Saturday, 21 January 2012

The London Riots were entirely avoidable; tackling institutional racism is not.

'Relationships with London's black communities has changed dramatically since the election of Mayor Boris Johnson'
For the last 30 years I have been at the forefront of debates about the relationship between police and black communities. In that time I have worked on improving police community relationships often representing communities concerns about difficult issues such as police racism and brutality. I have campaigned extensively on issues of policing, racist attacks, deaths in police custody and stops and search issues.

Of late, having served as Policy Director for Equalities and Policing for London for eight years I speak with some authority on these issues, much to the annoyance and consternation of the Police, the Mayor's Office, and sections of the media all of whom have, of late, adopted a policy of largely ignoring critical voices such as mine.

The political culture and relationships with London's black communities has changed dramatically since the election of Mayor Boris Johnson.  The priority of race equality policy in London, one of the most diverse cities on the face of the planet, was substantially downgraded.

Policy, projects and funding associated with tackling institutional racism were swept away in an ideological right wing onslaught that left London bereft of any substantive and effective policies that focused on reducing racial inequality.

London’s growing multiracial demography demands that race equality is taken seriously. The costs of failing to do so, is deeply alienated communities that slowly fester in simmering anger and discontent.

Far from being “special interest group pleading” as described by London Tories and their supporters, effective race equality policies are essential to any city whose population is 40% non white.  Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s ideological abhorrence of such policies have come at enormous cost to Londoners.

Not only have we seen a substantive reduction in public funding in this area, but there has also been a notable reduction in the number of black people on the boards of various London bodies to which the Mayor has nomination rights. Compare racial diversity and gender representation in the Mayors Office itself, within the senior and middle management of the Greater London Authority and the senior ranks of the Metropolitan Police Service. All have reduced dramatically under this Mayor.

This fundamental and damaging political, cultural and policy shift, lead by the Mayor and his team, has infected other London institutions that take their lead on these issues directly from the Mayors Office.

I saw first hand how this operates and the policy of the Mayors Office can impact on the policy priorities of London institutions by setting strategic policy and budget priorities for the city.

This policy shift has also affected the Metropolitan Police Service that has in my view, returned to its historical cultural default setting of institutional racism.

One look at the astronomical increases in stop and search rates since Boris’s election in 2008 gives a stark illustration of that reality.

The Kirkin Report and the London Riots.

The events of August 2011 left the nation reeling in shock. Following the Tottenham shooting of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police Service and the release of lies by both the Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission who reported that Mark Duggan shot at a police officer, riots erupted in major cities across the country.

Mark Duggan: It was falsely reported that he shot a police officer

On the 30th November 2011 the MPS very quietly released its interim findings on the riots. The Kirkin Report  stated aims were ‘to develop a detailed understanding of the MPS response to significant public disorder in London between Thursday 4th August and Friday 19th August 2011 in order to inform future policing operations’.

What is significant here is that there was no press reporting of the report at the time neither was there any comment from the Mayor of London’s office. This is remarkable given the unprecedented nature of the events and the huge press interest in these issues.

The key areas of focus of the Kirkin Interim Review are the issues of public order policing and community engagement.

Community engagement is an absolutely critical component in modern policing. The established and accepted culture of ‘policing by consent’ is informed by this important principle. When it goes wrong the consequences can be devastating. 

Developed in the post Scarman and Lawrence era’s, consultation gave communities opportunities to express their complaints, concerns and frustrations with policing tactics, training methods and standards of professional behaviour.

Local community policing consultative groups were established after the 1981 Brixton riots. Groups such as Lambeth Police Consultative Group, which I had the honour of chairing, gave practical relief to acute community tensions and concerns and influenced policing policy enhancing police accountability.

Community consultation was further developed into a fine art by the MPS in partnership with communities and the now abolished Metropolitan Police Authority.

Image Detail
MPA Member Cindy Butts said that the MPA (now disbanded) had improved accountabilty.
It included the concept of Gold Groups and Independent Advisory Groups who, as long as they have credible memberships, can do a tremendous job in reducing police community tensions, particularly where communities have very low levels of trust and confidence in the police service.

