Diversity, Public Safety, and the Criminal Law: A London Tale

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Earlier this week in a London courtroom Iranian-born Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei was convicted and imprisoned for abusing his powers and perverting the course of justice. He was found to have done so in July 2008 by arresting a young man with whom he was embroiled in an altercation over money the man claimed Dizaei owed him. Dizaei arrested the man for allegedly assaulting him with an implement that he was carrying.

 

Among many unusual features of the case, not least is that this is not the first time Dizaei has been tried and convicted for these offences. Two years ago he was found guilty of them in the very same courthouse where he received a four year prison sentence. He was still serving it a year later when that initial guilty verdict was overturned as unsafe on appeal. That led to his release and reinstatement in his former job on full pay, albeit under suspension pending the outcome of his retrial.

 

The verdict at the first trial was judged unsafe because the chief prosecution witness at it, namely the young man whom Dizaei arrested and accused of assault, had since been found at the time of it to have lied under oath about his identity, as well as to have been committing benefit fraud during it, casting doubt on his reliability.

 

In the event, the jury at the second trial decide to trust his word more than Dizaei’s.  Doubtless, they were partially swayed by the corroborating testimony of the police physician who examined Dizaei at the time of the arrest. She testified bruising on his stomach more consistent with having been self-inflicted than caused by the implement with which Dizaei claimed he had been attacked.

 

That a Metropolitan Police officer should fit up someone is not unprecedented. That   so senior an officer Dizaei should was. In itself, that would not be nearly as consequential as it is, but for several further facts which make his case so unique and important.

 

At the time of the offence for which he was just found guilty again, Dizaei was, and for a long time had been, president of the National Black Police Officers Association (NBPA). This was an organisation with which he had been closely involved since its creation in 1999, when he transferred to the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) gaining promotion in the process.

 

From that time on until his arrest in September 2008, Dizaei had been the subject of several major police investigations into allegations of corruption, for some of which he had faced trial in 2003 but acquitted. After his acquittal, remaining charges were dropped in a deal in which he was handsomely compensated, reinstated in his former post and subsequently promoted to Commander.

 

Throughout his active service with the MPA, Dizaei used his presidency of the NBPA to browbeat it with charges of racism. At the time of his arrest, he was involved in a series of grievances against it that he had encouraged its most senior ethnic minority officers to initiate for alleged racism. He used his presidency of the NBPA to support these officers by calling for MPA vacancies to be boycotted by black and other ethnic minorities. Given that, since 1999, the MPA had been striving to meet very ambitious minority recruitment targets, this tactic was calculated to impose maximum pressure on the MPA to settle the disputes as he wanted. Needless to say, with his arrest, plus the near simultaneous exposure as a fraud of the solicitor friend of his who had been acting for the NPBA and some of these minority officers, their several actions against the MPA were swiftly withdrawn or otherwise resolved, and the boycott called off.

 

Even after his arrest and suspension, Dizaei received support from the NBPA and other race activists who continued to protest his innocence and who claimed he was being victimised for fighting racism in the police. Over and over, they joined with him in alleging racism cause of the disproportionate numbers in which black and other ethnic minorities were subject to stop-and-search operations by the police, arrest, trial, and imprisonment. They similarly deemed racism the cause of the corresponding disproportionate infrequency with which these minorities were recruited into the police service and gained promotion once there. All alternative more innocuous explanations were dismissed out of hand.

 

Faced with such pressure, plus the ever-present threat of riots and public disorder that these race activists might possibly be able to engineer unless placated, central government and local police authorities in England bent over backwards to recruit and promote black and other minority officers. Standards of policing consequently declined, as police appointments and promotions became made on the basis of ethnicity, not merit.

 

Public safety, especially of black and other ethnic minorities, was also compromised by police avoiding accusations of racism by cutting back on the number of their stop and search operations. Since black and other ethnic minorities are disproportionately victims of gun and knife crime, as they are identified as its perpetrators when anyone is, the effect of reducing them has been to increase the number of such crimes.

