Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1863

Gun crime, the police and racism

This article is over 20 years, 9 months old
Black activist Weyman Bennett introduced a lively discussion at this year's Marxism event. People in the audience then gave their views
Issue 1863

Over the last few months there has been a barrage of headlines about black people and crime.The tragic shooting of two young women in Birmingham at new year led to an outpouring of grief and a moral panic about gun crime. Politicians queued up to tell us that rap music was the cause of the problem. But the whole idea of black on black crime has been falsely created by the police.

They don’t count any other types of crime like this – you don’t hear of burglary being ‘white on white crime’ or fraud being ‘rich on poor’ crime. Former police commissioner Paul Condon responded to the Macpherson report by launching Operation Eagle Eye with the claim, ‘Very many of the perpetrators of muggings are young black people, and I am asking for cooperation from the black community to support that.’

He couldn’t produce any figures to support this. He said his evidence came from talking to police officers. Trident, or the Yardie Squad, was formed by Scotland Yard in 1990 to stop the drug trade in London. Two tons of drugs come into London every week and the trade is worth millions of pounds.

Would serious drug dealers trust their livelihoods to Rastas from Jamaica to get them through customs? The idea is laughable. Anyway, the unit couldn’t find any.

They flew officers from Scotland Yard to Kingston, Jamaica, to find Yardies and recruit them to help them make contact with drug dealers. They put the Yardies up in a hotel and paid them £5,000. But they soon disappeared and went into business themselves. Some were later involved in fatal shootings.

The Stephen Lawrence case exposed the racism of the police to millions of people, and the Macpherson report put the police on the defensive. Stop and search dropped by 40 percent, not just for blacks but for young whites as well.

The police are constantly trying to re-establish their right to act as they please. In the last year, stop and search has gone up eight times against the background of scares about Yardie gangs. The police are so racist because of their role in society. They were not set up to stop crime.

According to their own figures, their chance of coming across a crime being committed is once every 14 years. The police’s main role is protecting property. A pensioner being robbed is more serious than a bank, but the police spend their resources protecting the bank. Look at Prince William’s birthday party.

The impersonator comes in, and is probably more fun than anyone else there, but is picked up and thrown out. The officer in charge was sacked. Compare that to what happened to the police involved in the Stephen Lawrence case, or when Ricky Reel died.

They weren’t sacked, they were promoted. There have been shootings of young black people by other young black people, but not because of their music or culture. Racism has a massive impact on people’s lives. Black youth suffer 40 percent unemployment.

Ethnic minorities make up 5 percent of the population but 19 percent of the prison population. If you are from an ethnic minority you are four times more likely to be excluded from school, and will earn £129 less a month than a white person with equivalent qualifications.

A small minority of black people give up and turn to crime because of poverty, deprivation, and constantly being shown what they can never have. People are alienated from control over their lives. When youth unemployment falls, youth crime falls.

When people have alternatives, fewer turn to crime, but the alternatives are being shut down by New Labour, with tuition fees, for example.

The anti-war demos were the biggest anti-racism demos ever in our society because people were united and fighting back together. There is the potential for a mass movement against racism.

‘What can I do about crime as a teacher?’

I am a teacher. I have concerns about young black students underachieving and the high levels of school exclusions. I want to hear more about the black community and how we respond. I live in Harlesden, and I do think there are problems within our community because black boys do get involved in crime.

I don’t want to take the side of the right wing, but I teach in a school where there is a problem with black boys underachieving. What is my role as a teacher where my experience tells me there are issues to address in the black community?


‘Kids get written off. It’s easier for schools to push them out rather than help them’

I WORK with young offenders, kids in care and teenage mums. The whole gun culture stuff is not just a black thing-it affects both black and white urban youth. The kids don’t start off aspiring to this culture. They have ordinary dreams, the same as every other kid.

But then they get written off at school. Schools want to keep their grades up to look good in the league tables. If a kid is shunted off to an exclusion unit, the school can count his or her attendance as 100 percent. It’s easier to push the kids out than it is to help them.

I have worked with kids who have committed horrible, violent crimes. It’s not pretty. But the solution is social-you can’t just start from each individual. You have to start from a bigger perspective. It’s about fighting for better resources and it’s about changing the whole of society.

Dean Ryan

We have to challenge the orthodoxy about crime. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered, there were hardly any stories about black crime in the press. The legitimacy of the police was being challenged up and down the country because of Stephen’s murder.

The stories about young black men being a problem, or black culture being a problem, are key to the rehabilitation of the police and them regaining legitimacy for discredited practices like stop and search. The threat of crime is being used to divide black and white communities. It is being used to divide so called respectable black people from other black people.

Don’t fall for the hype over drugs. Our clubbing culture depends on drugs. They are not being dealt by young black teenagers on street corners.

Theresa Bennett

Figure it out

19 is the percentage of the prison population from ethnic minorities despite making up only 5 percent of the population

‘Bitterness, anger and frustration’

There is a vacuum of leadership in the black community. It is no surprise that there is bitterness, anger and frustration among black people. Five years ago Jack Straw was saying that Stephen Lawrence’s memory must lay the basis of a society based on race equality. What have we got? The criminalisation of black communities, unemployment and school exclusions.

This is despite the fact that we have black faces in high places. We have Paul Boateng in the cabinet. We have David Lammy, MP for Tottenham. We have Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and Lee Jasper, now adviser to Ken Livingstone. Their leadership is ‘misleadership’ because the reality on the ground has got worse for people.

This does raise the question, can we rely on black people getting into positions of power to change things for us or should we do it ourselves? It was the Stephen Lawrence campaign that put the question of institutionalised racism. It wasn’t the Daily Mail or New Labour. And it was ten years of black and white people demanding an inquiry and demanding justice. That tradition is real leadership.

Brian Richardson

To order tapes of meetings at Marxism 2003, phone Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, on 020 7637 1848.

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