Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2006

MR LEE JASPER

  Q100  Mr Winnick: You referred previously, Mr Jasper, to a problem which, of course, is of tremendous concern to all of us, not least the black community, namely gun violence. Again, do you believe gun violence is affecting the black community more and also, of course, the fact that so many are victims, what is known as black-on-black, as if that was some consolation to the black victims of gun crime?

  Mr Jasper: I think so. I am going to say it very starkly, if you will allow me to. If this was white, young people shooting other white, young people in the levels that we have seen sustained for the black community over the last four or five years, it is certainly my belief, as a campaigner around these issues, that much more would have been done about it. I think we have a specific crisis within our own community around levels of violence. Reverend Isaacs and Reverend Obunge spoke earlier about the collateral impact, not just of gun crime, but if you look at the rate of homicide, death by gun, by knife (and other means) in the black community, especially of young black men, it is toweringly disproportionate to any other community in the United Kingdom, and yet we struggle to get appropriate funding to tackle some of the situational factors of education and unemployment failure. We struggle to get appropriate interventions from black voluntary organisations for prevention and deterrent of other young people from joining the ranks of the gangs engaged in this activity, and we struggle to get government focus around the legislation required in relation to guns and their availability, particularly replica weapons that are capable of being converted, and although we have campaigned now for a number of years, saying that the recovered assets of drug dealers within Brixton ought to be returned to the community of Brixton to fund deterrents and prevention and anti-crime and community safety initiatives, we are making slow progress in that regard.

  Q101  Mr Winnick: You are saying, in effect—you will correct me if my interpretation is wrong—that as long as it is black-on-black there is far less concern amongst the police and the prosecution authorities. Is that what you are saying?

  Mr Jasper: I am saying certainly nationally that is the case. I am happy to say, in the London area, the Metropolitan Police Service, because of the engagement with Operation Trident, has made a real, sterling effort around investigating and prosecuting those that are engaged in black-on-black gun crime. Unfortunately, it has had the effect over the last 10 years of taking out a whole layer of gang leaders in their mid to late twenties who are now replaced by gang leaders in their 16, 17 and 18 year-old categories, as the leaders of those activities have been jailed. So, we get to the point where, rather than standing on the river bank watching bodies float by, we now want to go upstream and see who is throwing them in in the first place. That means we have got to get to grips with the situational factors that are producing young people who are vulnerable and can be seduced into this activity.

  Q102  Mr Winnick: Yardies: what would you say is the effect of these criminals, sometimes illegally in Britain, on certain black areas?

  Mr Jasper: It magnifies, to a very great extent, the feelings of fear, intimidation. The fear of crime amongst young, black people is huge. We did some research at City Hall asking young, black and ethnic minority people about their fear of crime and it was absolutely staggering. I do not have the figures to mind, but we can send them to you as a Committee.[2] It was absolutely staggering, and it was a snapshot poll. When we did further studies through the Metropolitan Police Service, when we looked at the young people's perceptions of crime, what actually drives their activity into gangs, being associated with gangs or carrying weapons is the fear, for the majority, of being attacked and not having adequate confidence in policing and the criminal justice system.

  Q103  Mr Winnick: Being attacked by other blacks?

  Mr Jasper: Being attacked by predominantly other black youth. That is the other gross misperception in the debate about black youth and criminality. We focus almost in entirety on young, black men as perpetrators of crime, but actually they are the majority victims of crime by those young, black people, and the attention given to the black victims of crime is very rare, very fleeting and almost absent from our discourses within the criminal justice system.

  Q104  Mr Winnick: I asked about Yardies.

  Mr Jasper: I am sorry, Yardies.

  Q105  Mr Winnick: Do you think that is exaggerated by the media, or is there a real danger of these criminals, apparently mainly from Jamaica, often here illegally, trafficking in their trade?

