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In the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, when many attendees took the opportunity of a rare public appearance from President Jacob Zuma to boo the unpopular leader, many people were highly critical of those who had chosen Mandela’s memorial service to voice their unsatisfied opinions. However, one commentator, Eusebius McKeizer, made an important point. He said: “what’s too easy to do is say it’s bad decorum at a memorial service… what’s harder to do is to ask yourself why.” It was an important line which rings true in many cases, highlighting that merely deriding people, who have done something you disapprove of, is detrimental. Instead, we should make an effort to comprehend what is going through people’s heads when they act in ways which may seem irrational.
This principle can especially be applied to the recent case of Mark Duggan. Spectator editor Fraser Nelson was sceptical of claims of racism saying that: “gangsterism, not racism, was the root of Mark Duggan’s shooting.” Nelson is not alone in this dismissive attitude to calls of racism from people. It is quite easy for a white middle class magazine editor to deride those who have cried racism in the wake of Duggan’s shooting. It fails to understand the profound anger which many people in ethnic minority communities still feel as a result of a legacy of police racism and corruption.
For many, the story of an unarmed black man being shot dead by the police is all too familiar. Polling recently revealed that only half of the British public actually trust the police. This shows the toll that police scandals – such as plebgate, Hillsborough, and the death of Ian Tomlinson – have had on the police’s reputation. When you consider the abhorrence of these crimes and the profound effect it has had on communities across Britain, it’s no surprise that people may cry racism when something rather suspicious happens as in the Duggan case. In the 1999 Macpherson Report, described as “one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice,” it was found that the Metropolitan Police Service was “institutionally racist.” The findings of the report were damning and merely confirmed what many people in ethnic minority communities already knew.
The series of smearing stories about Mark Duggan which emanated from right-wing media outlets had an echo of the case of Stephen Lawrence, where it was recently revealed that undercover policemen were encouraged to dig up dirt on Lawrence and his family in order to discredit those who were campaigning for justice for their son who had been murdered because of his race.
Allegations of racism are too an indictment of the Independent Police Complaints Commission which proved toothless when it came to police reports immediately after Duggan’s death. It may be hard to remember, but initial reports claimed the police fired at Duggan after he had first fired at them – conveniently missing the fact he had thrown away his gun and failed to fire a bullet. When you consider that 42% of IPCC staff and 88% of senior investigators are ex-police, then the idea of corrupted collusion does not seem so far-fetched. The IPCC’s first report into the shooting of Mark Duggan even led Stafford Scott, an anti-racism campaigner, to sever his ties with the Met, claiming the investigation was “tainted.”
While much has been done to repair the relationship it can be no surprise when people still hold grudges for the horrific treatment they once suffered at the hands of authority figures who are meant to be protecting them. One way to further mend the relationship could be eliminating the blatant racial profiling prevalent in humiliating “stop and searches”, which means that in some areas black and Asian people are 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people. It will take time to heal the rift between the police and these communities. So when some people may allege racism, we would be better to understand the context in which the comments were made rather than rebuke those whose anger is rooted in decades of historical mistreatment.