Tuesday, January 03, 2012

don't bite the hand that beats you

It is gratifying that two of Stephen Lawrence's racist killers have been convicted, but as they were part of a five strong gang and have eluded justice for 18 years, it is far too little far too late.

Amongst the reasons for the delays were a Tory government deeply committed to defending the police from criticism no matter how valid; we had to wait until the Blair government before a proper inquiry was launched.

The Metropolitan Police were forced to admit to 'institutional racism' and have a serious crackdown on overt racism in the force. A Home Office report of 2005 assessed the impact of the Lawrence Inquiry on the Met and found that overt racism amongst officers at work is indeed largely unacceptable these days, though homophobia, transphobia, sexism and other bigotry are all still alive and well.

There has been a lot written about the police not taking racist attacks seriously, and strong allegations of the father of one of Lawrence's killers bribing officers. What I haven't seen mentioned is the police actively attacking the campaigns for justice.

Almost two years ago, a year before the outing of Mark Kennedy put the issue into the spotlight, an undercover Metropolitan police officer gave an interview to the Observer. Deployed by his boss Bob Lambert, the officer infiltrated far left and anti-racist groups for four years in the mid-1990s; exactly the time when the Lawrence campaign was actively working for justice from a heads-in-the-sand police force. He said

At first, I could convince myself that my job was about fighting subversion, but once I began targeting the groups set up to win justice for those who had died in police custody or had been victims of racism, it was clear that what the loved ones of the deceased wanted was justice. My presence in the groups made that justice harder to obtain.

The officer - identified in the piece only as 'Officer A' but subsequently "named"as Peter Black - does not specify which campaigns he infiltrated and undermined. The use of the plural is interesting and, given that the Lawrence campaign was by far the most prominent, it would be surprising if he had not targetted them.

Even if the Lawrence campaign was not amongst those Peter Black infiltrated, he will have disrupted others just as serious and deserving of justice. Whichever campaigns they were, it is one of the starkest illustrations of unaccountable political policing yet unearthed in the whole undercover scandal. Whilst infiltrated groups like Climate Camp did not riot (even to the extent of putting their hands in the air chanting 'this is not a riot' whilst being batoned by police), there is undeniably some crossover between anti-capitalist environmental groups and public order situations that kick off into riots.

But with campaigns for justice for those who died in custody, or those whose attacks were under-investigated and dismissed, there is no such hardcore element. The police sent in an officer to grieving relatives pretending to befriend and support them when he was actually there to make their plight worse. The twisted callousness, the absolute lack of conscience and compassion, beggars belief.

Why would the police deploy vastly expensive operatives to these families and their campaigns, what were those groups planning that could possibly warrant such deceit and intrusion? Put simply, they could make the police look as incompetent, belligerent and racist as they actually are. The one thing that power does above all other concerns is protect its position.

So never mind the validity of your cause, never mind the plain documented truth of what happened, if you're going to make police look bad then you can expect the most unaccountable, invasive tactics available to be used against you.

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