Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Remembering The MacPherson Witch Hunt.

It's ten years since the publication of the MacPherson report about the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, and the police force's response to it. This is what I wrote about the report two years ago:
In February 1999 Lord MacPherson's inquiry into the murder investigation into Stephen Lawrence was published. It's conclusion that the Metropolitan Police was 'institutionally racist' ( despite the fact that the report had to acknowledge that 'In this Inquiry we have not heard evidence of overt racism or discrimination'), was eagerly seized upon by the Blair government and many of the recommendations were implemented, including those which lead to a curtailment of police use of stop and search. It might seem strange that an investigation into the stabbing of a teenager would lead any sensible person to conclude that we should restrict the power of the police to search young people for things like knives, but Lord MacPherson thought it was good idea.

The report didn't actually compare the treatment of Stephen Lawrence's murder with how other murder investigations were conducted, to see if any consistent difference in the approaches taken to black and white victims. Instead it highlighted the failings of one murder investigation and arbitarily assigned the cause to racism. This approach has all the intellectual rigour of blaming it on the alignment of the stars. This isn't to say that serious mistakes were not made by the police for example, the first officer who arrived at the scene called an ambulance and sat in his car instead of attempting first aid, but the witch hunt at the inquiry made all sorts of wild accusations many of which were demonstrably false.
This remains my view. MacPherson not only did not provide any evidence to support the assertion of racism in the Met he didn't even look for it. Many of the policies adopted as a result of this, like cutting back on stop and search, have ensured that many other teenagers have been murdered since then.

The charge on institutional racism not only smears tens of thousands of decent police officers but it lets police officers who are guilty of racist behaviour to shift the blame onto the force as a whole.