  Mr Jasper: I am a Yardie! It is a term that is a media invention. The reality is that 80% of black-on-black crime in London is committed by black British born youth. This is a wholly homemade phenomenon and we need to be clear about the statistics and who we are arresting. They make up 20%, at the most, of those engaged in this crime, and, of course, in London, just to give you the full figures, 70% of all those murdered by gun crime are from the black community, and they make up 89% of all those suspected of committing those murders.

  Q106  Mr Winnick: How far do you agree, Mr Jasper, that there is discrimination by the police in the criminal justice system in the overrepresentation of black people in the crime statistics? Are you saying, in effect, that the statistics, which are pretty bleak as far as the black community is concerned, are a reflection of institutional racism, and what would you say to those who say that is only an excuse, that black people in greater numbers percentage-wise do commit these crimes and why should they not be reported and prosecuted accordingly?

  Mr Jasper: I think it is a complex picture, but, nevertheless, I think, as I said earlier, institutionalised racism is a definite factor in the overrepresentation. I also think policing focus is a definite factor. If you are routinely stopped, all the stops and searches in London, 60% of which are from African, Caribbean and Asian communities, it is no surprise to see those communities beginning to be overly represented given their statistical size in London in the criminal justice system. We see differential cautioning rates for like-for-like crimes for first offenders in the London areas, and then we begin to see a ratcheting up of sentences and tariffs and remand and bail decisions right throughout the system. I think I am right in saying that of all refusals of bail and remand decisions in London for all people, 80% of those remand and refusal of bail decisions in London are black youth. You can tell me about offending all you like, that figure cannot be attributed in any real way to an objective assessment of their activity, and when you begin to assess them, sentencing like-for-like, and so on, throughout the criminal justice system, you begin to see an amplification of the effect of race as it impacts upon young, black people.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

  Q107  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Jasper, in your last answer you have talked about the disproportionate number of stop and searches on black people in London, and in your written evidence you talk about the experience in places like Richmond and Kingston where there is a relatively low black population but still a high proportion of stop and searches. To what extent are you saying this morning that this is due to prejudicial behaviour by the police and to what extent could it be reflecting the age profile of young, black people and the fact (I think it is a fact) that there tend to be more young, black people out and about on the streets?

  Mr Jasper: I have heard this said quite a number of times. There are quite a number of Japanese and Chinese tourists about on the streets. I do not see those being reflected in disproportional rates of stop and search in the centre of Westminster. In relation to Richmond and Kingston, there is a massive increase in the probability of being stopped and searched if you are black in these areas, and it is so huge, some 14 to 15 times more likely, that it is, I think, only to be explained by a degree of racial profiling that is leading officers to target black youths in those areas. It is simply hugely disproportionate, but what we have found is that in the areas that are most diverse there is least disproportionality. So, your chances of being stopped and searched in Brixton are actually two to one, but if you move up to Dulwich they increase to six to one within the same borough. The conclusion I draw from that is that officers who are working in hugely diverse areas are much more sophisticated in the use of their stop and search powers than those that are in predominantly white areas where a black face may be something they rarely see and where prejudices may still be driving police activity in relation to stop and search.

  Q108  Gwyn Prosser: You have also talked to us about the disproportionality of sentencing and you have just mentioned bail. Some commentators say that the punishment and the sentences and the bail status reflect the gravity of the crime. How would you respond to that?

  Mr Jasper: The black community sees this as overwhelmingly evidence of racism within the system. If that is not the case, it is for the criminal justice service, through ethnic monitoring, through its adherence to the provisions of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, to demonstrate there is no bias in the system. It currently cannot do that because it does not have the kind of sophisticated or nuanced monitoring systems in place to be able to demonstrate that, and the perception of the community (ie do the African and Caribbean black rich communities have confidence in the criminal justice system) is affected by their perception. If you want my opinion, my opinion is that the system is infected with too high a level of institutionalised racism, that we have seen a massive growth in the number of young, black people being committed to penal institutions over the last 10 to 15 years and that the level of incarceration is quite simply unsustainable for the black community going forward. That requires from government immediate intervention, and immediate intervention knowing and understanding that this is a huge priority for our inner-city areas.