The Kirkin report where it addresses the issues of community engagement reads like a police report of the 1970’s. The central thrust of the report is that the events in August 2011 ‘were entirely unprecedented’ and;

“Community engagement was seen as an immediate priority following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan. The specific activity undertaken by Haringey Borough following the incident was comprehensive and strenuous in its efforts to ensure effective communication was instigated across the Borough. The MPS used its existing community contacts to seek information regarding community tension and to consult on the policing style to adopt.

As soon as police became aware of family and community concerns regarding communication, direct liaison with the IPCC was undertaken to relay these concerns.

Analysis to date of the feedback and information from the community suggests that either the violence was spontaneous without any degree of forethought or that a level of tension existed amongst sections of the community that was not identified through the community engagement process.”

That analysis is a travesty of the truth and constitutes a grievous and very serious political attack on the local community of Tottenham.

In an explosive revelation in the London Evening Standard the much-respected Pastor Nims Obunge released an email that he sent to the Metropolitan Police Service 24 hours before the riots erupted. Nims is not a man to speak out critically: it is simply not his style. He prefers quiet, as opposed, to gunboat diplomacy. That such a man has chosen speak out is hugely significant.
Nims Obunge
Pastor Nims Obunge: 'If someone had spoken to the community earlier ...yes, the riots could have been averted'
(London Evening Standard)
Not only were the MPS informed by Pastor Nims of the gravity of the situation in Tottenham, through a series of communications including phone calls and emails, he was ignored. No action was taken to ensure that his strong recommendation was implemented: that a senior police officer meet with the family of Mark Duggan and the local community.

Pastor Nims did not bother to contact the Mayors Office. I can tell you now if there had been someone he felt he could have called and be taken seriously, he would have no doubt made that call.

This illustrates the extent to which relationships with the Mayor’s Office and London’s black communities have degraded. Nims’s contact with me whilst in the Mayors Office was frequent. We were both on speed dial. It is very significant that he felt unable to call anyone in the Mayor’s Office regarding a riot in London. Who you going to call? Not the Mayors Office

The MPS failed to provide a senior officer to meet with what at that stage was a peaceful demonstration outside Tottenham Police Station. That demonstration significantly included members of the Haringey Independent Advisory Groups many of whom were outraged at the attempt by the IPCC press statement that falsely stated that Mark Duggan had fired the first shot at a police officer.

The report then goes onto to say that The MPS were expecting the IPCC to make contact with the Duggan family. This again is a fundamental error there was nothing preventing the MPS from contacting the family or addressing that initially, peaceful demonstration.

Nims describes the report as a ‘whitewash’ and he condemns the MPS for failing to act on his warnings.

London Riots - August 2011
London August 2011
 The MPS conclusion that they had no advance intelligence on the nature of increasing tensions between police and London’s black communities is also fundamentally flawed. In March of this year Smiley Culture died in police custody and at the time, I described those relations as being at ‘boiling point’.

Nationally there were three more suspicious deaths of black men in police custody that caused huge outcries of public concern. In April a huge march demanding justice descended on Scotland Yard, and others took place around the country. Add to that the huge historical significance of the shooting of a black man in Tottenham and even the most amateurish of observers should have concluded that tensions were running extremely high.

These political and professional failures cost Londoners and other cities dear.  The real tragedy is that lives, including that of Mark Duggan’s and others were lost. As I have stated previously and Pastor Nims has recently stated, this riot was entirely avoidable.

If the MPS, the Home Office and the Mayor’s Office did not recognise the reality of the situation, then that is a direct result of their general ideological predisposition that results in racial equality policies and the fight against institutional racism being taken off the agenda.

As a result, race equality policies that could make a difference are ignored on the basis of political ideology, which further results in administrations becoming less diverse as a result, black concerns being marginalised and distrustful communities becoming increasingly alienated and angry. In such a context, in such a city such political and professional prejudice is not only short sighted, it is extremely dangerous.

With the abolition of the MPA and with Boris Johnson’s Office, the Home Office and the MPS all failing to see what was hidden in plain sight, I can offer another warning which they may well choose to ignore.

Black communities and police relationships in London are now back to where they were in the 1980’s. Urgent action is needed. Ignore that at your peril.

Lee Jasper