The relationship between the UK’s minority ethnic groups and the police has changed after the Stephen Lawrence tragedy. After 22 April 1993 when the black British teenager was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack and nobody was ever convicted of the crime, the UK police were forced to change their attitude to racial issues. The Macpherson report that was published in February 1999 revealed the policy of the “institutional racism” within the Metropolitan police and policing in general (Race: The Macpherson report). The report included 70 recommendations concerning the improvement of police attitudes to racism and stressed the importance of an increased number of black and Asian police officers (Race: The Macpherson report). The increased number of black and Asian police officers influenced positively the way suspects from minority ethnic groups were handled, as in this way they were less subjected to being unfairly treated. BBC states the results of the survey that investigated the way people see the police about racial issues: out of more than 1,200 people three quarters believed the police had learned from the Stephen Lawrence case and only 3% of the respondents still see the police as “very racist” (Race: The Macpherson report).
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The Scarman Report that was published long before the Macpherson report, in 1981, has revealed that the UK policy was too remote from the minority ethnic communities. The weekend of the 10-12 April 1981 when hundreds of mostly black youths rioted in Brixton and attacked police with stones, iron bars and petrol bombs proved “loss of confidence and mistrust in the police and their methods of policing.” (Q&A: The Scarman Report) Still, Lord Scarman admitted that “Institutional racism” did not exist, instead, he pointed to “racial disadvantage” and “racial discrimination” (Q&A: The Scarman Report). Scarman stated that urgent actions were needed to prevent this discrimination on all levels of police activity. Some of the reforms that Scarman suggested were implemented in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which comprised a set of rules that police officers were to follow while carrying out their duties.
The Act stated specific codes of practices for police officers and determined the rights of the detained. Code A of the Act states that “Officers must take particular care not to discriminate against members of minority ethnic groups in the exercise of these powers.” (Kundnani) However, the document also states that “There may be circumstances […] where it is appropriate for officers to take account of a person’s ethnic origin in selecting persons to be stopped in response to a specific terrorist threat (for example, some international terrorist groups are associated with particular ethnic identities).” Thus, there is concern that police officers may use code A as a justification for racial profiling against people from minority ethnic groups. In the guidance document for police managers published in 2004, titled The Home Office’s Stop & Search Action Team Interim Guidance we find the following interpretation of the stated above: ‘There may be circumstances where it is appropriate for officers to take account of a person’s ethnic background when they decide who to stop in response to a specific terrorist threat.”(Kundnani)
This means that though some attempts were made to prevent police officers from being prejudiced against the representatives of minority ethnic groups, not all of them were influential enough to change sufficiently the way such suspects are handled.
2001, ‘Race: The Macpherson report’, BBS NEWS 2001, Web.
Barker, M 1981, The New Racism, Junction Books, London.
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Kundnani, A 2006, UK: Racial Profiling and anti-terror stop and search. The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog, Web.
Russell, B 2006, ‘Police stop and search 100 people a day under new anti-terror laws’, Independent, p. 7.
Smith, D 1974, Racial Disadvantage in Britain, Political and Economic Planning, London.
Wallace,C 1981, To Ride the Storm: The 1981 Bristol Rioting and the State, Heinemann, London.
Zander, M 2003, The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984, Sweet & Maxwell.