By Sabah Nawaz
The death of a child, it's like losing your breath and never catching it again. It's a forever panic attack as your soul is screaming for them. It's feeling your heart dying as you continue to lose your mind. Author Unknown
It broke my heart seeing Shurki Abdi's mother in tears. Losing a child is one of the deepest sorrows a heart can know. I remember first hearing about her case last year. Shukri Abdi was a 12-year-old Somali-refugee suspected of being murdered and drowned. The police refused to re-open an investigation despite there being witnesses. It never got much media attention and people lost interest. Though, after the recent death of George Floyd and the protests going on around the world, Shukri's case is finally getting recognition. That's why I want to talk about institutional racism, and the media.
Institutional racism can be defined as the structural oppression of non-whites, through government legislature, cultural norms and representation in the media. The way the media is set up means one racial group might get a better service than the other. For example, £11 million has been spent looking for Madeline McCann, a white middle-class girl, who to this day, has widespread media attention. I am not saying her life doesn't matter; of course, it does. The injustice occurs when 12-year-old Shukri's case was dismissed for a whole year, until the Black Lives Matter movement. Shukri's family believe she was a victim of bullying. An inquest heard that Shukri had been pushed around by two girls who were at the scene when she died. What if Shukri had been a white girl and the alleged bullies were of colour¦ would she have received wide spread media attention? Would the police have dismissed the case as a tragic incident?
Shukro's case has similarities to the case of Stephen Lawrence. He was a Black British teenage boy who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993. It took 19 years before the perpetrators were convicted of his murder.
It is first important to explore what is meant by institutional racism, and what it entails. Brennan (2017) says that institutional racism is prevalent throughout society and says that an area that is in need of reform is that of the Criminal Justice System. Moreover, the Lawrence Report (1999, cited in Rowe, 2004) goes on to define what institutional racism is, in its broadest sense, and so it is noted that this consists of:
The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people
Institutional racism is not, of course, simply confined to the police, but is also evident in other organisations and institutions, which may affect certain ethnic groups in getting adequate housing, credit, or employment
However, institutional racism is not, of course, simply confined to the police, but is also evident in other organisations and institutions, which may affect certain ethnic groups in getting adequate housing, credit, or employment, for example. It is a particular culture that has emerged in such institutions that is reproduced across generations and is rooted in ideas of race and racism. For example, police stop and search powers (Weber & Bowling, 2013) have come under increasing scrutiny in the UK in recent years, as a result of the phenomenon of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority members being disproportionately stopped and searched by the police, compared to white people. In 2016/17, there were 4 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 29 stop and searches for every 1,000 Black people (Office, 2019). The Guardian reported that 22,00 black men were stopped and searched during lockdown. Thus, this is a good case in point of how institutional racism can be manifested.
In the case of the police, such institutional racism can lead to miscarriages of justice such as in the Stephen Lawrence case. Furthermore, Rowe (2004) also goes on to explain that the violent assault that killed Stephen Lawrence was by no means an isolated incident at the time, with two similar racially motivated murders taking place in the same area in the preceding years. In addition, in the case of Stephen Lawrence, the police were particularly criticised for being slow to arrest the named suspects, which allowed much forensic evidence to be destroyed. This is similar to Shukri's case. The police labelled this a tragic accident and made no arrests.
In the case of Stephen Lawrence, the media also initially ignored the story. However, eventually his murder led to a wide-scale public inquiry into race and racism in the UK police force, which has meant a number of policy changes in Britain. It has been shown how the Metropolitan police significantly mishandled this case, and that elements of institutional racism within the police have been identified as a result of this. The legacy of this inquiry has been that increased attention has been placed on issues of race and racism in law and order in the UK, and although institutional racism within the police has not been stamped out in its entirety, there are signs that it has been much mitigated since the 1999 inquiry into Stephen Lawrence murder, with movements such as Black Lives Matter and its rise in social media.
It is important that we do not forget about Shukri's case and we continue to petition for her. We must demand that there is more representation for minorities in the mainstream media so that stories such as Shukri Abdi's are heard, and real change can start to take place. Please continue to raise awareness by writing to your local MP's and by signing the petition attached below.
Raise your voice and get connected