A host of recent developments and revelations have once again made it abundantly clear that institutional racism is still rampant in Britain today.
What should also be clear is that the repressive institutions of the bourgeois state do not serve the people, and that practices such as cover-ups and corruption are part of the very logic of their operations, rather than the results of ‘extraordinary’ actions by a few ‘bad apples’.
On 18 March 2014, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police in 2003 destroyed a vast cache of documents connected to an ongoing corruption investigation, including documents relating to a detective involved in the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
This disclosure came just weeks after a coroner’s inquest ruled that the murder of Mark Duggan in August 2011 was ‘lawful’, despite the jury agreeing that Duggan was unarmed at the time. The two-and-a-half years following his murder have not only seen the usual attempts at cover-up and the giving of false evidence by the officers involved, but also a sustained media smear campaign against Mr Duggan and his family.
These are just some of the most high-profile cases, which need to be understood in the context of the daily discrimination and harassment suffered by black and Asian communities at the hands of the British police.
One of the most striking examples of this is the disproportionate use of ‘stop and search’ powers. Despite black people being around half as likely to be using drugs as other members of the public, in 2009-10 black people in England and Wales were more than six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs possession. In addition to this, they are treated far more harshly by the ‘justice’ system after arrest, and are much more likely to be charged for minor offences (as opposed to being merely cautioned). (See ‘The numbers in black and white: ethnic disparities in the policing and prosecution of drug offences in England and Wales’, release.org.uk, 2013)
In addition to the stop-and-search statistics, the numbers relating to deaths in custody also display the same disturbing features at a national level. Since 1990, there have been 82 deaths of members of an ethnic minority at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. None of these have to date resulted in a conviction.
Compare this to 63 in other forces in the rest of England and Wales, which is itself hardly an insignificant number. While many of the black and ethnic-minority deaths have been concentrated in the Metropolitan Police area, the number of deaths in custody generally have been quite consistently higher for ethnic minorities than for white Britons across the country. (See ‘Datablog: deaths after police contact or in police custody’, guardian.co.uk, 19 July 2012)
Particularly shocking is the number of black people suffering from mental-health problems who have died in police custody, often after having suffered disproportionate violence. (See ‘BMH UK launch campaign against deaths in custody’, blackmentalhealth.org.uk, 22 October 2013)
Add this systematic mistreatment and harassment to the wider economic inequalities that exist along ethnic lines and it is quite understandable how even a single incident can spark a drastic reaction; be it the police killings that sparked the Brixton and Broadwater Farm uprisings in 1981 and 1985 or the shooting of Mark Duggan that sparked the youth uprising of 2011.
While all this is deeply troubling, it is unfortunately not surprising. Marxists have long understood that imperialism survives by creating division and hierarchies at home as well as abroad – the partition of the world and exploitation of its masses goes hand in hand with racial oppression in the centres of imperialism itself.
While even a Labourite like Owen Jones , recognises that the London Metropolitan Police is a racist institution and not just one containing individual racists, his position also has serious flaws.
One major problem is that he focuses on the Met as a single bad institution rather than taking into account the system as a whole. This view is hardly any better than the ‘few rotten apples’ thesis. While London may be a particular case due to its socio-economic circumstances and ethnic make-up, police racism is hardly limited to the capital, as the previously-mentioned statistics show.
Partially following from this, his proposed solution is also highly unrealistic: abolish the Met and put a better police force in its place. How is this to be done? “That should be left to a royal commission – headed by an independent figure, not an establishment patsy – which calls evidence from all sections of the community.” (‘The Met’s problem isn’t bad apples, it’s the whole barrel. Abolish it’, guardian.co.uk, 9 March 2014)
It would indeed be nice if it were as easy as that, but this cannot be done without addressing the wider structural inequalities that exist – and that is not going to happen under capitalism. Even a country like Sweden, a pioneer of the so-called Scandinavian ‘model’, often hailed as getting the balance between capitalism and ‘socialism’ right, is not immune to the problems discussed here. Last year, Sweden saw rioting by disadvantaged youth in similar circumstances to those of Britain, many of them having an immigrant background.
That we can only have true equality between nations and between the various ethnic communities in our society after classes have been abolished does not mean that the question of racism has to wait until after the revolution; quite the opposite. As some of the most disadvantaged in British society, more black people, especially the youth, should urgently be encouraged to join the revolutionary ranks.
Without patronising them, British black and ethnic-minority youth need to be given the kind of Marxist-Leninist education that will enable them to adopt leadership positions in their communities, break down the walls of suspicion between workers, unite with other communities in common struggle against our oppressors, and advance the revolutionary struggle against imperialism.
As the old trade-union adage goes, “United we stand, divided we fall”. Or as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels so succinctly put it in the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”