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To What Extent Do Race, Ethnicity, and Culture Determine Minority Ethnic Experience of Crime and Criminal Justice
Stephen Lawrence murder was the most controversial unresolved murder case in modern history of Great Britain. The case led to the establishment of a public inquiry, which came up with a number of measures with an aim to change the British criminal justice system. The public inquiry established in 1999 by the then Home Affairs Secretary, Jack Straw, and headed by retired High Court judge, Sir William MacPherson, concluded that the Metropolitan Police suffered from ‘institutional racism’ (Rollock, 2009).
The murderers accosted Stephen, an 18-year-old British citizen whose parents were of Jamaican origin, at a bus stop where he was waiting for a bus to take him home together with his friend Brooks. The gang attacked him swiftly stabbing him twice, at the collarbone and on his left shoulder. Both attacks resulted in severing arteries, which has lead to excessive bleeding. He managed to free himself and stumbled a few meters away in the direction of his friend Brooks who was also running from the gang. However, he managed to run only a short distance and fell due to excessive bleeding. He died at Brook Hospital an hour later.
Police conducted investigation that was later termed as palpably flowed. The investigation had a lot to do with controversy, corruption, collusion, and allegations of racism (Phillips, 2009). The investigation pointed to a gang of five white racist youths as suspects, among them Dobson and Norris. Although some charges were pressed against them, the case was closed. Dissatisfied with the handling of the case by the authorities, the Lawrence family initiated a private prosecution against Dobson, Luke Knight, and Neil Acourt. The case ended with the acquittal of suspects by the trial judge and they went scot-free (Bowling, 2001).
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The report by Sir William MacPherson's commission found the Metropolitan Police guilty of institutional racism that obstructed justice. Among Sir William’s radical recommendations was a proposal to change the ‘double jeopardy’ law, the 800 year-old law that prevented suspects from facing a trial for the same case again, after acquittal of suspects in the first one. Such a change was brought into action in 2005, opening the way for previously acquainted suspects to go to trial again if new evidence is found (Unnever, 2008).
Moreover, such a change in law made the suspects to face the responsibility again. Forensic experts re-examined Stephen’s clothing and the items sized from the murder suspects in 1993. They found evidence, which was enough to implicate Dobson and Norris in the murder. This became possible by examining the microscopic bloodstains of Stephen’s blood found in Dobson’s jacket, and cloth fibres belonging to Stephen’s attire found on the clothes Dobson’s and Norrises clothes. The two were arrested and brought to court for the murder. Trial judges convicted them in 2012, 18 years after committing the crime.
Lawrence case brought to the forefront the issues minorities face in the British criminal justice system. The minorities suffer underrepresentation and discrimination in all the institutions of justice. A lot has changed since then, especially concerning police recruitment and promotion, but the issues of discrimination and ethnic profiling remained (Gabbidon, 2007).
The theories that explain race, racism, ethnicity, and culture with regard to crime, criminality, and victimization can broadly be categorized into two categories: biological theories and socilogical theories. Biological theory is one of the oldest theories in explaining ethnicity, race, and crime. The theory explains why the Africans, Orientals and Indians are more prone to committing crime as compared to whites. Conducting a research, the proponents of this theory made a connection between IQ, race and crime. They concluded that students with low IQ performed poorly in school and, consequently, were more prone to antisocial behavior (McCord, 2003). Traditionally, students of African origin have scored lower than students of other races on IQ tests, meaning they are more likely to commit crime (McCord, 2003). Further development of the theory has included environment one is born and brought up in to biosocial criminology. In Britain, Blacks are overrepresented in prison, since they make up to 15% of the prison total population, as compared to 2.2% of the general population.
Sociological theories use sociological factors such as age, economic status, social class and educational level to explain the tendency to commit a crime. Minorities, such as Blacks, suffer higher levels of unemployment and poverty as compared to whites. This may be one of the possible reasons of their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system both as offenders and as victims. Discrimination is another issue used in sociological theories. Blacks are arrested for minor offences that whites can escape from; they are committed to longer jail terms for similar crimes, and are subjected to employment discrimination.