  Q109  Gwyn Prosser: In terms of the stop and search issue and in terms of the sentencing and bail issues, is what you call "institutional racism" getting better, getting worse or has it just been sustainable over the last 10 years?

  Mr Jasper: Stop and search rates have increased after the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the Macpherson Report. I think in London they have increased over the last four years by 115% for the Afro-Caribbean community and 113% for the Asian community. So, we have seen increased activity of stop and search without any consequent increase in the level of arrests made as a consequence of that stop and search activity. Can I tell you why this is particularly dangerous in my view? In the mid 70s and early eighties, as a social justice campaigner, I used to get phone calls from mothers of teenagers, who would say, "Little Johnny has been arrested for robbery and he has gone to court and he has been refused bail and he is in the middle of his A-levels", or in the middle of his GCSEs, or whatever. That phenomenon dissipated throughout the mid eighties and the early 1990s, but has now returned. We are getting increasing reports from within our own community of bail and remand decisions for youngsters who have never been in trouble before in their lives whose lives are being made hell because of those bail and remand decisions and consequently, when they get to court, are acquitted in big numbers, disproportionately so than their white counterparts, and so we have got a level of alienation building up within a community that sees its young people arrested, refused bail or put on remand, go to court, get acquitted and come out the other side completely enraged by the process, and this is why, I think, this whole area is not sustainable. We have to ensure some equitability in justice. It is a primary requisite of being a citizen, and as black citizens we expect no less from our judicial system.

  Q110  Mrs Dean: Following on from the last question, have you got the figures for the white community of how much the percentage has increased with stop and search?

  Mr Jasper: I think I do have those figures actually. I think it has gone down. I will give you the specific figures in writing.[3] Overall the level of stop and search has reduced. Unfortunately, for the black community it has increased. I draw the inference from that that it has reduced for the white community.

  Q111  Mrs Dean: Looking at perceptions, how far do you think the public's perception of young people's involvement in crime corresponds with reality and what do you think drives that public perception?

  Mr Jasper: I think the public perception is of a black community that is predisposed to criminality. I think that is the broad public perception. Whatever people may say, I think that when you look at the internet, when you look at the newspapers, when you look at the letters columns, when you listen to the radio shows, invariably the comment is, "Well, they are engaged in criminal activity, so they are facing the full force of the law, so what do you expect. Do you want us to give them special treatment even though they are engaged in criminal activity?" and that is precisely what I am not saying here today. What I am saying is that there is almost a level of demonisation of young, black boys in the British media to such an extent that it affects popular perception and understanding of the black community so that we are miscategorised, we are stereotyped as being overwhelmingly engaged in criminal activity of a range of sorts.

  Q112  Mrs Dean: To the extent that some black people are more likely to commit certain crimes, how far do you believe that is due to disproportionate exposure to the general risk factors, such as poor housing and poverty?

  Mr Jasper: Obviously, those factors have a huge impact on the black community. When we talk about employment in the black community it needs to be remembered by this Committee that if you took a 25-year look back at the top wards where black people live in the United Kingdom and assessed the levels of youth unemployment and adult unemployment in those areas, you would see a relentless rise in the level of unemployment in both areas in those wards. If all you have ever known as a family is unemployment amongst your father, unemployment amongst your elder brothers, unemployment amongst your family at large, then I say that builds a culture of cynicism, despair, detachment and alienation. We have simply failed to deal with either the collapse of educational standards within the black community through schools, or the extraordinarily high levels of black youth unemployment in very many areas that leaves those young people vulnerable to be seduced into criminality or are predisposed by virtue of their educational failures, family structures, and so on. So, I do think they are more vulnerable as a community, we are more vulnerable as a community, as a consequence of our social and economic condition.

