Asian youth cynical about city policing

Lawrence Inquiry: Good intent `hasn't reached the beat'
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The Independent Online
MOHAMMED, 19, is hopping mad. "I'm on a 10pm curfew for breaching my bail conditions, right?" he says. "So the police come round my house at 10 to check that I'm in. Then they come again at midnight, 1am, 3am, ringing the doorbell over and over, waking my little sister, upsetting my mum. They're just taking the piss, man."

Mohammed and his three friends are slouched outside Nasim Food Store in Manningham, an inner-city area of Bradford scarred by poverty and neglect.

Three years ago, Manningham was thrust into the national spotlight when Asian youths clashed with police during two nights of rioting. Today, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry visits Bradford as part of its tour of the regions, seeking insights on the policing of minority communities.

Among those giving evidence to the one-day hearing will be Lloyd Clarke, Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, who has acknowledged institutional racism exists within the force.

The riots in summer 1995 were a severe jolt to Bradford, which had always prided itself on relatively good race relations. The outside world was shocked, too, for these were the first violent confrontations between police and Britain's traditionally peaceful Asian community. Images of young Muslim men hurling fire bombs and smashing shop windows were unparalleled.

Since then, West Yorkshire Police have implemented a raft of initiatives aimed at improving community relations. The city is awash with multi-agency panels and partnerships, with consultation groups, youth forums and cultural awareness programmes.

Inspector Martin Baines, appointed to the newly created post of community and race relations officer for Bradford, says criticism of police made by an independent commission of inquiry into the riots was valid. The inquiry report concluded that officers lacked understanding of the mainly Pakistani community, and that they treated residents "with hostility and contempt".

"A lot has changed since the disturbances," Insp Baines says. "People have started to work together to build bridges and to make Bradford a safer place."

But here, as in other parts of the country, there is a yawning gap between policy and practice. Asian youths claim they are targeted by police because of their colour and families complain that police fail to take reports of racial harassment seriously.

These are grave charges in a city where minority ethnic residents make up nearly 20 per cent of the population and suffer a high level of racially motivated crime - 213 incidents were reported to police in the year ending last March.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, the highly respected director of the Bradford Race Equality Council, says many officers on the beat still demonstrate "canteen culture" attitudes. "They use insulting language, they are dismissive of victims of crime," he says. "And there is a tendency to regard all young Asian men as druggies and layabouts."

Mohammed Amran, a youth justice worker, agrees. "It's the senior managers who work hard to build links with the community," he says. "They disappear at 5pm, leaving the grassroots bobbies in charge, and I have not seen any change at the grass roots." Some of the initiatives have been notable successes, though. A pilot scheme setting up centres to report racial harassment has led to a 25 per cent increase in the reporting rate. A campaign to recruit police officers from ethnic minorities attracted 100 applications.

But Manningham has acute problems that reach far beyond policing issues. Young Asians suffer from educational under-achievement and unemployment of up to 60 per cent. The youths loitering outside Nasim Food Store say their postcode rings alarm bells. "You go to a job interview and say you're from Bradford 9, you get treated like dirt," says Danny, 16.

The area is also notorious for drugs. "You can get anything round here," boasts Danny in his flat Yorkshire accent, waving at a gleaming BMW, driven by two dealers. He adds: "It's Diwali (the Hindu festival of light), so guess what I'm going to do tonight? I'm going to buy me some blow, get mashed and go to sleep, same as any other day."