A legacy for change

Today’s Stephen Lawrence Day has had me reflecting on A Legacy For Change. My learning today began with watching this video.

Stephen’s legacy has already led to so much systemic and legal change in the UK but his legacy can and must continue.

Know their stories

Earlier on this week, I attended a webinar with Angela Browne on taking a luminary approach to DEI work in education organisations and in it, she shared the story of Bijan Ebrahimi, murdered in a racially motivated attack and utterly failed by police. His story has stayed with me since and is likely to for the rest of my life. There are many other individuals whose stories are likely unfamiliar to many of us but that we have a responsibility to know. These are a few: Mushin Ahmed, Christopher Alaneme, Altab Ali, Kelso Cochrane, Anthony Walker.

It strikes me that in the UK, citizens and the media seem to be disproportionately absorbed by violence that happens in the US. This is a convenience to those in denial of the extent of racism in the UK as they can point to the ‘unique’ challenges in the US from a distance and absolve themselves of responsibility for violence and systemic racism in the UK. Learning more about both the history and present reality of racism in this country is a vital antidote to this attitude.

Hate crimes are not a thing of the past

‘Outright racism’ is referenced in the recent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities and whilst its existence is recognised by the report, the conclusion is drawn that these are ‘individual instances’. This language puts me in mind of a handful, a small number of instances in a minority of communities and yet the data distinctly paints a far more concerning picture.

Police recorded crime figures in 2019/20 show that there were 105,090 offences where one or more of the centrally monitored hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. This represented a 8% increase on figures for 2018/19.’ 76,070 of these crimes were racially motivated.

An 8% increase may suggest that victims of hate crimes feel safer to report such incidents but that only paints a worse picture, one where hate crimes in previous years were even higher and that those in 19/20 may be even higher still. The report itself highlights the possible inaccuracies in the data, the lack of recognition of intersectionality in the crimes and the exclusion of figures from Greater Manchester Police due to unavailable data. It also frequently cites the hate crimes as ‘police recorded’ implying there may be additional crimes that went unreported too.

In the Macpherson report, a definition of ‘racist incident’ is proposed as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. I’m left wondering how often in schools, policing and workplaces, this definition has been adequately applied.

I was interested to see how many of these hate crimes had resulted in convictions. ‘9% of such offences ended with a charge or summons; 78% of cases did not result in further action due to a lack of evidence, the victim did not want to pursue further action or a suspect was not identified; 7% of cases were either settled out of court; further investigation or action was deemed to not be in the public interest or action was taken by another body or agency; 7% of offences were waiting to be assigned an outcome.’ Until more of these hate crimes result in convictions then there’s still a great deal to fight.

Progress towards Macpherson recommendations

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, often referred to as The Macpherson report, was published in 1999 and I was interested to learn more about the impact of its 70 recommendations since its publication. These recommendations (p. 375) were designed to reduce the impact of institutional racism in the police system in particular.

A report from the House of Commons 10 years after Stephen’s murder indicated that whilst substantial progress had been made in some areas, ‘black communities in particular were disproportionately represented in stop and search statistics and on the National DNA Database; in fact, the gap had increased since 1999.’ Additionally ‘the police service would not meet its target to employ 7% of its officers from ethnic minority communities nationally by 2009.’ These officers ‘continue to experience difficulties in achieving promotion, as well as being more likely to be subject to disciplinary procedures.’

These may seem like out-of-date conclusions to reference but the publication of parliament’s report ‘21 years on‘ was delayed in 2020 and is yet to be published.

Speaking in 2019 on the progress towards the report’s recommendations, ex-chairman of the National Black Police Association, Leroy Logan, states that these problems still persist: “Black officers are disproportionately subjected to discipline compared to their white counterparts. You still see black staff hugging the lower ranks and they aren’t breaking through to the upper levels of the organisation. We still have disproportionality in stop and search, where a black person is five times more likely to be stopped by police than their white counterparts” (BBC, 2019).

Sir William Macpherson says he recognised there was a problem within the force, which was “worse than individual acts of racism” and despite insistence to the contrary from those in the system, Ms Dick, that the force is not still institutionally racist: “I simply don’t see it as a helpful or accurate description. This is an utterly different Metropolitan Police”. ‘Currently 14% of Met officers are from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds. However, 40% of London’s population comes from BAME backgrounds. This means, if the Met continues to recruit at this rate, it will take 100 years to build a workforce that truly reflects the community it serves.’

Workforce stats published earlier this year indicate that more than 20 years later, the police recruitment target for 2009 has been met at a national level – 7.3% – but a number of ethnicities remain under-represented in relation to the general population. In a graphic included in statistics on the race and criminal justice system (2018), it’s also clear that this doesn’t compare favourably with a number of other professions in the legal system either where numbers of employees from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are higher.

Percentage of BAME employees in different legal professions: Ministry of Justice 21%, Crown Prosecution Service 20%, Police Officers 7%, HMPPS 8%, Court Judges 7%, Magistrates 12%

Statistics from 2018 on the race and criminal justice system reveal that ‘white defendants have had a consistently
lower average custodial sentence length for indictable offences than all other ethnic groups since 2014′ and ‘Black prisoners served a greater proportion of their determinate sentences in custody compared to all other ethnic groups in 2018’.

There are a number of conclusions included in the crime and policing section of the Commission on Race report that add to this picture:

  • ‘Ethnic minority people, and specifically Black people, are disproportionately victims of violent crime and homicide; for every White victim of homicide aged 16 to 24 in 2018/19, there were 24 Black victims’
  • ‘Racist assaults against police officers in the Metropolitan Police service almost doubled between the year ending November 2019 and November 2020’
  • ‘No police services were fully ethnically representative of the population they serve.’

I should end this section by sharing that I am no statistician and this knowledge does not relate to my sector or context so there is likely to be more data to discover and much under the surface of this data that I am wholly unaware of.

In addition to the Macpherson report, I’m wondering wherese these reports have landed in society and been actioned.

  • The Race Disparity Audit, published by then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, showed inequalities between ethnicities in educational attainment, health, employment and treatment by police and the courts
  • The 2017 Lammy Review found evidence of bias and discrimination against people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the justice system in England and Wales
  • Also in 2017, the McGregor-Smith Review of race in the workplace found people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were still disadvantaged at work and faced lower employment rates than their white counterparts
  • An independent review of the Windrush scandal, published in March, found the Home Office showed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race” (BBC, 2021)

Where to from here?

I hadn’t intended to write this blog at the start of today but I wanted to record the day’s learning and thinking. I wondered if I might end it feeling despondent but it’s quite the opposite. This is the importance of knowledge as it can drive our purpose, giving weight to our intentions. In Angela Browne’s webinar earlier in the week we were asked the following questions and spending time with these is the next step for me, to ensure I can continue to have an impact in my context. If we were all doing the same then perhaps there would be a lasting legacy for change.

Advocate/ally/accomplice

  • Who do you advocate for?
  • Who do you offer your allyship to and how?
  • Who do you need to be an accomplice to?

Listening to our inner impulse

  • What is the question that’s trying to be answered?
  • What does it guide you towards?
  • What is it that you want to shine a light on?
  • What is calling you?

I’m also going to revisit these powerful prompts:

  • An incident in which I witnessed or experienced oppression was…
  • The thing that bothers me as it relates to the incident that I’ve just described is…
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