Critical Essay on Racism in Police Enforcement

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Over-policing and under-protection have emerged as powerful platforms for institutional racism. Institutional racism is 'the collective failure of an organization to provide appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behavior which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.' (Macpherson, 1999: 6;34). Throughout this essay, it will criticise the central issue of stop and search, the Stephen Lawrence case, and police culture when examining the extent institutional racism explains it. Evidence suggests that stop and search are among the most considerable impacts of racial discrimination since the 1970s. Statistical evidence presents a clear representation of harassment and discrimination against specific ethnic groups and how police use their authority as a power to target black people in particular when stopping them on the street. In the case of Stephen Lawrence, Macpherson 1999 identified institutional racism as the lack of protection and justice for the family. Arguing that the police as a collective is to blame for the racist approach to ethnic minorities and racial attacking them. Alongside the two theories stated above the over-policing and under-protection relates to police culture too. The lack of trust and support minorities feel when associating with the police culture relates to the lack of understanding one another, disadvantaging black and other ethnic groups. The over-policing and under-protection are discussed further throughout the essay relating to stop and searches, The Stephen Lawrence case, and police culture and how institutional racism relates to it and who may critique it.

Stop and searches in Britain are fast becoming a key instrument in the over-policing and under-protection of ethnic minorities. In Britain, the alliance between black young males and crime has received much political, media, and public attention since the 1970s. (Cashmore and McLaughlin, 1991; 6) The police portray both black and minority individuals as being the product of a problematic society, living in neglected inner-city neighborhoods, and having been raised in homes without fathers. All of this, according to commentators, politicians, and the media, causes young black African Caribbean men to adopt a 'machismo and violent subculture.' (Smith, 2009; 32) Racially discriminatory treatment circulating stop and searches explains institutional racism, and how over-policing within ethnic minorities had become normalized as a way of catching the 'usual suspect' (MaAra and McVie, 2009;9). Official statistics show that black people are 9 and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 201718, a clear representation of harassment and discrimination against specific ethnic minority groups. (Gov.UK, Ethnic Facts and Figures 20172018) Police use their power to stop anyone they wish, creating a debate about whether they are targeting specific members of the public and if it has anything to do with racially profiling individuals, due to statistical evidence. FitzGerald et al found that being black was a good predictor for being stopped on foot and in a car, which does not explain why this is the case. (2002; 4) However, the Macpherson report (1999) attributes excessive amounts of stop and search to stereotyping, police racism can be 'unwitting', but it is nonetheless an indication of officer subjectivity. The controversy surrounding the over-representation of ethnic and racial minorities has been heated, with some arguing that it assumes the role of discriminatory police behavior, over-policing, and under-protection, and others claiming that it is due to different participation in crime and disorder. Theorists such as Stevens and Willis (1979) and Walker (1987) disagreed, each concluded that 'disproportionality in arrests was unlikely to be the result of discrimination because the scale of the differences was so enormous that prejudice would need to be so endemic as to become more widely visible.' (Waddington et al, 2004; 5) One interesting finding was the Scarman Report, in April 1981 hundreds of mostly black youth rioted in Brixton, South London. The Metropolitan Police intended to reduce the amount of street crime occurring, as Brixton underwent deep social and economic problems, mainly in African- Caribbean communities through the use of sus law, a method enabling police to stop and search anyone who looked 'suspicious'. This created an outburst of anger from the locals and a riot began. Lord Scarman argued that he found 'loss of confidence and mistrust in the police and their methods of policing, concerning efforts to recruit more ethnic minorities into the police force and changes in training and law enforcement.'(Lord Scarman, 2009). The report demonstrates the concerns with racial discrimination and the failure of policing. Scarman argues 'institutional racism did not exist, instead of its racial disadvantage and racial discrimination. (2009) Referring to the essay question, the Scarman Report (1981) would argue against institutional racism as he quoted above, but positive discrimination to tackle racial disadvantage was a 'price worth paying' (Lord Scarman, 2009) unlike The Macpherson Report (1999). Macpherson focuses on the 'notion of institutional racism, cultural practices within the police force and the need for policy reform.' (Sarah Neal,2003;58)

