Socialist Worker

Institutional racism – Sir Ian Blair should look a little closer to home

Claudia Webbe is the vice-chair of the Operation Trident independent advisory group, tackling gun crime across London, and the former director of Westminster race equality council. She gives her view on racism, the police and the media

Issue No. 1987

Claudia Webbe

Claudia Webbe

Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair is continuing to feel the heat this week following his comments regarding institutional racism in the media.

He is experiencing no less than those of us who routinely complain of racism, harassment and discrimination - whether in the workplace, in our educational establishments, on the streets or at the hands of racist police officers.

It is absolutely clear that those who experience racism first hand and have the courage to speak up and speak out are systematically vilified.

Even the most progressive of organisations cannot tolerate being criticised for acts of institutional racism and discrimination, and those who complain about such organisations are quickly silenced and shifted aside.

Individuals are victimised and hounded out of their jobs, or they are arrested, beaten up and unlawfully detained for daring to complain about their racist treatment at the hands of the police.

Institutional racism is rife in the workplace, where those who work for the public sector fare no better than those that work in the private sector.

Indeed Sir Ian was correct to raise and respond to the issue of differences of treatment by the media when considering homicides involving black or white victims.

In London alone over 50 percent of reported homicide victims are black people, this is disproportionate to the population and disproportionate to the media reporting of such incidents.

Sir Ian rightly highlighted that the media is not immune from the problem of institutional racism. Racism in the media, as elsewhere, cannot be ignored. But his cries seem weak when compared with the extent of institutional racism still rife within the police service.

The police are the people that we are supposed to trust, yet we know for those of us operating at the heart of our communities that they sometimes abuse that trust.

As black communities we live in fear of death, serious injury, abuse, wrongful arrest and detention at the hands of the police. In my experience nothing has changed post Stephen Lawrence and the increased powers given to the police post 9-11 has simply given them greater legitimacy to discriminate against black communities.

The treatment of large sections of the black community at the hands of the police, at the hands of the media, and at the hands of the public and private sector highlight that we still have a long way to go to root out institutional racism. It is unlikely that any significant change will happen in our lifetime.

Radical action is needed in order for change to occur, so that those who have the courage to complain are adequately protected and those who suffer discrimination have proper opportunities for justice.

Action is required so that our children have their rights and freedoms upheld, so that their lives are not constrained and controlled by racism or discrimination, whether institutional or otherwise.

The media and the police as well as a wide range of other organisations still have a long way to go to remove the barriers of opportunity and to root out institutional racism.

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Sat 11 Feb 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1987
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