Crime, race and anti-social behaviour

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The Independent Culture
YOU wouldn't have noticed the blue van, but the police did. It was just one of the crowd, waiting at the Bloomsbury Street lights in a mephitic blue haze on the last hot afternoon of summer: reeking burglars in fretful white Transits, shirtsleeve executives in air-con BMWs, overdressed mothers on the pre-school run, organ donors on courier bikes, Cable London visigoths with rap pumping out, and the blue van. And a police car.

The lights changed. Everyone moved off in a grumpy, fitful stream. The police car was about to overtake the blue van when, for no clear reason, it started flashing its blue light and blipping its silly, retching siren.

The blue van pulled up, police car behind it. One of the policemen got out: a crop-headed youth with bad skin and an unconvincing swagger. The other one stayed in the car. I could see him sniggering with the woman in the back seat, a chain-store popsy, all lip-gloss and Lycra, bulging out of her Ultrabra.

The van driver seemed bemused. His van was clean, in good condition, a couple of years old. He himself was, I suppose, in his twenties, informally dressed, horn-rimmed spectacles, short hair.

Here's the first question: what colour was he?

Correct. He was black.

Well, they could have been tailing him for miles. He could have been a known drug-dealer. He might have been driving with deadly recklessness until he got to Bloomsbury Street and suddenly decided to grow up, too late. But, even so, here is the second question: do you think it more likely that (a) the policemen had reasonable cause to assume that the van driver was engaged in some illegal activity, or (b) that they said to themselves, "Hey, let's impress the tart in the back seat by pulling the nigger and giving the bastard the once-over?"

It doesn't matter which is true; merely which you think more likely. And when you have decided, how does it then make you feel about Sir Paul Condon's comments about street crime and young blacks?

I know how I felt. Some years ago, an American friend, a choreographer, came to work over here and stayed in my house for a couple of months while getting himself set up. After a while he got himself a flat and moved out, but of course we kept in touch. One day he saw a woman's hand-bag, lying on a fire escape outside a studio where he was rehearsing. He fetched it in and asked around. Nobody knew whose it was. The woman at the reception desk said it had probably been nicked, rifled for cash, and thrown up there; his best bet was to hand it in at the police station. Fair enough, he said, and went about his business: another rehearsal, a class, supper with a friend.

After supper the two of them were walking home through Notting Hill when the police stopped them. Reasonable cause, you see, because not only was my friend stupid and antisocial enough to be black, but - and you won't believe this - his friend was black, too. And there they were, walking around Notting Hill at 11.45pm as though this were a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Well, the plod pulled them, and quite right too, and of course there was this woman's handbag - probably a white woman's handbag - in this effing coon's shoulder bag, well, what do you effing expect, right?

I stood character witness at his trial. The prosecutor stood there and told lie after lie. My friend had left my house "under a cloud". While he was there, food and domestic items had "gone missing". We had been "glad to see the back of him". Not true; not true; not true. Well... how then did I account for the fact that I had said these things to the detective who interviewed me following my friend's arrest? I did not account for it because it was a blatant untruth. I was away when it happened. Nobody ever interviewed me; nobody even spoke to me until the trial. My wife had been informed of his arrest at 3am. That's all. The rest? Lies.

Not guilty... but if he had not got off, he would have been deported, his career and reputation ruined. And it would not have mattered that he was innocent. It is not the truth that counts, but what people believe.

Perhaps the whirligig of time has brought in his revenges, and Sir Paul, with his silly, inflammatory words all those months ago, will turn out to have done us a service. Perhaps now, when any of us see a young black man being "pulled" by the police, we may recall his remarks, and wonder if the police are behaving fairly. Perhaps, too, we might even think again about How Young Black Men Are Destroying This Fair Land Of Ours.

A Young Black Man stole my Rolex a couple of years ago. "Excuse me," he murmured, removed it from my wrist, and ran away. I was cross, but not that cross. There are things that make me much angrier; things that make all our lives much worse. The self-serving incompetence of our politicians. The despoiling of our landscape. The selling-off of the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Drunks and lunatics roaming the streets because nobody thinks it cost-effective to look after them. The ceaseless torrent of contempt against single mothers. The stupid brutality of the tabloid press. The dismantling of the health service. The rebirth of the Establishment in all its back-scratching piggery. The corruption of sport. Coopers & Lybrand. Blathering bishops. Orders in Council. Summonses, writs and notices of foreclosure. The board of directors of Camelot plc. Windows 95. Lloyds, Barclay's and the Midland. Market forces. Corporate downsizing. Market rationalisation. Manage-ment; management; management.

I don't think it's young black men doing that little lot. I think it's middle-class, middle-aged white men. And if a few young blacks decide to go out and tax our wristwatches, well, it's a start; and never mind that I - one of the good guys - was a "victim". Hell, we're easy to spot, and we all look the same. !

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