Published on January 27, 2014 | by Taryn Nixon2
The reality of stop and searchEquality, diversity and human rights are among the qualities that Britain prides itself on; so it’s hard to believe that ethnic minorities and, more specifically, black and Asian communities are still the subject of humiliation and embarrassment when it comes to the stop and search laws.
In the UK, black people are stopped and searched seven times more than white people, while those of Asian origin are twice as likely to be stopped.
For all searches carried out, more than 90 per cent do not lead to an arrest, and of those that do, just one per cent is for possession of an illegal weapon.
The majority of arrests made are for possession of drugs and stolen property; raising questions about whether stop and search is an effective practice.
Rebekah Delsol, from the Open Society Justice Initiative and member of Stopwatch, a coalition that sets out to inform the public about the use of stop and search and to promote effective, accountable and fair policing, is one of those with concerns.
“If only nine per cent [of searches] lead to an arrest, then there needs to be a better reason to stop someone other than the assumption that everyone is suspicious,” she says.
Isaac Borquaye, a 24-year-old hip-hop and urban artist from London who goes by the stage name of Guvna B, recalls the time when he was stopped and searched: “It happened around eight months after the London Riots in May 2012. We were in Brockley, South London. My production team and I had been shooting my next music video ‘Free’ for about an hour.
“We picked up my friend from a secondary school as he was meant to be in the video. We used a convertible car for the next scene; it was a brand new Mercedes. We were about to turn left into a road, when one of the two police cars that were tailing us overtook us while the other stayed behind to block us. They stopped and got out of the car with guns, shouting ‘Hands in the air! Hands in the air!’.
“We were quite shocked as we didn’t know what was happening. There were five of us in the car.”
“It is very disturbing that the rate of stop and search for black people has actually increased.” – Aaron Kiely
Borquaye and his production team had to get out the car, whilst one of the policemen searched the boot of the car. The other had them up against the wall and they were each searched.
They found no evidence of wrong-doing, so the officers left.
According to Delsol: “The Police and Criminal Evidence Act requires the police to record their use of stop and search and offer the person a receipt or inform them that they can pick it up from the local police station.”
Borquaye and his production team got nothing: “The police told us they got a call from a local resident saying we were putting guns inside our boot. There were no firearms; they found our camera equipment in our boot, but no guns. And then they just drove off. They didn’t give us a slip or an explanation or anything like that.”Stop and Search has been a long-standing issue among black communities; in 1981 the controversial law sparked the Brixton Riots.
At the time, the law was titled ‘Operation Swamp’ and the ‘Sus’ Law’; it meant anybody could be stopped and searched by an officer merely on the suspicion that the person was about to commit a crime.
It led to many innocent people being questioned by the police and caused tensions to grow between black communities in Brixton and officers.
Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students Officer says: “It is very disturbing that the rate of stop and search for black people has actually increased since the time of the McPherson report which was an inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. To see that number grow, highlighted by Dr Richard Stone, a panel member of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, is something that the police have to face up to and deal with.”
Today the issue still causes concern and was underlined by the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham by an armed officer on August 2011.
The incident sparked the London riots that spread across the capital and to parts of Manchester, Birmingham and as far as Glasgow, putting the spotlight back on stop and search.
Kiely, who represents many young students, adds: “Young people that I am in contact with think it’s normal to be stopped and searched so frequently even if they have done nothing wrong, they are an A grade student or an asset to their community. This is deeply damaging to community relations.
“We want a change in the framework of stop and search. We want them to be evidence-led. This would significantly impact on the numbers of black people stopped and put an end, not to the practise of the police powers of stop and search, but to racist stop and search.”
According to The Guardian online, Home Secretary Teresa May is “considering reforms to stop and search to curtail the damage its use against innocent people inflicts on community relations.” May is set to tell the police to “conduct fewer searches, and crack down on officers unlawfully using their powers through ignorance and bias.”
Borquaye who has been searched six times in his life so far, decided to take his situation further with a written complaint and in return received a written apology from the Metropolitan Police.
He says: “When I’ve been searched in the past, the reason the police always give me is that I match the description of someone that they are looking for, but its just because I am Black and I am young.”
“And it’s funny, because if they actually knew what I do…I’m a Christian, I stay out of trouble and I do youth work. I’m the guy that helps the youth get off the streets rather than get into trouble.”
“When I’ve been searched in the past, the reason the police always give me is that I match the description of someone that they are looking for, but its just because I am Black and I am young.” – Isaac Borquaye
Delsol says: “Stop and Search should be fair and accountable. The police need more of a reason to stop and search someone, other than a black male wearing a hoodie
“There should be more individual suspicion and individual reasoning to suspect that someone should be stopped and searched. If you match the description of someone the police are looking for then what is that exact description? Is the person the same height? Same hairstyle? What was distinctive about the clothing they were wearing?”
According to Stopwatch, the latest figures are the highest levels of ethnic profiling ever recorded in the UK or internationally.
“The most important thing is to make the data accessible to the public as most people are unaware of the statistics of stop and search, so it doesn’t mean anything to them,” Delsol adds.
For more information on Stop and Search and to find out about your rights and what you can do go to go to www.stop-watch.org