After Friday's piece by Guardian journalist Diane Taylor, I started to wonder: who are LRCJC's members and what work does it actually carry out? I have been an activist campaigning in London on racism and policing issues for 20 years but know absolutely nothing about it. I asked some activist friends with similar interests and contacts but they were equally mystified. A Google search failed to find an LRCJC website and every reference to the 'Consortium' seems to relate directly to a Mr Jasper personally. I did learn, from a article by Operation Black Vote, that back in 2010, LRCJC could be contacted via www.leejasper.com and it planned to “represent organisations such as Metropolitan Black Police association, Society of Black Lawyers and RESPECT the black and ethnic minority prison staff association”. But there was nothing more illuminating than that. Moreover, there are a number of organisations carrying out excellent work on the misuse of stop & search powers – nationally, Stop Watch in particular and at a local level, groups like Newham Monitoring Project. I wondered why the Guardian hadn't asked one of them for comment, rather than the chair (albeit a well-known, high-profile one) of an apparently obscure organisation.
Stuck for answers, I put out a fairly sceptical request for information to followers on Twitter, asking if anyone knew more about LRCJC. Despite a further prompt, no-one replied and, with more interesting things to do over a busy Bank Holiday weekend, that would probably have been that.
However, Lee Jasper then got in contact via Twitter and his reaction to a simple question was so combative and evasive that I was suddenly really interested to know why he seemed so concerned about it.
Jasper demanded to know why I was publicly asking for information about LRCJC and why I hadn't contacted him personally. I guess the latter is a fair question but it had never occurred to me to approach someone I don't really have a great deal of respect for and who I probably haven't spoken to since the early 1990s, although activism circles are fairly small. For a decade I helped organise the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) with custody death families but until 2008, Mr Jasper was still working at City Hall, busy praising the senior officer in charge of the botched operation that shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station (taking a lead from his boss). So it's not as if we are remotely close (I don't even follow him on Twitter).
Just as importantly, what exactly is wrong with publicly asking about the membership of LRCJC when it is quoted regularly in the press?
Mr Jasper's responses to further questions about LRCJC were increasingly evasive and he adopted the classic tactic used by anyone trying to avoid giving an answer – attack the questioner:
I am really looking forward to Mr Jasper's blog post, if it ever appears (I guess this article may feature, as he mistakes 'sectarianism' for 'not accepting his word at face value'). But I'm still no clearer about who the 'London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium' actually represents or what work it has ever done.
In the circumstances, it therefore seems only fair to conclude that – at best – the LRCJC is nothing more than a name, a paper network of groups that Mr Jasper has links to (what the 'white left' might call a 'front organisation'), with no real purpose other than getting his name into the press.
If, however, the LRCJC is not a 'front' but a genuine consortium as Mr Jasper insists, then perhaps he can outline what actual work its members have together carried out on stop and search, or on last summer's riots, or in providing practical support to black students during recent student demonstrations? Other than speeches by its chair and sole spokesperson, what proposals have LRCJC members collectively developed on, say, the changes to the Educational Maintenance Allowance that have negatively affected so many minority students at FE colleagues? What campaigning has it organised against, for example, the abuse of anti-terror laws? What work, indeed, has the 'Consortium' ever undertaken on anything?
Lee Jasper once held a high-profile public position and as an individual, I'm sure he has an interesting point of view on some issues. That doesn't mean he speaks for anyone else but himself. So why don't journalists just ask him to comment in an individual capacity? Why insist on quoting him as a spokesperson of a grandiosely named 'Consortium' that sounds as if it might genuinely represent a wide range of opinion, when there is little evidence that it even exists?
Equally, why does the press insist on doing this, when there are plenty of other respected organisations with a proven track record of casework, research and campaigning on issues around racism or policing? Wouldn't it be more interesting to readers to speak to people in a position to offer something far more helpful than a few words of outrage?