The sickening racism that appears to have been directed at a young black man arrested by police in London, recorded on his mobile phone and published by the Guardian days ago should have rocked the British media. Yet, apart from the latter paper's transient webpage headline and some powerful commentary online, few major news sources in this country seem to have addressed the revelations - or, more importantly, the burning issues they evoke - with particular energy.
This is scandalous in itself. Why shouldn't a story that reveals a police officer was recorded admitting - or rather "boasting" - that he strangled a young black man because he was a "cunt" and later tells him he'll "always be a nigger", be worthy of widespread report - or more appropriately, widespread outrage? And why shouldn't it be widely known that this apparently brutalised young man's complaint, when brought to the attention of the Crown Prosecution Services, was reportedly not treated as being of sufficient seriousness to warrant charges being made against the officer involved?
If what the recording indicates actually occurred - and there is no evidence at present to suggest that it did not - then the man involved should face dismissal and prosecution. Moreover, the CPS should be asked some very searching questions.
Questions do indeed abound when it comes to suspected police abuses. Disturbingly, hundreds of men and women have died in police custody since 1998 alone, many of them in dubious circumstances, yet not a single police officer has been prosecuted in connection to these deaths. All too often when shocking misbehaviour beyond the cells is exposed, such incidents seem to have a funny habit of being officially recognised some long time after the they were first reported, sometimes when the main suspects have retired - or even died.
Take, for example, the incident involving Blair Peach, an anti-war protester killed almost certainly by policemen in 1979. According to a retrospective BBC piece that revisited his death, "[n]o police officer has ever been charged with the alleged attack on Blair Peach, although 11 eyewitnesses reported seeing him struck by police." The article continues:
"[a]n internal Metropolitan Police inquiry began on the day after his death... The inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure. The verdict was greeted with dismay, and 79 MPs called for a public inquiry into the case. The request was turned down."
In 2010, three long decades after his death, an internal police report ordered at the time was made public. Protecting the names of the suspects implicated in the crime, the paper did however "confirm that an officer probably struck the fatal blow which killed Mr Peach."
Additionally - here follows the amazing part, bearing in mind that the findings indicate that the police knew for some 30 years who the key suspects for this killing probably were but did not appropriately discipline them - the good old Crown Prosecution Service advised that no officers would face prosecution even at this late stage.
Why? The report appears to suggest that the chief suspects from the unit simply closed ranks. To quote Commander Cass who authored the report:
"it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier 1-1... It can be clearly seen from the various statements and records of interviews with [the suspected] officers that their explanations were seriously lacking and in the case of [three officers], there was a deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at the vital time"[emboldening added]
So: someone gets killed by the police and nothing happens because of deceit, all of which is known by senior officers - is that acceptable? The CPS decided to let it lie in 2010. To this writer at least, it is hard to believe that the truth could not have been eked out if the motive to pursue it existed in the form of some high-level edict.
The CPS are not the only body that have courted controversy. In 2008, a group of lawyers resigned from an advisory role they occupied for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), citing "increasing dismay and disillusionment" with the body set up to address complaints against the force. An investigation by the superb journalist Nick Davies found "a cluster of administrative problems" at the IPCC, including, alarmingly "a pattern of favouritism towards the police with some complaints being rejected in spite of apparently powerful evidence in their support", among other issues. The same body did not perform with distinction over the recent Mark Duggan affair, either - eliciting mass community anger in the process.
Very, very worrying stuff. It appears that the police do have an awful lot of work to do in order to change their morally ambiguous image, particularly after the successive scandals of recent years: from credible allegations of "institutional racism" in official reports tied to the Stephen Lawrence case, an investigation ridden with unforgivable police failures, to the recent incident addressed in this article. Sadly, new accusations of police criminality by associates of the man accused in that Guardian piece have surfaced, suggesting a policeman from the same unit assaulted a black teenager a few hours after his colleague's alleged offences .
What would really make a difference to public opinion, one suspects, would be a display of greater transparency and accountability from the groups designed to look into alleged police crimes.
This would have to be facilitated by a shift in how the police are themselves policed. Rogue misconduct is bound to occur within a large workforce but stamping it out transparently with the support of a respected complaints service would go some way to assuaging critics. If such a reformed supervising body could make punishing racism a priority that would help massively. If lawyers, ethnic minority and civil society representatives could be more fully incorporated into the picture this would also help to restore trust and confidence.
Will the officer who allegedly abused the young man be prosecuted fully? Probably - but this may have a lot to do with the fact that the evidence against him is now public.
Pity those whose grievances aren't widely known.