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Stephen Lawrence: The state of policing of BME communities 21 years on

Today marks 21 years since the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence. Within hours of Stephen’s murder, police had the names of five suspects from 26 different sources, yet there were no arrests for two weeks. The horrific circumstance of the murder and the subsequent incompetent inquiry pushed the nation, with its public institutions, to engage in discussions about racism.

Ever since the tragedy of losing their son, the Lawrence family have been working tirelessly to save other families from having to go through an ordeal similar to theirs. Their efforts prompted changes in policing, forensic science, the law, employment and community relations, and also left many campaign groups across the country feeling very inspired.

Last month members of the West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network (RJN) met with the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson.

As a collective of over 20 organisations that come together for the common purpose of promoting racial equality in our region, we view issues of policing as well as ensuring an open, transparent and accountable police force as being integral to our work.

We also believe it critical that police forces across the country and especially in areas with high representation of BME communities begin to prioritise the restoration of trust and confidence in policing.
Given our grassroots outreach as a network, we have the vantage point of being able to identify the following as factors which contribute to tense community-to-police relations:

  • The disproportionate and adverse treatment of BME communities: Our communities are upset by the fact that black people are almost 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 23 than white people in West Yorkshire.
  • The inadequacy of hate-crime reporting arrangements: In 2011 there were 1514 racial offences recorded by West Yorkshire Police but only 625 were detected.
  • Equality and diversity within the staff of the police force
  • The differential and adverse treatment meted out to BME officers compared to their White colleagues: The Telegraph exposé in 2009 uncovered a racism row within the West Yorkshire Force over allegations by ethnic minority officers of institutional racism. The Telegraph dossier highlighted examples of ethnic officers being treated more harshly than white officers facing identical disciplinary allegations, fabrication of evidence against black and Asian officers and bullying.

These trends are made even more poignant in light of Dr Richard Stone’s revelations found in his recently published book “Hidden Stories of the Lawrence Inquiry” .

Dr. Stone OBE was a panel member of Stephen Lawrence Inquiry as advisor to the judge, Sir William Macpherson. Over the past few months, he has been touring the six cities which the Inquiry visited following the publication of the Macpherson Report aiming to assess the progress that has been made since the publication of the Inquiry recommendations.

He visited Bradford on Friday 11th April as a keynote speaker at an event organised by JUST West Yorkshire, and at the back of this, I was able to record this interview with Dr. Stone where he discusses the progress made since the Inquiry.

This article initially appeared on Voice for Change website: http://www.voice4change-england.co.uk/content/stephen-lawrence-21-years