Colour should not obfuscate issues of policing

I wrote a few weeks ago that I had been invited to the farewell party for Chief Inspector Dalton ("Mack") McConnie, the resigning police liaison officer for Lambeth - which includes that insurrectionary turf, Brixton. I went, and so did several members of the black community: Caribbean diplomats, a chief constable, two assistant commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and several past and present commanders.

It was an extraordinary gathering. Apparently, nothing quite like it had happened before. Such affairs tend to be private and just between cops, but a young WPC who had worked with Mack in the community liaison department insisted that a police-only party was not enough and that it should be expanded.

She spoke to me quietly, if nervously. Her father died seven years ago and, in her mind, Mack had become a suitable replacement. She had left the department now. She couldn't work there without Mack. Sentimental? Yes. But it goes to show that, on a turf as tough and violent as Brixton, the departing chief inspector was able to break conventions, generate warmth and attract a glittering array of chiefs to his leaving do, as well as a young WPC to his cause.

The New Statesman also featured. Simon Foy, Lambeth's chief of police, read out humorous anecdotes from past internal reports of the departing officer, a tradition at farewell parties.Then, to my surprise, he quoted directly from the column in which I praised McConnie and recommended that Ken Livingstone's new police committee could well do with McConnie's post-retirement services.

I came away from that farewell party sure of one thing. McConnie was not a black police officer. He was an officer who had joined the Met from the black community. He succeeded in clarifying, in my mind at least, where the movement of blacks into the Met should be heading. Because when you have a body of black men and women insisting that they are black police officers as a permanent category, you are allowing colour to obfuscate one of the major power relations within society.

There is another point. If you have black police officers, then you also have the opposite - white police officers, such as those we identified around the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, and those who investigated the murder of Michael Menson, the young African who was burned to death, but was declared to be a suicide.

And finally, you have officers like PC Steve Hutt, who called a 14-year-old boy a "black bastard". Rightly, Hutt was sacked. He appealed to Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston, but lost. He is now seeking the sympathy of the Home Office tribunal that will decide his punishment. He has on his side the Police Federation, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and whoever else thinks that the huge changes demanded since the Stephen Lawrence case have made blacks uppity, and that we need to be stamped on from time to time. Hutt's defence is that it was "two seconds of madness" in a violent situation. He admits that he ought to be punished, but believes that the loss of his job is too harsh. Hutt has claimed that the community in Fulham supported him. He has got to be joking. Not my son Darcus, nor his partner Alison - not Rap, not Clare, not Beese, not Darcey, not Nathan - all members of the Howe clan and Fulhamites.

Let me say this. All the police and civilians who attended Mack's farewell party know the history of the deterioration of policing in the Met. It began by an acceptance of "black bastard" as banter. This poison then spread to the frame-up of blacks and the rapid loss of detection skills through widespread corruption. An entire drug squad at Scotland Yard went to prison, having colluded with blacks in the resale of drugs. The Met has to be rescued from the brink of becoming a third-world police force.

What I know for certain is that Hutt would never be seen at a farewell party for McConnie. And he doesn't belong there. He doesn't belong in the Met. Good riddance to a bad egg.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 21 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - What are we doing to our children?