 

In addition, concern to placate the race lobby has led to one further change to the criminal justice system in England which has reduced everyone’s security there.

 

In 2005, legislation was passed to permit second prosecutions of those previously acquitted of criminal charges, if new material evidence should come to light. The change was expressly made to enable the second prosecution of five white men who, a decade before, had been acquitted of charges of having murdered a black teenager Stephen Lawrence on the streets of London in 1993.

 

Ever since his murder, with the encouragement and coaching from many race activists, including Nelson Mandela (who happened to be in London at the time of the teenager’s murder, his parents had claimed not only that their son’s murder had been racially motivated, but so too had been the failure of the police to bring his murderers to justice.

 

After unsuccessful prosecutions of the five suspects in 1995 and 1996, plus a long-postponed inquest into the teenager’s death in 1997 (at which his mother declared:  ‘Our crime was living in a country where the justice system supports racist murderers against innocent people’), one of the first acts of the newly-elected Labour government in 1997 was to appoint an enquiry  into what lessons might be learned from the failed prosecutions of the teenager’s alleged murderers, under the chairmanship of a recently retired High Court judge Sir William Macpherson.

 

The ensuing ‘Macpherson’ enquiry took place in 1998, resulting in publication early in 1999 of the so-called ‘Macpherson Report’. Among its principal ‘findings’ was that the MPA, along with all the country’s other public services, was riddled with what it called institutional racism, a term and concept it derived from American radical black activist Stokely Carmichael, and which it defined as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin’.

 

Among the principal recommendations made by the report were that police authorities should encourage their membership to reflect the cultural and ethnic mix of the communities they serve; all police officers receive training in valuing diversity; and the Home Secretary and the police service take initiatives to increase the number of qualified minority recruits.

 

Soon after its publication, the MPA and other police authorities were set ambitious recruitment targets for black and other ethnic minorities. Accordingly, they began to recruit them in unprecedented number almost certainly reducing the calibre of officers in consequence. It is this, not racism, which accounts for the disproportion in which ethnic minority officers are suspended and fail to gain promotion. .

 

Another legacy of the Macpherson enquiry was to create a moral climate in which the centuries-old rule against double jeopardy could be abandoned. Although this has enabled two of the five suspected of murdering Stephen Lawrence to be successfully prosecuted for it, it is doubtful in the long run the change will serve justice.  These two prosecutions have been the first under the new law, and we have yet to see where they may end.

 

Any Americans tempted to gloat about the protection against double jeopardy they still enjoy should recall how severely compromised it was by the federal trials in 1993 of four Los Angeles police officers involved in the arrest and beating of Rodney King in 1991. Their previous acquittal at a state trial in 1992 of charges of using excessive force in King’s arrest led to a week’s mass rioting there in which 60 people died, thousands were injured and millions of dollars of damage to property sustained.

 

Faced with possible continuing unrest, the federal authorities responded by charging and trying the four officers for violating King’s civil rights, technically a different offence and so not in breach of the rule against double jeopardy. Largely on the strength of a widely broadcast, brief and highly edited amateur video-tape of the beating which showed it entirely out of context, these four officers were duly convicted and given prison sentences. After years investigating the incident and its aftermath, Lou Cannon, who had been Los Angeles bureau chief of the Washington Post at the time of King’s arrest, concluded his study of it by observing that:

 

‘There was no fair basis for charging… [any of the arresting officers] with violating King’s civil rights… [They] were scapegoats for the Los Angeles riots… President Bush and Attorney General William Barr… hoped to discourage further rioting… when they set in motion the federal prosecution.’ [Lou Cannon, Official Negligence (Colorado: Westview, 1999) p.582.]

 

Race relations in America and Britain continue to suffer under the legacy of the likes of Stokely Carmichael. Perhaps, therefore, he should receive the last word.  Addressing a Michigan State University audience shortly after the 1992 riots, Carmichael described them as “good for us”. Doubtless, he would have felt the same about Stephen Lawrence’s murder, as he would about the havoc his fanatical ideas have wrought on policing in England.