A trial judge at Newport Crown Court recently claimed there was no racial motive in the horrific murder of Jan Marthin Passalbessy on 20 June 2000. This was despite hearing evidence that the four killers convicted of the murder had called their victim 'nigger' and 'black bastard' during the attack.
The case highlights that two years on from the Macpherson report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence victims of racism still face huge obstacles getting justice. In the past victims of racist attacks and harassment often didn't bother or were prevented from reporting attacks when they came up against an uncaring and unhelpful police force. There was no accurate official picture of the scale of racism and its effects.
After the Macpherson report this was meant to change. So what has happened? On a broad level the murder of Stephen Lawrence and campaigns against racist attacks brought about a growth of anti-racism. But this mood was not shared by institutions like the police.
The number of racially motivated crimes recorded by the police between April 1999 and April 2000 shot up by 107 percent in England and Wales, from 23,049 incidents to 47,814. In many areas of the country the increase is even greater. Senior police officers point to this as showing the force has changed. The reality is different, and more complex.
The figures show that racism is worst in areas where only a few people from ethnic minorities live. While the race crime figures may now reßect something like the real level of the problem of racism that has always existed, this is not evidence that the police have changed.
In part it is because more victims are now demanding justice. It is also because some sections of the police, hoping to show a good public face, and for their own career reasons, have an interest in boosting the figures. But the vast bulk of the police still do not take race crimes seriously, and the force as a whole has sought to lead a backlash against the Macpherson report. In particular the police have launched a sustained campaign to undermine what people understand a racist attack to be.
So police class incidents as 'racist' where other motives are involved but the people involved are of a different colour. This can even lead to absurdities like a white racist who clashes with a black person claiming they are victims of 'racism', and the incident being classed as such by police.
One thing is clear despite all the police initiatives. The public are not convinced the police have changed. Over 70 percent of the public think the police are 'still as racist or even more so than they were on 24 February 1999 when the Macpherson report was first published'.
The four black members of Scotland Yard's Independent Advisory Group have also resigned. The group was set up after the Macpherson report and was meant to tackle the failings of the police on race. Clearly it has not. Jennifer Douglas, one of the four, says what most people know to be true: 'I don't think there's been any change impacting on the policing of London's communities since the Macpherson report.'