The Police Action Centre will be working alongside groups such as the Stop and Search Legal Project to raise awareness of the use of stop and search against young ethnic minorities across the country so that indiscriminate stops and searches come to an end. PAC considers such stops and searches as a form of racism and calls on the Government to address this issue with the police as such action can no longer be justified as a legitimate police policy.
The aim of the Police Action Project on stops and searches is to provide guidance to members of the public on how to distinguish between the legitimate uses of stop and searches compared to those that should be challenged.
On the beat | Solicitors Journal 9 January 2012 – Shaking off the racism stigma
The twitter furore that gripped the country last Thursday, 5 January 2012, following the misrepresentation of Diane Abbott’s “divide and rule” tweet reignited the debate on race and most specifically the question of ‘What is racism?’
In 1999 the Macpherson report labelled the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist” and made 70 recommendations which the panel of experts hoped would improve police relations with the black and Asian communities. I use the word ‘hope’ as many of the recommendations were not followed, most significantly of those was the promotion of black and Asian police officers to senior policing posts, which to date has not been achieved. Assistant deputy commissioner of the Met Cressida Dick acknowledged last week that it was a “matter of huge regret” that it took nearly two decades to convict the murderers of Stephen Lawrence and that the police force has “transformed” since. But when you look at the evidence on the causes of the August riots it is difficult to see how the police force has “transformed”, as many in the black and Asian communities still face the same prejudice that the young ethnic minorities faced two decades ago: the disproportionate use of stop-and-search powers against them.
Matt Delito, a Metropolitan Police officer who has written about his encounter with a young black suspect during a stop-and-search in The Telegraph on 4 January 2012, states that “it would be easy to label me as a racist”. Although it is refreshing to hear that some police officers, such as Delito, can see the damage that their actions are having on communities through the use of stop-and-search, that does not go far enough to remedy the problem. The home secretary at the ‘Reading the Riots’ conference in December 2011 informed the audience that she had asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at best practice in the use of stop-and-search. It is hoped that ACPO will be able to take on board the comments that have been made about the abuse of the power and the sense of criminalisation that it creates. But I have a feeling that even ACPO’s intervention will not change the actions of the police officers on the streets.
You may think that I’m too pessimistic in my views but if you look at the pattern of stop-and-search over the last 30 years it is difficult to see what lessons the police have learnt. The ‘sus’ laws in operation in 1981 are no different to the routine authorisations of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which are used more extensively against black and Asian communities. Their neighbourhoods are targeted as ‘high-risk crime’ areas and anyone in that community is considered to be a suspect without the need for reasonable suspicion. So is this not racism?
Dr Richard Stone, who was one of the advisers to the Macpherson Inquiry, claims that it is ‘racial profiling’ and that it should be treated as a crime of misusing public resources. Whether any officer would be charged for such a crime is yet to be seen but what it does show is that this ‘tool of intimidation’ has run its course. The justification that stop-and-search is necessary and effective in reducing knife crime can no longer be given any weight, especially as every year we see an increase in knife-related injuries and deaths among young black men. The increase in knife crime despite the use of section 60 stop-and-search powers is hard evidence that the policy to continue to stop-and-search young black men is based on an ulterior motive. Is that motive racism?
Delito says: “Founded entirely on my record of stops and searches, and especially when contrasted against the demographic make-up of my borough overall, it would be easy to label me as a racist. To me, that is a genuine insult. I hate racism with every fibre of my being.” I’m sure that many officers would share the same views. But that does not change the perception within the black and Asian communities that the police are racist. Until the police are able to answer the question of ‘What is racism?’ it is difficult to see how there can be any meaningful developments in the fight against youth crime.