Politics Isn't Working - Not Black and White is a Documentary programme.
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Politics Isn't Working - Not Black and White
The race debate looks set to consume a good deal of the forthcoming election campaign. Whatever pledges they have or haven't signed not to play the race card, politicians can't stop squabbling about who among them is or isn't a racist and whether we are a "mongrel nation" or a chicken tikka masala utopia. It is an obsession that extends beyond parliament. Stung by accusations of "institutional racism", the police are busy implementing the recommendations of the MacPherson enquiry into the events surrounding the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Last year, recorded racist incidents increased by a shocking 107%. Are we becoming more racist, is the true level of racism finally being exposed - or is something far more complex going on?
The MacPherson guidelines redefined a racist incident as "any incident perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person". In response to Sir William MacPherson's report, the Metropolitan Police set up Community Safety Units (CSU) to monitor racist incidents: in Camden, the CSU monitor ongoing fights between white and Asian gangs. But while crime will often cross race lines in a multicultural society, that doesn't mean it's racist. In Camden, the gangs divide along racial lines but Detective Inspector Shaun Roderick of Camden CSU thinks that racism comes second to age-old turf wars. But in keeping with the guidelines, if anyone alleges an incident to be racist that is how it will be recorded.
Police are seen trying to navigate the currents of multiculturalism, racism and straightforward social breakdown. When a police officer is called to a takeaway pizza parlour by an Iranian who claims his front window was smashed by a 13-year-old black girl, neither victim nor accused even mentions race - it is the policeman who asks "the obvious question" of whether the victim considers the incident to be racially motivated. He doesn't - and the case is eventually dropped. But while crimes which happen to cross racial lines now risk falling into the race crime figures, those whose lives are blighted by low level racism still feel overlooked by police. One shop owner has been continually targeted by children who visit his shop to abuse him and disrupt his business. He has stopped calling the police, who he says don't take the attacks seriously: "If I was an English person they would have treated me completely differently".
In the most clear cut case the programme makers found, Sajid Hussein saw the 20-year-old man who brutally attacked him outside his Nottingham Balti house last year sentenced to two years in a young offenders institution. His attacker was charged under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, which introduced nine new racially aggravated offences: but out of 840 racist incidents recorded in Nottinghamshire during 1999-2000, only 65 were prosecuted as crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service described Sajid's case as "unusually clear cut" but could not confirm how many people were eventually convicted.
Many of the cases Not Black And White found did not fit neatly into the categories currently used to try and measure racism in our society, but what almost all the incidents had in common was that they involved gangs of children - some as young as eight or nine - who roam the streets at night. Against this backdrop of social breakdown, some incidents risk falling erroneously into the racially aggravated crime statistics, while the daily racism suffered by others doesn't register in the records. Until politicians recognise the complex reality of our multicultural society, the race debate will be missing the point.
Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)
Database last updated: Today at 12:29