Since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry several initiatives have transformed the policing of racism, and have entailed significant changes in the criminal justice system. This article reviews these in the light of our research on racist offenders in Greater Manchester between 1998 and 2001. We argue that racist offending is not necessarily consistent with the assumptions underlying some of these initiatives. The conclusions from this work are then discussed in the context of the disturbances in Oldham and elsewhere in the UK during the summer of 2001. We suggest that constructions of racist offending have given excessive weight to individual motives and intentions, while much offending behaviour is grounded in wider cultural and social contexts. We present the background to these conflicts in terms of a vicious spiral of styles of policing, use of reported statistics and the involvement of racist organizations. We conclude that to explain racist violence we need to think in terms of not a single issue but of multiple issues of bias, and of cultures of violence, exclusions and marginalization.