30 November 2005

Longer sentencing for crimes that involve racism is proving counter-productive.

A number of right-wing blogs are making the most of any isolated examples of unfairness they can find, to try and make a ridiculous (though carefully specifically unsaid) case that somehow the white majority or middle/upper class or males in general are (fill in as appropriate in any combination) discriminated against and generally hard done by in this country by discriminatory laws. Any glance at the statistics will show that their claims clearly do not stand up to any scrutiny (hence the concentration in true Daily Mail style on the emotional isolated cases) and in fact the evidence suggests the opposite.

The law that provides for longer sentencing for racial crimes seems to fall into this category and provide ammunition for the racists and their right wing sympathisers. The case of the white computer programmer killed by three Asians who were overheard making comments in Urdu about 'teaching a kura a lesson' and the case of Anthony Walker killed by white youths who were shouting racist abuse is the latest example.

The first murder was not judged a racist crime and the second murder almost certainly will be judged racist. Whatever the justification for these rulings, and on initial observation I cannot understand why the first case was not racist, the whole concept of longer sentencing for racial crimes seems suspect.

While this law is obviously well meant, it is quite easy to see how the right wingers and racists are going to make political capital out of any cases like this. It only needs one or two examples, the overall statistics are always going to be ignored by these idiots.

The basic question for me, has to be, why does a racist murder deserve a longer sentence in the first place? I really have no idea. Any answers please? Having this law can only provide the racists with a useful recruiting tool and prove counter-productive in my opinion.

16 comments:

  1. It's worth talking about. On the one hand, government intends the legislation to protect and reassure racial minorities. On the other, we're recognising that racism is not just aimed at non-whites (as if colour mattered anyway) and can/does affect people of any colour or race.

    The obvious thing is to ensure that all race/ethnic/religious/sexual orientation-based victimisation is treated equally seriously, and to eliminate it from the police/judicial system.

    Clearly, though, the first priority must be for the law - and media reporting - to be fair and even-handed. Reassuring minorities (and majorities) is important but must be secondary.

    If this path were taken, perhaps the Laban Talls and anti-liberal-media people of this world could be brought back on board, and people who are actually racist would be exposed.

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  2. Isn't a murder a murder. Why is picking out one particular motive relevant?

    People are obviously going to look for discrepancies in treatment between cases like this. We are creating potential problems when I don't see how it reassures anyone (noble though the aims of the legislation surely are).

    All people want to see is decent sentences for murders of this sort, there is no need to add a special tariff if its decided it fits the racist definition.

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  3. While I disagree with DK's take on this one, I don't think you are entirely representing his position accurately. So there are two points here:

    1 - was this a racist crime? DK believes so and he my well be right. However, legally it was not possible to prove so beyond reasonable doubt because of the other murders. I feel that DK is getting muddled when he refers to Asian on Asian attacks as being racist because of different religious groups - that is not racist, it's religious hatred. For my twopenneyworth, I think this group just wanted to have a go at anyone who happened to cross their path and wasn't in their tribal group. To determine the attacks as racist is therefore trying to shoehorn it into a convenient box.

    2 - on the matter of discrimination (which is a side issue), there is an unpleasant tendency to engage in "positive discrimination" and I think this is something DK is alluding to. There is no such thing as "positive" discrimination - just discrimination and it is abhorrent wherever it is found. The law does not discriminate against white middle aged men - but unfortunately, some people think that it gives them a license to.

    One final point - these three men were guilty of a series of brutal murders. I agree, their motives are irrelevant - they should serve life terms without parole.

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  4. "I feel that DK is getting muddled when he refers to Asian on Asian attacks as being racist because of different religious groups - that is not racist, it's religious hatred."

    This exactly emphasises my point of how the law is counter-productive. Why should it matter whether it was racist, religious hatred or indeed just attacking people because they were fat or whatever? Why should one motive merit a higher tariff than the others?

    By bringing the law into disrepute like this, it gives ammunition to racists and people like DK.

    The legal definition may have been correct in both cases but that still doesn't make the law correct.

    DK is quite clearly using these isolated examples to make some sort of case that being white, middle class and male is somehow a disadvantaged position in our society. Whereas in actual fact all the evidence points to it being a massive advantage to come from this group, in terms of how you are treated by the law and other institutions.

