The investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence not only concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service is 'institutionally racist' but also 'highlighted minority ethnic communities' general lack of trust and confidence in the police'. 1 Britain has often been praised for its 'multicultural and ethnically diverse community'2 and its race relations skills. Unfortunately, this praise should not be extended to the Metropolitan Police service (MPS). The question to be addressed, therefore, is whether or not this applies to the police force on a national basis.

For many decades the police have faced scrutiny from the public, with regards to their conduct toward people of ethnic origins. Regardless of the continued fight against racism in the police force, it has merely been put down to 'a few rotten apples'. 3 Although the 'direction and policies of the Metropolitan Police are not racist'4 those who deploy them may be. Therefore, these directions and policies could easily be manipulated in order to target black and Asian people. 'The phrase 'institutional racism' has been the subject of much debate',5 as using it incorrectly could lead to much accusation and confusion.

Many academics and authorities have attempted to define it; 'the term institutional racism should be understood to refer to the way the institution or organisation may systematically or repeatedly treat, or tend to treat, people differentially because of their race. '6 Following the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, it was discovered that police officers tend to be most prejudice when determining who to stop and search. Many black and Asian people felt that police officers would 'discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin or national origins when using their powers. '7

Although some may argue that a simple stop is not the same as an arrest and is just a device employed to be fully certain that you are not a criminal, a search tends to be 'a lot mote intimidating, more serious and "an invasion of privacy" than a simple stop. '8 Many black and Asian people claimed they were stopped on several occasions and believed it to be due to the colour of their skin. Police officers are delegated a 'great responsibility-and great power'9 so that they can prevent crime and create a safer country for all British citizens, regardless of their skin colour, to live in, and not to ethnically cleanse the streets of England.

Perhaps it is unfair to blame the behaviour of 'a few rotten apples' upon an entire institution; let us not 'tar all officers with the same brush. '10 A minority of those who had been stopped by the police perceived them 'as being polite and when describing the reason for the stop were not accusing the respondent of committing the crime. '11 All police officers cannot be racist as '2. 6 per cent… are from an ethnic minority. '12 I am not implying, by any means whatsoever, that all of the remaining white officers are racist, but it is important to note that victims' 'negative experiences were far more memorable than the positive ones.

'13 In January of this year a journalist, Mark Daly, went undercover as a policeman to explore whether racism did really lurk among the ranks. His findings were 'truly shocking'14 and confirmed the public's dreaded fear-the police are racist. The programme focused on a group of officers who were using terms such as 'nigger' and 'Paki' on a regular basis, and felt there was nothing wrong with their attitude towards 'coloured' people.