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The case of Stephen Lawrence proved an important interest in the concept of institutional racism. In April 1993 in South London, Stephen Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks on their way home were exposed to an unprovoked assault by a gang of white youths. Two police officers arrived at the scene, not offering first aid treatment which led to the death of Stephen Lawrence shortly after. It almost took twenty years for two of Lawrence's killers to be finally convicted of murder. A poorly executed investigation which was the start of a racist institution criticised by the Macpherson Inquiry 1999. Both Macpherson 1999 and Rowe 2004 identified institutional racism for the lack of protection and justice provided to the Lawrence family, these findings influenced much of what happened to the police in the last ten years. First, it reveals that the official discourse used to describe the conflicts between the police and minority ethnic groups has shifted significantly. Secondly, the Macpherson study indicates the increasing political view of the troubled relationship between the police and minority ethnic groups has, from now on, been portrayed as an issue created by the police itself rather than by particular officers. Third, the state ultimately ended the clear warning that the British police would be forced to endure a period of cultural change and transition by blaming the inadequate experience of police service of minority ethnic groups squarely on the police. The issue of 'institutional racism' prompted others to conclude that it wrongly labeled all officers as discriminatory, regardless of the professional orientation and actions of individual officers. Some dismissed the suggestions proposed by Macpherson, arguing that there were, in effect, no issues with racial profiling within the police. Arguably in the Macpherson report, it is not acknowledged that racism was 'the universal cause of the failure of the investigation'. (Anthias, 1999; 46.27) The lack of organized intervention and lack of evidence were cited in the study as failings in the Stephen Lawrence murder case and are seen as the product of a lack of direction rather than as linked to force bias, whether systemic or not. However, police officers' racism has always been an issue in the UK, however before it was framed as an individual problem but after the Stephen Lawrence case, the police in Britain were all labeled as a collective group for their notion of institutional racism. For example, several junior officers would not accept that the murder of Stephen Lawrence was 'racially motivated' even though it just so happened that they were attacked by a group of white boys. A report quotes David Muir, representing senior Black Church Leaders, saying that 'the experience of black people over the last 30 years has been that we have been over-policed and to a large extent under-protected.' (Macpherson, 1999, 45.7. p. 312) Arguing that the police as a collective is to blame for the racist approach to ethnic minorities and racial discrimination against specific groups of people. Its central conclusion was that the investigation into Mr. Lawrence's killing had been 'marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership'. (Shaw, 2019) The policing system took action after that and made changes to its policing culture and practice. Sir William's inquiry included a series of realistic proposals to improve the prosecution of murders and the care of victims of crime, such as first aid courses and committed family liaison officers-fundamental improvements that have made a lasting impact. (Shaw,2019) Indeed, 'Sir William said a key aim of his proposals was the 'elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing'. (Shaw. 2019) The over-policing and under-protection of BAME groups affected by institutional racism were not fully acknowledged nor taken into consideration until the death of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence, the public outrage of the racial discrimination and institutional racism led to the changes in police culture and 'prioritized' to 'increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities.' (Shaw,2019)