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  5. Actually, I was agreeing with you - I still do. Specific laws make matters rather more muddled than they need to be. The charge was murder, the penalty should be life.

    On the other hand DK is probably right in that there was likely a racist motive, although I prefer the term "tribal" as it's rather more complex than just race. I can sympathise with the point DK is trying to make. A white man is murdered and it is not perceived to be a racist crime (when in all probability race did play a part). A black or Asian man is murdered and it is. In a way, DK is pointing out the same absurdity in the law as you are, but from a different standpoint.

    From a legal perspective, the judgement was correct - it was not proven to be a racially motivated crime and the burden of proof must remain sacrosanct even if the law is an ass.

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  6. Longrider; We both agree that adding an extra tariff to a crime because of a racist motive is counter-productive and wrong.

    I also agree that there was 'almost certainly' a racial element to both of these examples.

    But I still think that DK was making a separate point to this. He is insinuating that because of this incident and a few other isolated incidents, that somehow white middle class males are disadvantaged.

    Considering that there is plenty of evidence to show that this group infact enjoy quite a privileged position in our society, his insinuations are obviously rubbish and it is close to endorsing the racist rubbish put out by the BNP.

    This is what I object to about DK's and similar posts. This is a stupid and dangerous claim to go making. It only serves to help stir up racism.

    While I agree that DK has a point in these isolated cases, he is using these cases to push ideas that are clearly absurd.

    I hope that clears up any misunderstanding about what I was suggesting.

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  7. Neil, I think there's an awful lot of violent agreeing going on here ;-)

    DK's take on the BNP for example is the same as yours and mine.

    I appreciate that it is a tangent, but if it is the underlying point that is being made, it's worthwhile exploring it. The law does not disadvantage white men. Unfortunately, the imbalance in favour of white men in the workplace, for example, has led to a trend for positive discrimination - only recently the Avon & Somerset police got caught out doing this. As someone who's profession involves competence management, I am appalled at discrimination of this kind. It is unfair on the competent candidate who is rejected in favour of someone less able, it is unfair on the less competent candidate who is selected on the basis of race or gender and will forever be struggling to maintain competence, and it undermines the overall competence of the organisation. Now, if that organisation or industry is one such as mine; rail; then it places peoples' lives at risk. If this is what DK is alluding to, then I have to agree with him. If he is saying that overall, white men are getting a raw deal, then, no, I don't agree.

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  8. I think you are right. On the main points we all agree (agree violently if you like). I don't think any of us would be intentionally discriminatory.

    "It is unfair on the competent candidate who is rejected in favour of someone less able"

    The trouble with this statement is that, who we THINK is competent and who ACTUALLY IS competent might be two different things.

    That is what is causing the problem of under-over representation in the first place (unless we think that someone's gender or race affects their competency - even if indirectly).

    For example; You might have ten applicants for a job. Five of these applicants we rate as perfectly competent enough to do the job equally well and one or more of them is of a different race to us.

    If we were to rank them in order of preference (and include things totally unrelated to the actual job - like whether we actually like someone's personality or looks), then we might rank the different race candidates lower down the order. If we choose a candidate of the same race as us, how do we know we are not being subconsciously racist? (Of course this sort of discrimination is not limited to race but race is the most easy identifier that does affect someone's choice).

    Also recruiters get things wrong. If the candidate they choose is not capable of the job, subconscious racism might have played a part.

    I agree with you, that positive discrimination is treating the symptom not the problem, but how do we solve this problem?

    Add into the equation the difficulty of overcoming the inertia of a dominant group and including minorities can be a very slow process indeed.

    Racist discrimination can affect the competency of an organisation just as much as so called 'positive discrimination'. So doing nothing about the problem should offend your sensibilities just as much as 'positive discrimination' does.

    "If this is what DK is alluding to, then I have to agree with him. If he is saying that overall, white men are getting a raw deal, then, no, I don't agree."

    The only way to find this out is to ask him the question directly;

    'DK, do you think white men are getting a raw deal from the law in this country, yes or no?'

    I think his answer would be yes. I'll leave a comment on his blog and see if I can find out.

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  9. "The trouble with this statement is that, who we THINK is competent and who ACTUALLY IS competent might be two different things."

