a white, for the fear of being labelled as a racist. So I suppose that you could say that race is a major factor in policing but the victims in this situation are white - because it's perfectly fine to stop and question the young white male.
As an ex-Met officer, I feel I can comment on the police race issue. When joining the job an officer may not be racist at all, but after working in areas of high crime, and in particular street crime, his or her attitude may certainly change. Call me racist if you want to, but I remember the majority of these very nasty crimes were committed by young black men and the victims were generally white. When an officer experiences this on a daily basis their attitudes do indeed change. This is exacerbated because they get no support from their politically correct management. I think people should look at their own communities, identify the fact that there are problems, face them and stop blaming the authorities for everything.
In response to "John, the ex-Met officer's" attempt to justify prejudice - I am an Asian living in a predominantly white area in Cheshire where most (if not all) street crime is perpetrated by whites. Would it therefore be reasonable for me to hold a racist attitude to whites? Absolutely not.
Sean Fear, UK
The police are no more racist than any other section of British society and it is important not to single out the police for criticism.
I think that the balance is more or less the same as in normal society - some of them are racist, and some of them are not. It is ridiculous to suggest that they are all racist because of the actions of a few. It is like saying that society is institutionally vegetarian because some people do not eat meat.
It is a catch 22 situation. So long the ethnic minorities believe they are victimised they will have a poor and suspicious attitude towards toward the police. Therefore the attitude of the police will reflect this and the situation will continue.
Statistics prove that on a percentage basis, black youths are the most prolific offenders. Therefore in a predominantly black area they will be focused on as potential suspects. The same rule applies in any rural town in the UK where the white teenagers are responsible for theft and antisocial behaviour and therefore will be stopped and questioned about crimes and incidents in their area.
Ian Ebbatson, UK
The police target more blacks than whites due to the fact that a higher proportion of street crimes are actually committed by ethnic minorities, particularly in areas with high crime levels. Because of this, it is only right that they are more heavily targeted, otherwise crime levels will not drop. The police can't win; they are either seen as doing nothing or, if they target the causes, as racist. It's a joke. Why is it crimes committed by blacks against whites are not proclaimed as racist, when often this is exactly what they are?
Being Asian myself, I do believe a small proportion of the police are this way inclined, but most are 'good' officers. I think the problem lies in the way police deal with problem officers. I don't think the police complaints mechanism works at all. I'm sure the number of officers who have serious complaints made against them, get away with it. However I would like to say that there should be no distinction made between officers who commit a racial discrimination offence, and some other abuse of police powers. Any officer that commits ANY offence should be dealt with hard and fast. These officers spoil everything that the rest of the police force do and should be purged.
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