THE BLOG

Yet Another Report On Black People In The Criminal (In)justice System

11/09/2017 15:33
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

There are no real surprises in the Lammy Review. The increasing number of Black young males in custody and their overrepresentation and differential treatment in most areas of the Criminal Justice system is as one would expect, when despite the warnings over many years, particularly from academics, voluntary sector organisations and community activists, nothing of significance has been done to reduce it. In fact, some evidence seems to indicate that the opposite has been happening - joint enterprise for example, which is disproportionately applied in cases involving groups of Black young people, has contributed significantly to the high levels of young Black males in custody over the past decade or so.

Attempts to tackle discrimination tend to come in the form of yet another, updated race relations training exercise or the recruiting of a handful of 'community leaders' from ethnic minority communities to engage in advisory committees where they have little or no power, giving the impression that good community engagement is happening, when it's not. The few tweaks here and there that Lammy recommends, are unlikely to result in any noticeable levelling out of the field. Myself, and many other Black people that I've engaged with over many years on issues around race and the criminal justice system, have heard time and time again about initiatives that would transform the system into one that is more just and fair and I get the sense from more recent engagements, that we have reached a point where anything less than revolutionary, will not be taken seriously and Lammy's recommendations are unfortunately, less than revolutionary.

On the one hand you have the statistics, where the disproportion can be either numbers that indicate some unfairness somewhere, whether intentional or not, or conveniently filed away when someone makes the argument that Black young people commit more crime. On the other hand, you have the lived experiences of Black people, who across class, age and gender, can give examples of the sometimes very serious injustices they have faced in their encounters with the criminal justice system.

So while the focus tends to be on rates of stop and search, very little attention is given to the manner in which they are conducted. It's not just the impolite way in which some police officers tend to approach Black males, it's the racist taunts, the humiliating and unnecessary strip searches, the assaults and brutality that we are now able to witness, as we become accustomed to living in a world increasingly dominated by CCTV surveillance and social media. It's not just in America that Black people die at higher rates while in police or prison custody and there are many families in the UK who have lost loved ones and who are engaged in longstanding fights for justice and who view the IPCC and courts as illegitimate.

David Lammy's report, no doubt constrained somewhat by his given remit, therefore conveniently sidesteps these sorts of difficult discussions, meanwhile these are very important issues within our Black communities. Until the establishment take seriously, and shows a sincere commitment to addressing these realities, the system will continue to be viewed by many as illegitimate, which is a clear impediment to any meaningful progress. This would entail handing over the power to Black people to define what the issues are and to not have their realities denied. If this were to happen, it would at least be a starting point for a more productive approach to achieving justice, which after all should be what we all want.

Meanwhile, as it's likely to be a long wait, as family members, neighbours, and community members, we could invest more time and resources towards supporting the incredibly underfunded voluntary organisations, groups and individuals who are already actively working towards addressing these injustices. Whether the focus is on the prevention of offending, supporting people in the criminal justice system, rehabilitation or challenging injustice, all contribute to the improved life chances of those amongst us who come into contact or are at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. We do have the power and the wherewithal to make a difference where the government won't, and if not now, then when?

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