By Joe Perkins
It’s been a harrowing recent year for the Metropolitan Police. It was of course the riots that gave them the most difficult challenge in their history, as the bottled anger of a large number of young people was unleashed. After the riots, many of the culprits cited the poor relation they had with the police as well as their arguably antagonistic stop and search methods.
Despite most young people stopped and searched in London being of an ethnic minority background, the riots weren’t seen as race riots. This was even with the rioters being disproportionately black and instigating initial disturbances because of their anger at the death of Mark Duggan, a twenty-eight year old Tottenham man of Afro-Caribbean descent. Considering this, journalists didn’t consider it to be a riot based on racial tension such as the Broadwater Farm riots of the 1980s and the Oldham riots of the early 2000s.
However, the old ghost of the Met’s institutional racism came back to haunt them this week as shocking evidence of racial abuse on the front line of the service was revealed. An audio clip recorded off a twenty-one year old East London man’s phone was released by the Guardian earlier this week. Within the audio, a police officer is heard taunting a victim with the words, “You’ll always be a f****** n*****”. Since the incident, three officers based in the Newham area have been suspended.
The empirical evidence of such controversial words being used by the Police has shaken the media, angered communities and brought the Met back into disrepute again. It seems to be blunder after blunder and scandal after scandal. Everything from the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Macpherson report, the riots and the recent allegations has brought massive shame to New Scotland Yard. With London’s Mayoral Election coming on the third of May this year, the cleaning up of the Met could define the victor.
Incumbent Mayor Boris Johnson’s response to the riots last August was seen as weak so he could struggle to be seen as a credible candidate for maintaining law and order in the capital. Labour candidate Ken Livingstone has, along with members of the shadow cabinet, blamed austerity for the riots and has said that without positive change for the poorest young people riots will happen again.
With three years left of this current parliament that has a coalition too stubborn to reverse any of its austerity cuts, Livingstone is likely to be right about what he has said. With the people of London in fear of riots happening again, all of them will want to see a candidate with the backbone to prevent them. Large communities will as well be frustrated that not a single mayor has made good enough policy to tackle institutional racism in the Police. In the light of the Olympics as the whole world turns its eyes to London, voters will be adamant that the city has a quality Police force that is both in control of Law and Order and isn’t racist.
This is possibly why Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick has seen this week as a perfect one for political cash in. A 2004 report, again revealed by the Guardian, warned Police that too much stopping and searching was carried out on Afro-Caribbean people who they consistently “racially stereotyped” as criminals. Paddick, then a commander in the Met, chaired the report. It is alleged to have been buried and ignored. Politically, the report could have been seen as a warning of pre-cursors to the riots and if recommendations were carried out, could the riots have been prevented? With his experience in the Met and the new allegations reported about his disregarded report, he will be likely to use any scandal within the Met as ammunition in the battle to become the next London Mayor.
This will possibly be the most significant ever Mayoral election in the world. As London needs to promote itself as a vibrant, cosmopolitan and peaceful city in 2012, the next Mayor will need to have a legacy of ending the constant stream of controversy in the Police as it fails both to address the taboo of racism and protect its ten million residents.