Melanie Phillips on Norman Dennis on the Macpherson Report.


Now we know the truth: the police are not racist

Here is an irony: our police are behaving in a racist manner again. A Home Office report has revealed that white people are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than Asians or black people. So does this mean the police are institutionally prejudiced against people of non-colour? Are we now into reverse discrimination?

Putting it like that shows the stupidity of the whole business of racial categorisation. There are many neutral reasons why disproportionately more white people are being stopped, of which the most likely is that in the wake of the Macpherson report damning the police for institutional racism, they are now reluctant to stop and search black people.

As the Home Office report also says, however, black people are both under and over-represented in stop and search in different areas; and where they are searched more often, this is not necessarily because the police are racist. In a previous Home Office report, Marian FitzGerald noted that black people are more likely to be stopped not because of police attitudes but as a result of information from third parties. In other words, there are huge variations in both police behaviour and the explanations for it. Sweeping generalisations to account for it, such as institutional racism, are ludicrous.

Yet it is precisely this mud which has been made to stick against the police and, more widely, the institutions of British society. This has come about not through the application of facts and reason but as a result of the witch-hunt atmosphere generated in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the police investigation into that awful crime amounted to institutional incompetence of a high order. What was completely lost sight of was that similar incompetence could be shown in cases involving white victims. Instead, the legitimate grounds for serious concern and complaint were whipped up into such a firestorm about race, and with such lasting and malign effect, that the police have lurched from one indefensible position to another.

Now the Macpherson report has been examined in detail by Norman Dennis, the sociologist, and colleagues in Racist Murder and Pressure Group Politics, published by the Institute for the Study of Civil Society. By the time they have finished, not much of Macpherson is left standing. Remorselessly, they expose the report's terrifying thought process that had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with the politicised bullying and intimidation that has had such a profound effect on the police and society.

The truly amazing thing is that although everyone believes that Macpherson claimed racism was rife in the police, the inquiry found

no evidence of this at all. It found no officer to be racist; no evidence that the policies of the Metropolitan police were racist; no racist conduct by officers; indeed, it rejected the claim that the police investigation into the murder had failed because of racism. Yet this report is held to be the conclusive proof that the police and all English institutions are riddled with racism.

As the Dennis book demonstrates, it managed this by intellectual sleight of hand. Since no racism was uncovered, it adopted the definition of institutional racism invented by Stokely Carmichael, the black power revolutionary, and used that to damn the police to perdition. Because this holds that racism mysteriously floats about in structures, not persons, you can be racist without knowing it. Thus what isn't there is really there, and to challenge that utterly specious reasoning is itself proof that you are a racist.

Unsurprisingly, Macpherson arrived at that diagnosis not through any attempt to gather objective facts but by taking evidence overwhelmingly from people whose world view rested on the certainty of pervasive racism by white people. In the style of the Stalinist show trials of 1936, the spirit of the proceedings was confessional with the quasi-religious insistence that the unbeliever must confess and if he did not this was merely further proof of his thought crime.

Macpherson's "evidence" of this racism, as Dennis and colleagues show, was often as ridiculous as it was sinister. On his own evidence, Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks obscenely abused the police officers who first arrived at the scene and was unpleasantly aggressive and agitated. When the police confirmed this account in their evidence, however, this was held to be proof of their unwitting racism.

Lawrence's mother handed an officer a piece of paper and the officer folded it up very small in his hand. This was held to be unwittingly racist. And so on.

In fact, the main impression from the report is not proof of racism. It is rather black hypersensitivity to offence, inflamed by activists playing on the grief and anger of the bereaved to label actions as racist, for which the inquiry found not a shred of factual evidence.

This has produced a tragic situation. It infantilises black people as permanent victims whose resentment can be easily manipulated by activists for whom their real interests are irrelevant. It condemns them to separation from and confrontation with white people, thus preventing black people from taking their proper place as equals in society on the basis of our common humanity.

Now this contagion is spreading. Greater Manchester police have issued a code to officers to avoid the horror of giving offence to anyone at all. Phrases such as "old codgers" are taboo; "deaf and dumb" must become "deaf without speech" (why?); the "wheelchair bound" must become "wheelchair users" (again, why?); "foreman" must become "supervisor"; and so on.

Of course police officers should be polite and considerate. But such fear of the nemesis that will instantly overtake them should they mix up a transvestite and a cross-dresser spells professional paralysis. And, of course, black people no less than white will suffer from the unchecked crime that will result.

Macpherson is the defining document of our times and the most shocking. The worst aspect of it is that almost the entire political and intellectual class is so cowed or enfeebled by the thought processes involved that hardly anyone dares to protest.

This is the perverse outcome of an assumption of progress that has the whole western world in thrall. It arises from the enlightenment idea that mankind is perfectible and that human nature can be remade in the image of virtue, the doctrine responsible for some of the greatest tyrannies the world has ever known. As Dennis reminds us, the Jacobins of the French revolution did not just depend on coercion but on purity of thought through self-cleansing. What was true and moral was known only to the enlightened few. To deviate in thought was not an error but a crime.

The heirs to the Jacobins have erected their tribunes within today's British establishment. It is doubly tragic that the deeply respectable Lawrences, in addition to losing their son, have been used by a movement that despises their values. They have become the mascots of radical wreckers thanks to - as Dennis concludes - their fateful encounter with a feckless social affairs intelligentsia and an unworldly high court judge. The consequences affect us all.

Sunday Times, September 24 th 2000 Melanie Phillips