ARE’s CEO, Jeremy Crook reflects on the UK’s history of institutional racism and the legacy of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, following Sir William Macpherson’s death last year.
The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour that amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.Sir William Macpherson
Sir William Macpherson, the author of the ground-breaking Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999), sadly passed on 14 February 2021. His work created an undeniable legacy for many campaigning for racial equality in the UK.
After a thorough examination of the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s tragic killing in 1993 he, and his distinguished inquiry panel, came to the now well-documented conclusion that the Met was institutionally racist.
As a member of the ‘elite’, and an established figure in UK politics, this was a ground-breaking moment of exposure.
But Stephen’s family had also called the Metropolitan Police out as institutionally racist. Many Black Londoners, then and now, have long agreed with that assessment. For many families, speaking of how authorities mis/abuse their power is nothing new.
But now, in 2022, following the recent events that have led to Dame Cressida Dick stepping down as the Metropolitan Police’s Commissioner, we are facing resurgent denials around systemic or institutional racism.
Back in 2020, the then Commissioner had controversially stated that institutional racism is an unhelpful term – meaning different things to different people: comments that were widely interpreted as a declaration that the Met is not, or is no longer, an institutionally racist organisation.
This muddying of the waters has also been compounded with the publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report which dismissed acknowledging the systemic nature of racism in the UK.
But is there evidence to support these rejections? Let us consider.
Race inequality: data and reporting
I have been advising the Metropolitan Police on race equality for a decade, and for the past three years engaged directly with former Commissioner Dick in my (unpaid) role on the Met’s External Advisory Board (EAB) which focuses on the Met’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy and actions.
I voluntarily chair the Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) external advice and scrutiny panel, which deals with racial inequalities in the workforce and in their service delivery to Black, Asian and other minority groups.
Action for Race Equality also services the EQUAL National Independent Advisory Group, which is tackling the racial inequalities in the criminal justice system exposed by the Lammy review in 2017.
In all these advisory bodies we take an evidence-based approach; examining the ethnicity data collected by the Met, HMPPS and other criminal justice agencies, as well as criminal justice data placed on the government’s Ethnicity, Facts and Figures website.
The under-representation of Black staff at senior level is a pattern across all these agencies:
- Only 4% of officers in the Met are Black; to reflect London’s population it should be nearer to 13%.
- There are only 146 Black officers (out of 6,200) above the rank of constable and only 3 Black Superintendents (out of 85).
- It takes Black officers, on average, two years longer than white officers to reach Inspector level.
The Metropolitan Police’s own evidence shows ethnic disparities in staff workplace experiences:
- In a recent survey of Met officers and staff (2020), 80% of white respondents reported that they are treated with fairness and respect compared with 73% BAME respondents and only 69% of Black respondents.
- Black and Asian officers are more likely to instigate grievances and employment tribunals (It is also high for officers with disabilities).
This is also something felt and experienced by people intimately. I recently watched, not for the first time, a distressed senior Asian officer describe the routine racism she battled with at every stage of her journey up the Met career ladder to Superintendent.
She acknowledged that there had been progress in the Met but believed it was still institutionally racist. For any Black or Asian individual to rise through the ranks and stay there for a period they need to possess extraordinary resilience.
The knock-on effect
The Met’s exit survey data of officers leaving the service shows Black and Asian officers broadly leave the Met early, for the ‘same’ reasons and in similar proportions, in their first four years of service.
Where there is contention inside, public trust in officers is also shaken from the outside.
Policing a world city like London is a massive challenge. As citizens we consent to the police having significant powers to uphold the rule the law and protect us.
However, Black communities are concerned at the extraordinarily high number of young Black men who are being stopped and searched every day; about the use of force; deaths in custody, and the database, known as the Gangs Matrix, that has been created to tackle youth violence and is overwhelmingly comprised of young Black males.
Well aware of the challenges that under-representation and racial disparities pose to its credibility and confidence among London’s Black and other ethnic minority communities, the Met has outlined plans for 40% of new recruits to be from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds from 2022, and is actively adopting policies to tackle racial disparities in the workforce. But it is clear: if the over-policing of Black communities does not change the recruitment and trust gaps will never close.
A message to leaders:
In my view, institutional racism describes a situation where an organisation, despite EDI policies, noble values, and leaders making commitments to fairness and racial justice, still systematically delivers significant racial disparities in recruitment, progression, retention, and staff satisfaction.
And, all too often, it settles race grievances away from the public gaze, fails to respond effectively to the damage caused by racial disproportionality, has a pattern of undermining senior Black and Asian staff, and refuses to challenge and deconstruct a white male hegemony.
Institutional racism can also impact one ethnic group, or several. It does not have to be in every department.
It does not mean the whole workforce exhibits racist attitudes and behaviours.
It does mean leaders and staff that do want to eliminate racism should embrace the challenge rather than deny the institutional nature of the problem.
Leaders, especially in the public sector, need to find a way of accepting the reality of institutional racism and be publicly resilient in their commitment to remove the toxic reaction and atmosphere that it generates.
We need leaders to stand up and lead from the front, be direct and accept years of evidence that shows there is a serious problem; a structural problem, best described as institutional racism because Black and Asian staff and communities are not receiving the same treatment and quality of service provided to white staff and communities.
Leaders need to use the data they have collated and explain to the public, and their workforces, that it points to an institutional problem that can and must be fixed. The Met and other organisations need to be proactive and analyse ethnicity outcomes in every department and at every level and make every manager and employee accountable to their performance on race equality.
Sir William and the Inquiry members made a historic conclusion based on extensive evidence. Two decades on, the Met is still trying to transform itself to become the most trusted service in the world, while London’s Black communities are still waiting for evidence of change. The Met’s leaders can turn this around but they have to start in the right place.
That means accepting that the Macpherson Inquiry report assessment of institutional racism from 1999 still applies, and taking responsibility for ending this.
When the Met’s performance indicators show no significant differences on racial grounds only then will its leaders be entitled to declare the organisation is free from institutional racism.