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There exist cultural theories that explain race differences in the criminal justice system. Poverty that is common among minorities, especially Blacks, put them at a higher risk of becoming offenders and victims (Boume, 2008). Studies have also focused on deviant subcultures that view criminality as heroism. In Lawrence case, the African-Caribbean youths are viewed as the ones who appraise a gang culture that makes them commit crimes on the streets. This, in turn, breeds anger and hatred among the white population who see them as a menace. Stephen, therefore, could have suffered for being a member of a minority ethnic group, which is viewed as troublesome by whites (Phillips, 2007) Studies indicate that for every one undergraduate African-Caribbean student in a British university, there are three in prison. Again, on the Lawrence case, the white youths who killed him had a history of being racist and engaging in crime. They form a deviant subculture too.
Inequality/deprivation theories argue that persistent racial inequality and rampant poverty cause frustration among the young people, making them susceptible to delinquency and aggression. In Britain, the Blacks are economically disadvantaged. Rampant poverty is also common among them, which puts them at higher risk of becoming offenders and victims (Jenny, 2008). Lawrence, therefore, as a member of a disadvantaged group, was at a higher risk of victimisation. The police could also have trampled on his rights because of his race and ethnicity (Phillips, 2007). The Blacks suffer silently and do not report their sufferings to the police, because the police discriminate them on racial grounds. Furthermore, they lack resources necessary to pursue justice in the British justice system. Stephen's parents were rather exceptional in their pursuit for justice.
The MacPherson Inquiry of criticism of the Metropolitan Police for the way they handled the Lawrence case. This case is a pointer to what minorities experienced in the hands of police. When minorities reported victimisation to the police, the police were slow to take action, and if they arrested the white offender, they would set him free without pressing charges against him. The scenario would be different if it was a member of a minority group who haad offended a white person. This preferential treatment makes the white offenders feel they can do anything and get away with it (Bowling, 2001). This is exactly what happened with Lawrence; the police were slow in arresting the suspects and after arresting them, they barely conducted any investigation, not searching for the necessary evidence, so that the suspects could be set free.
Studies have also indicated that the police ignore everyday crimes affecting minorities. Moreover, when minorities report crime to the police, sometimes it provokes police harassment in form of inappropriate questioning, mistreatment and immigration checks (McCord, 2003). It, therefore, seems safer for the victims to remain silent than speak out openly in fear of police harassment.
Police have also faced accusation of refusal to acknowledge racist violence as a major problem. The reason is that they fail to acknowledge racist motives in many attacks, even when there is sufficient evidence. This is attributed to racist stereotyping among the officers who see ethnic minorities as potential offenders rather than potential victims. This explains the treatment meted on Duwayne Brooks, following Stephen Lawrence's murder. The police dismissed his evidence without much a thought because of their attitude towards him as a potential offender, not victim.
Moreover, evidence exists that the police suffer from racist assumptions, stereotyping and prejudice in treating minorities. In some cases, police officers share the racist feelings towards the minorities with the white offenders . This points out to cases when racists are recruited in the police force (Cao, 2003). They do not stop being racist merely because they have become police officers, but rather use their position to entrench racism. They have the same feelings towards minorities as the white offenders, who see the Blacks and Orientals as taking over opportunities that rightfully belong to them.
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Institutional racism is also a factor that haunts police service. This refers to the systematic discrimination ethnic minorities are subjected to. They are stereotyped as being untrustworthy and devious, and this defines the police attitude towards them. It is evident from the dissatisfaction experienced by Blacks and Asians about how the police handled their cases.
The law allows the police to stop and search is another area, where minorities are disadvantaged. Minorities are subjected to stop and search in disproportionately high numbers, because the police view them as more inclined to commit crime as compared to whites. Although it is lawful to conduct stop and searches, the police service misuse this law against minorities (Phillips, 2007).
The minorities' experiences in the courts are not any different from those of the police. The courts are accused of subjecting minorities to longer sentences than the whites for similar offenses. The discretion the magistrates and judges have over the sentence is abused. In such a way, for similar offense, they issue different sentences, depending on the offender’s ethnicity and race (Tahrir, 2004). African-Caribbean people are more likely to receive custodial sentences for violent acts. The number of Blacks in prison is rather high comparing to their proportion in the general population: 30% in prison as compared to 2.2% in the general population (Phillips, 2009).
The Stephen Lawrence's murder demonstrated the inequality that exists in the police service concerning the issues of race and ethnicity. There are numerous concerns to be addressed to ensure that the significant progress in establishing equality has been reached and minorities’ rights are upheld.
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