In a second trial, which finished Thursday 25 October, a police officer who was secretly recorded calling a young black man under arrest a “nigger” was cleared by a judge of criminal racist abuse, after a second jury was unable to reach a verdict. Judge Michael Gledhill QC discharged Alex MacFarlane, who was in the back of a police van in August last year when he said to the arrested man, Mauro Demetrio ”The problem with you is that you will always be a nigger”.
Orignally the Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring a prosecution to court, until Demetrio’s lawyers threatened to challenge the decision and the Guardian newspaper also published recordings of the offending comments that Demetrio recorded on his mobile phone. Demetrio also claimed to have been assaulted by police officers when arrested, and though he he had marks on his neck no charges were brought in this respect.
The case has highlighted the lingering problems of racism in British society, with the defendent’s justification that his words were an attempt to turn the young black man’s life around, feeling he may have had low self-esteem enough to convince the court of his innocence. MacFarlane was recorded as saying “”The problem with you is that you will always be a nigger” going on to say ”you will always have black skin colour”, “don’t hide behind your colour”, and advises him to ”be proud” of his race.
The somewhat contrived justification given by MacFarlane was enough to convince a jury of his peers that he had not criminally racially abused Demetrio - though it is unclear that when stating that Demetrio’s “problem” is that he would “always be a nigger” how this would help the young man’s supposed problem of having low self-esteem.
Once again – the defence of the one accused of racial abuse is that they were simply repeating the offending phrase back at the person – with Demetrio supposedly saying to the officers that they had arrested him, and not his (white) friend, because he was a “nigger” (though these comments were not recorded). This echoed the recent similar case of the footballer John Terry who was accused of racially abusing fellow professional Anton Ferdinand by calling him a “f**cking black c**t”. Terry’s defence was that he was merely repeating the words back to Ferdinand, and was not a racist nor made a racist comment. This was enough to throw enough doubt on the initial charge that Terry was not found guilty in court – though he was subsequently punished by the FA.
In MacFarlane’s case -once the judgement was passed the defence asked the judge if he had any comments to advise a police disciplinary hearing against MacFarlane. Gledhill said the officer’s use of “nigger” was unacceptable, but mentioned that ”it was said in the heat of the moment in circumstances where the complainant was very abusive.”
Such a comment ignores the power relationships involved – with the “complainant” being a young black man arrested, handcuffed and beaten in the back of a policevan, and the provoked, reactive defendent one of the police officers exercising their power over him. More pointedly, it could be used as evidence that institutional racism and the various ways it manifests and is supported is still alive and well today.