  Q113  Mrs Dean: What do you say to claims that elements of what might be referred to as to black culture, and I was thinking in particular about black music and—

  Mr Jasper: I am always interested to hear black culture reduced to music.

  Q114  Mrs Dean: —role models, may be encouraging young people to get involved in crime?

  Mr Jasper: I think if you look at white youth, they go through their musical phenomena as teenagers. I am sure many people round this Committee, looking like you do today, were not recognisable during your 16, 17 and 18 years, listening to music that your parents disapproved of and generally doing all the things that teenagers do, and it is a period in one's life. I think you grow through it and you go on to establish your careers in education, in politics or in the private sector. I think for young, black people in today's community the overwhelming level of educational failure, the lack of employment opportunities and the absolute deluge of imagery that we get from MTV and others promoting a "get rich quick and die" lifestyle does have its effects. I think they would be empowered to endure those effects, much like any other teenager phenomenon, if they had hope on the horizon, but when they are lying in the gutter, sometimes the kerb can be their skyline, and I see the effects of, not black culture but African American hip-hop culture, which is a minute part of black culture, having a reinforcing effect of negative behaviour within young, black people. It turns people who would not otherwise be role models into role models and sometimes that can be to our detriment. But the record companies themselves have to take some responsibility, because if somebody starts to get up and sing a hip-hop version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow", it will not get played, but if I go in there bare-chested—not that I would at my age—with rippling muscles, with a fake gun in my holster, saying, "I am going to shoot the next ... that walks into my direction", the chances are I will be acclaimed the next big thing; and so we have to take that into account. It is such a small aspect of what we are dealing with but, I believe, with educational achievement and employment, it would be a passing teenager interest as with any other community.

  Q115  Mr Streeter: I am going to ask you about educational achievement in a second, but testing your rather disturbing comments about police profiling and racial profiling and over-focus, and so on, have you done any research about when you have a senior black officer in charge of a duty, or an exercise, or a project? Does that alter the figures on stop and search and the outcomes from the bottom, so to speak? Have you done any research as to whether, if you have a black magistrate considering bail issues, it alters outcomes? If not, would that research be worth doing?

  Mr Jasper: I think all research is worth doing on this issue because, frankly, there is such a dearth of objective evidence to give us some purchase on the reality. Black officers are to be welcomed. The Met has increased its black officers by 50% in the last few years, and we are getting near a tipping point now, which is 10%, which is to be welcomed. There is no research to suggest whether a senior black officer has an effect on stop and search. What I can say is that stop and search levels are increasing and black officers are increasing, and that may or may not suggest that it makes little difference in that regard, but representation of black people within the police service and the criminal justice system is absolutely critical. This Committee does not represent London. It does not represent the community out there. It is a stark reminder for me that of the very many senior strategic boards on which I sit I am the only black face around the table on a day-to-day basis in a city like London of which 40% of its population is black or ethnic minority—very few Muslims, very few Asian people of any other colour, very few African, very few Afro-Caribbeans. So, representation is a critical issue for us and something that this Government, I think, needs to forcibly address.

  Q116  Mr Streeter: You know that all political parties are excited about this and we are all trying to get more.

  Mr Jasper: Are they?

  Q117  Mr Streeter: Absolutely.

  Mr Jasper: Excited in what way?

  Q118  Mr Streeter: We are all doing our darnedest to attract more people from the black and ethnic communities.

  Mr Jasper: I do not believe that is the case at all.

  Q119  Mr Streeter: You need to talk to some of the people behind you, because they know some of the things that are going on. In all seriousness, you do need to pick up on that because there is some big stuff going on.

  Mr Jasper: I do not believe that there is, sir. That is what I am saying to you. There is some fine talk in high places, there is very little in relation to—

  Chairman: We will come back to that in a minute.


2   See Ev 333 Back

3   See Ev 334 Back


 
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