The over-policing and the protection of ethnic minority communities relate to institutional racism through police culture. Ethnic minorities experienced social exclusion and lack of support from police, whether it be from institutional racism as described by Macpherson (1999) or the lack of understanding and consultation with ethnic minorities, 'these practices further alienate and disadvantage people from black and other ethnic minority groups.' (Sharp and Atherton, 2007; 750) According to recent Home Office reports, 16-24-year-olds have lower levels of trust in the police than older adults, likewise with mixed-race and black ethnic groups ( Pennant 2005 ). The British Crime Survey (200203) showed that victims of Black and Mixed Groups are less likely than those of white or other ethnic minority communities to report offenses to law enforcement ( Salisbury and Upson 2004 ). The lack of protection and trust the black community fears from the police suggests how they hold a stereotype of the police as siding against them and not helping them because of their skin color. Simply put, the lack of confidence and trust in politics contributes directly to the excessive exposure to police scrutiny. The primary critique of the police exposed here was the assumption that more or less racist convictions inspire the majority of police officers. In general, black and other minority groups are discriminated against and segregated from all areas of society, including access to quality schooling and preparation, good health care, fair opportunities, and good quality of life in housing. (Commission for Racial Equality 2004). The stereotype the police hold against specific members of the public tends to associate with the black minority as they are pre-conceived as criminals due to the media representation of them and the way they are portrayed to the world. For example, the coverage of black young men and boys in newspapers and on television covered 72% of daily features, in general heavily focusing on crime stories making up 66.9%. (Cushion, Moore, and Jewell, 2011; 37-42) The institutional racism revolving around the police culture contributes to the over-policing and under-protection they are presenting to black minorities in particular. However, police culture is not as derogatory as it may come across, some would argue it is seen as an unpredictable and alienating occupation for police survival, meaning the bond of solidarity between officers 'offers its members reassurance that the other officers will 'pull their weight' in police work, that they will defend, back up and assist their colleagues when confronted by external threats, and that they will maintain secrecy in the face of external investigations' (Goldsmith 1990: 93-4). One critique argued by Sparrow et al on police culture would be its perceived insularity in the social, political, legal, and organizational sense of the police force. Claiming that police brutality and wrongdoing could not happen without the implicit support of the community. 'For the police force to be willing to do the job of 'shoveling shit,' they had to be allowed to sleep on the job, be rude, harass defendants, and extort bribes' (Sparrow et al. 1990: 133-4). The secrecy of crimes being committed would cause a flaw in the criminal justice system if police are not doing their job. There is proof that the culture's secrecy and unity will break down under the pressure of being described as a racist institution. According to research undertaken in New South Wales, senior police management was not prone to media allegations about racist discrimination after a corrupt investigation (Chan 1995). The police culture is stereotyped as being racist for over-policing, not just ethnic groups but everyone as a whole committing crime. The police dealing with it and doing their job has led to allegations of 'institutional racism. (Chan, 1995; 111-112)

To summarise, this paper has argued how over-policing and under-protection have caused racial abuse and discrimination towards black and other ethnic groups. It explains how institutional racism relates to specific theories such as stop and searches, the Stephen Lawrence case, and police culture. The most obvious finding to have emerged whilst researching institutional racism has been the over-representation of ethnic groups as a 'social problem', causing issues within society and resulting in police taking action upon it. For example, in the first paragraph where stop and searches are discussed, it is transparent that the police are stopping the majority of the black community without a purpose, racially stereotyping them as deviant and criminals, causing police to be viewed as racist for over-policing a particular ethnicity. The study has identified the power which police have and use to target anyone they wish. The Scarman Report 1981 however, argues 'institutional racism did not exist, instead of its racial disadvantage and racial discrimination(2009). This reflects upon the ideology that institutional racism is not a thing, it's not the institution that is the problem, rather than it's the way people perceive it as a racist approach. Moving on to the Stephen Lawrence case, the lack of investigation and failure to bring justice to the family perceives a view that police under-protect and lack interest in the solving cases such as the Stephen Lawrence case because of his skin colour resulting in institutional racism which later on followed with the changes in the police system. Sir William's inquiry included a series of realistic proposals to improve the prosecution of murders and the care of victims of crime, such as first aid courses and committed family liaison officers-fundamental improvements that have made a lasting impact. (Shaw,2019) Finally, police culture elucidated social exclusion and zero support from police, referring to what Macpherson 1999 described as a lack of understanding and consultation with ethnic minorities. Over-policing and under-protection relating to institutional racism through police culture show the way black ethnic minorities fear the police because of their racist pre-conception and stereotype. However, Sparrow et al argued that police are not being racist they are doing their job, which is stopping crime, just so happens that black ethnic groups are overrepresented in the media leading to the assumption of 'institutional racism.

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Critical Essay on Racism in Police Enforcement. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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