The Scarman Report, The Metropolitan Police and Institutional Racism: Has anything changed since Brixton 1981?
Introduction and Brixton Riots
The 1981 Brixton riots and the Scarman Report were supposed to be watershed moments in the history of the Police force in the United Kingdom, especially the Metropolitan Police. However, subsequent events, in particular the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the police failures in that investigation mean that the Metropolitan Police still has a long way to go to remove the shadow of institutional racism.
Large scale immigration took place into the UK after the end of World War 2 from former Commonwealth countries particularly the Caribbean and Indian Sub continent. People were invited here in order to work and assist in rebuilding Britain, but tensions with indigenous people in inner city areas caused some small scale rioting in 1958. MPs used the ongoing antagonisms to push racially motivated rhetoric, culminating in the famous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 by Enoch Powell, where he advocated reductions in immigration numbers and possible repatriation of those already in the UK. This meant that tensions continued to rise throughout the 1970's, and problems were exacerbated by the economic crises during the decade.
At the start of the 1980's, Brixton was seen as a trouble spot for petty crime such as muggings and theft. In response to this, the Metropolitan Police began an aggressive stop and search operation (called Operation Swamp) which seemed to adversely target young black youths. The Metropolitan police had long been viewed with suspicion and mistrust by ethnic minorities in Brixton, particularly in the Afro-Caribbean community, and this new operation made an already tense situation worse. On the night of 10th April, two police officers were attempting to help a black youth who was bleeding from a suspected stab wound when they were approached by a hostile crowd.
These locals from the Afro-Caribbean community, which was already aggravated by "Operation Swamp", quickly became violent and the trouble escalated. In the following 2 days more than 300 people were injured and the damage caused came to an estimated value of £7.5m
Scarman and Macpherson
In the aftermath, Lord Scarman was appointed by the Home Secretary to head an inquiry, and he published a report 7 months later with several key recommendations, including (1):
Calls for greater levels of community policing and greater recruitment of Ethnic Minority Officers Some junior officers demonstrated racism , but institutional racism did not exist with the Metropolitan Police New codes of behaviour for the police called PACE (Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984) and creation of the IPCA (Independent Police Complaints Authority) in 1985 to increase public confidence in the actions of the police Unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of 'stop and search' powers by the police against black people
The recommendations in the report were meant to be fully implemented: Lord Scarman stated that the rioting was the worst outbreak of public disorder in this century and also blamed a "racial disadvantage that is a fact of British life".
However, less than 20 years later, the Macpherson inquiry which was set up after the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence noted that most of the Scarman recommendations had been ignored or barely implemented: Macpherson also concluded that the Metropolitan Police were "Institutionally Racist", which was in direct contradiction with the findings of the Scarman Report.
Macpherson included 70 recommendations, including the following related directly to internal racism within the police (2): A review and revision of racial awareness training in police forces Police officers would be subject to discipline up to 5 years after retirement All proven cases of racial “words or acts” to lead to a disciplinary and then to almost certain...
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