Darcus Howe has some advice for Trevor Phillips

If Trevor Phillips takes on the police, he will need to watch his back

Last year, I drew readers' attention to appalling figures published by the Home Office on the stopping and searching of blacks, Asians and whites in London. Forty per cent more Asians had been stopped than in the previous year, 30 per cent more blacks, but 8 per cent fewer whites. I had campaigned on this terrain for 40 years and, despite the support of MPs, the main force for change had been the black community itself.

But when the figures were published, the black community appeared beaten down after the failure of its long campaign to secure convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. So I turned to a government body for redress because, in earlier times, black and Asian revolt had forced increased powers for the Commission for Racial Equality.

The CRE chairman, Trevor Phillips, had said that he would consider using these powers if the stop-and-search figures continued heading in the wrong direction. I said this wasn't good enough. I appealed to lawyers among the NS readership to advise me whether, as a private citizen, I could take the commission before a judge and compel Phillips and his co-workers to enforce the law.

Phillips was angry. He wrote that I was guilty of overblown rhetoric and misplaced braggadocio, and that the reactionaries in the sergeants' mess would be roaring with laughter.

Now Phillips has acted exactly along the lines I proposed. Following an investigation into how far police forces are enforcing the laws on racial equality within their own ranks, he threatens to throw the book at them. They must show intention to comply within 21 days and comply in actual fact in 90 days. Otherwise, they will be frogmarched before a judge. Phillips is firm. They do it, die, or run away, as my dad would have said.

I have some advice for Phillips. The police in this country are the most reactionary, manipulative, divisive, stupidly obdurate institution known to man and woman. Watch your back, Trevor, and make every effort to take your organisation along with you. I do not mean the office-bound staff at your headquarters, but the thousands who can be mobilised through the race equality councils up and down the country.

Within hours of Phillips's declaration, the police announced a special unit to keep an eye on south Asians. Thus, Asian crime, not police discrimination, became the agenda. Good luck, mate.

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 June 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The lost tribes