The relation between the media and almost anything out there is quite often controversial in one way or another. However, media coverage on policing matters tends to be negative most of the time. As a result of this fact, the media can easily influence the public's opinion on the police, making it difficult to distinguish myths from facts.
Public perception -particularly from youths- has never been stable nor too encouraging in terms of attitudes. This was seen throughout various moments in history including the Stephen Lawrence case -in which the police force was consequently labelled "institutionally racist" by Sir William Macpherson. In additional to this, there was the killing of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots, the London riots and most recently, the Mark Duggan case which caused controversy when his killing was found 'lawful' by a majority verdict decided by a jury.
It should be noted that in all four of these occurrences, the person on centre stage and at the top of media coverage was black. Why is it that black youth still feel they are discriminated against in the 21st century? And why is it that young people in general tend to have some form of pessimism towards the police?
The latest statistics on racist incidents provided by the Home Office for the year 2011/2012 showed a decrease in racial/discriminatory crimes. The overall number recorded by the police decreased from 51,585 in 2010/11 to 47,678 in 2011/12: an 8% drop.
From 2010/11 and 2011/12 there was a reduction in the number of racist incidents reported in 27 of the 43 police force areas.
Whilst these figures appear to be positive, the actual reality of discrimination by police themselves is quite bleak. In 2012, a report by the London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice Initiative showed that for the previous year, a black person was 30 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales than a white person. Such shocking statistics are said to represent the worst international record of discrimination and refer to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This section provides police with the power to stop and search individuals without reasonable suspicion and is often mentioned as an aggravating factor of the London riots in August 2011.
In terms of how much young people trust the police nowadays, whether or not they think a criminal's life is worth less and if justice was served for Mark Duggan I obtained a range of opinions from students.
Roni Murray (Economics student)
"I completely trust the police, I feel like they always act to the letter of the law and based on the information they have given. I think that there may be the possibility of racism from some members of the police but there isn't complete racism like there used to be. No, I believe that given what some criminals have done their lives are worth significantly less than the average criminal. But if a criminal is a threat to more people then their life is valued less than the bystanders. I think the story made a lot of people angry about the idea that the police had different motives than following the law. But personally i think there should always be an element of justice but if the law is broken and there is possibility of more consequences then action should be taken, as the result may be wrong but it is significantly better than problems escalating. The media has great control over public opinion, but I always have faith in the legal system even if it appears that I shouldn't. Because the police have protocols and laws to follow and if these were broken then there should be consequences for the police, but otherwise they are acting in the best interest of the public."
Demi Louise Foster (Law student)
"I have complete trust in the police. Their organisation and crowd control skills were exemplified in the 2012 Olympics and the Royal Wedding and I believe the crowds felt safe and secure at these major events. Alongside this, crime rates have dropped every year since the year 2000 which illustrates the competence of today's police force. I believe that the thought that all police are a racist, bribe-taking, unethical group of people is an unfair representation. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 sought to provide codified rules in order to ensure that outdated and sometimes underhand practices were removed from the modern police force. Since the Stephen Lawrence case, several Home Office reviews have substantially changed police practice to ensure that racism is, with the exception of a tiny minority (which you find in society anyway), is a thing of the past. 3. Do you believe a criminal's life is worth less? In a word, no. In a civilised society, all human life must be treated with respect. This is enshrined in our law in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights. As a society, we seek to punish wrongdoers for crimes that they have committed against their fellow citizens. These crimes do not exempt them from being citizens themselves and so they are entitled to the same rights. If this were not the case, the English legal system would still have the death penalty and corporal punishment. Mark Duggan's death was found to be lawful by a majority verdict. A jury's role is to decipher, beyond reasonable doubt, whether they believe a person is guilty or not guilty of a crime. In this case, they determined that the officer who shot Mark Duggan was not guilty of any crime and his killing was lawful. The main reason the jury is an integral part of the English legal system is to ensure that justice is served and for that reason, I have great faith in our justice system. The media does not influence my views. The media have their own agenda; their primary goal is to find a good story. For example, after Stephen Lawrence was killed, all reports focused on the 'institutional racism' of the police and not on the appalling fact that due to poor training, not a single police officer at the scene was able to provide first aid which could have saved his life. Reporting that we have a competent and even-handed police force may be reassuring, but it will not sell newspapers or make a good news story."
Louis Gray (Graphic Design student)
"Not much trust I'd say 50/50 as I know they have to hit targets and when they are short they use their power in a biased way. I do think that racism and discrimination does exist in the police, but not as bad as it used to be, hence why they pull over nice looking cars or younger drivers. I don't think that their lives are worth less but they've done the crime so they should do the time! I think it depends on the severity of the crime. I don't think that my perspective on the justice system has changed as a result of the Mark Duggan case because the police wouldn't just shoot someone; he drew first in my opinion. I am not really influenced by external factors; I know what the police are like through experience. I take what the media say with a pinch of salt as they often twist stuff."
Andi Krasniqi (Journalism & Media student)
"For me, the police symbolize security and safety, so I hold a lot of trust in them. I believe that we have come a long way from the days where people were targeted or treated differently because of the colour of their skin and now there is a diversity of different cultures and background working together to serve justice. I don't think a criminal's life is worth less. A human's life is something personal and should not be disregarded or seen differently, despite what that person may have done in the past. Everyone deserves a second chance. Yes and No, I find the Mark Duggan case odd because we only got to hear one side of the story for obvious reasons, so I don't know the full details of what really happened. However, I don't think it was right for him to be gunned down like that and the community thought the same. He should have been arrested and served his time in prison; I believe that's what justice really is. I definitely believe that the media influences the way I think. The media are renowned for this as they have the resources and funds to do so. They choose the angle for the story as well as how the audience should receive it. This is based on number a factors including, agenda, politics, controversy, stereotypes etc."
Whilst views from those interviewed are generally positive, it is unfortunate that statistics do not yet reflect the trust that young people are slowly regaining in the police. The Metropolitan Police has a long way to go if it aims to decreasing discriminatory incidents against minorities. As pointed out in a critical report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in 2013, Met investigators need to constantly be willing to follow up a complaint of racism and ensure the "unwillingness and inability" to deal with racism by officers is eradicated.