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Gary Younge
Blaming the black victim

Such, presumably, is the logic of the commissioner designate of the Metropolitan police who was "disappointed" by the remarks of Imran Khan, the lawyer who represented the Lawrence family. "I still have trouble with recommending that black people join the police service," said Khan at a conference on Monday. "Essentially the difficulty stems from the institutional nature of the problem. While the canteen culture still flourishes the police service is not going to welcome and retain black recruits."

This was a statement of fact with some basic common sense thrown in for free. One of the only things the Metropolitan police seems worse at than recruiting black officers is keeping them. Only last month a black WPC was cleared of assault after she described years of racist abuse in the Met. "They would use comments like BIF, which meant black, ignorant, fucker and 'groid' which was short for negroid," she said. That particular woman has vowed to return to the force; not surprisingly many others do not.

Khan was simply giving sound career advice. I would not advise a young black person to join the Met for the same reason that I would never encourage them to become a coalminer, a steel worker or farmer - because there is no future in it for them. Black youngsters looking for a career in which they can thrive with a sense of dignity and integrity are unlikely to end up in blue. If the situation changed, so would the advice. This comes as news to them. The chairman of the Metropolitan Police federation, Glen Smyth, said Mr Khan's remarks were wholly inappropriate. "It's a bit like me saying black people shouldn't become solicitors," he said. Or at least it would be if the Macpherson report had directed its criticisms against solicitors or if a poll in February had revealed that one in four people believe solicitors - and not the police - to be racist.

John Stevens, who will take over from Sir Paul Condon in January, was equally upset. "I hope [Khan] can take a more positive approach," he said. "Because we are doing everything we can to improve the situation." This is probably true. The Met has a serious credibility problem. The black community has rarely had a great deal of confidence in it and what little there was has all but evaporated. A survey in the black newspaper the Weekly Journal, conducted before the Lawrence inquiry became national news, showed that 92% felt that the police treated them less favourably than whites.

But the Macpherson report chrystallised a widespread disaffection with the Metropolitan police, in particular, that went way beyond race to issues of corruption and incompetence. The Met would be reckless in the extreme if, after the kind of year it has had, it didn't do everything it could think of to improve the racial situation in its ranks. Sadly for it, not to mention everybody else, it is starting from a pretty low base of trust. Moreover, there is a difference between everything it can think of and everything it can do - Condon could have thought of doing the decent thing and resigning, but he didn't. The Met could have thought of making an example of one of the officers in the Lawrence case, but it didn't.

That the Met is going to find it hard going has nothing to do with Khan. There is nothing genetic in black people in Britain that means they have to be allergic to the police. With unemployment three times higher among young black men than their white counterparts, it is not as if they couldn't do with the jobs. The reason black youngsters are holding back from the Met is not because people like Khan are hostile. They are staying away because they keep falling foul of the law - not the law of the land but the law of probabilities that says they are far more likely to be humiliated or incarcerated than their white friends.

But the manner in which Stevens and Smyth have rounded on Khan suggests two things. First, that once the 37 recommendations in the Macpherson report have been implemented the Met may swap its contrition in favour of a far more belligerent approach. A new offensive in which it starts blaming the small numbers of ethnic minorities on their reluctance to join up. A strategy that puts the onus on individuals to come forward rather than the institution to change. Like the ads for the fire brigade which ask: "Has prejudice stopped you from joining the fire brigade. Not our prejudice, yours ..." as though there are hundreds of black people out there who would rather hold a grudge than hold down a job. But mostly it shows just how far the Met has to go before it can begin to understand the depth of mistrust among the ethnic minority communties. It can produce all the promotional rap videos it likes, but it will only start making inroads when it stops harrassing people who look like rappers.

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