    Sorry, Neil, you are talking to someone who deals with this for a living. Competence is the ability and knowledge to consistently carry out a task to the defined standard. There is no room for manoeuvre - you either reach the standard or you don't. There's no "think" about it.

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  10. "Racist discrimination can affect the competency of an organisation just as much as so called 'positive discrimination'. So doing nothing about the problem should offend your sensibilities just as much as 'positive discrimination' does."

    All discrimination is bad for the competence of the organisation Therefore all parts of the process must ensure that the people involved are competent irrespective of background, race religion et al... that includes ensuring that those charged with the selection and recruitment of candidates are competent.

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  11. "All discrimination is bad for the competence of the organisation Therefore all parts of the process must ensure that the people involved are competent irrespective of background, race religion et al..."

    Yes, but the question is about how we go about solving this problem. Since 'positive discrimination' is no more offensive than doing nothing and we know the present situation means ethnic minorities are being discriminated against amongst the wider society. Then couldn't a case for changing the present situation in the short term with 'positive discrimination' (if no other solution can be made to work) be made.

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  12. "Competence is the ability and knowledge to consistently carry out a task to the defined standard. There is no room for manoeuvre - you either reach the standard or you don't. There's no "think" about it."

    In the process of recruitment, a lot of companies don't find out how competent someone is until they employ them. They obviously 'thought' they were capable when they hired them but thats not necessarily the case is it?

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  13. "In the process of recruitment, a lot of companies don't find out how competent someone is until they employ them."

    Doubtless true. The issue then is the competence of those recruiting rather than a blanket assumption of racism.

    My experience is that local managers often have little understanding of how to assess a potential candidate when interviewing. Indeed, the interview - even using criteria based techniques is the weakest part of the process. Some criteria (medical fitness for example) will inevitably discriminate and this has a pragmatic rationale. Would you really want colour blind people signalling and driving trains, for example? So, the candidate meets the the standard or does not. Good recruitemnet will have a series of shortlisting activities based upon the critera needed for the ideal candidate - the interview being the final part of the process, giving both the organisation and candidate an opportunity the weigh each other up. Again, from my experience, the ideal candidate will shine when measured against the others.

    Actually, positive discrimination is worse than doing nothing. My experience with recruitment and selection is not that there are racists under the bed, rather, a lack of clear understanding of standards and how to apply them.

    Things are improving - you will now see far more women in the signalling grades than a decade ago. It takes time to address an imbalance that has existed for centuries. The way to go about it is to put in place effective policies and competent recruitment systems - then allow the balance to settle. Yes, it may take decades. In some industries there may never be a "true" balance. I doubt, for example, that there will be a 50% female track workforce any more than there will be a 50% male nursing workforce.

    The Avon & Somerset Police force's positive discrimination was misguided because it looked at a symptom rather than the cause. The local black and Asian communities have an underlying mistrust of the police. No amount of positive discriminarion will increase the rate of black and Asian recruits in that circumstance. They have to work on their communitiy relations, not their recruitment practice.

    HTH

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  14. "No amount of positive discriminarion will increase the rate of black and Asian recruits in that circumstance."

    In fact 'positive discrimination (PD)' (I don't actually like this term but for want of a better way of putting it) is a proven way to increase the number of recruits that are otherwise discriminated against- that is why it is used.

    "The issue then is the competence of those recruiting rather than a blanket assumption of racism."

    Racism is inherrent in recruiting just as it is in society. I remember growing up in the 1970s and 1980s and I rarely met someone who 'wasn't racist'.

    I'm not saying the situation hasn't improved but we know that a lot of recruiters are going to be racist, PD is one proven way of addressing this. I know it is tackling the symptom not the problem and for that reason I agree it is not desirable, but maybe in the short term it is the lesser of two evils.

    In talking about this we have got off topic. My original post is about the separate point that a racist murder shouldn't be treated differently to any other murder in terms of sentencing. PD is separate from this.

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  15. In talking about this we have got off topic. My original post is about the separate point that a racist murder shouldn't be treated differently to any other murder in terms of sentencing. PD is separate from this."

    Indeed. But it was an interesting diversion.

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  16. Just out of interest. My site and this post on racist sentencing got quoted in the Guardian on Friday, which is quite pleasing.

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