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Lawrence Inquiry: Incompetence, Corruption, and Institutional Racism

NCJ Number
Journal of Law and Society Volume: 26 Issue: 3 Dated: September 1999 Pages: 298-322
Lee Bridges
Date Published
September 1999
25 pages
This paper assesses the conclusions and the recommendations of Great Britain's Macpherson Report, which examined the police investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was murdered in South London in 1993.
The report documents numerous police failings in their investigation of this murder. They include inadequate first aid and failure to take proper investigative steps at the crime scene; patronizing liaison with Lawrence's family and racist stereotyping of Lawrence's companion on the night of the murder and a key witness; the failure to make early arrests of the suspects and adequate searches of their residences despite the availability of sufficient evidence to justify such actions; the mishandling of a key informer; and bungled surveillance, identity parades, and searches. In seeking to explain this pattern of investigative failures, the Macpherson Report concludes that it was rooted in police incompetence, police corruption, and institutional racism. The report also presents a number of far- reaching recommendations, echoing long-standing demands by the black community for the reform of policing in Britain. Yet, in its approach to "institutional racism," the report downplays the need for a critical re-examination of policing policies and priorities at a strategic level. As a result, many of its key recommendations in such areas as stop-and-search and the policing of racist crime may prove ineffective. The government's commitment to "anti-racism" following the Macpherson Report is also called into question by its subsequent decision to further restrict the rights of defendants and the ability of black citizens to defend themselves against racist police practices through the criminal justice system. 116 footnotes