Across March – July 2021, EQUAL, in partnership with Liberty, hosted five free Legal Action workshops for organisations supporting Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people, and Muslim and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the criminal justice system.
Through a collaborative process, the workshops provided participants with a deeper knowledge of their rights, and a renewed understanding of the legal tools that could be drawn upon to ‘mobilise and take up space to speak truth to power’, as attendees from the Racial Justice Network , authors of this new guest blog, remarked.
“Our work at the Racial Justice Network often has us engaging with the community to listen to their concerns, needs and solutions. Our StopTheSCANdal campaign was born from this relationship in 2018. We had listened to, and heard from, black and brown communities and individuals on how racist policing and hostile environment policies had impacted their lives. We were concerned, and questioned how marginalised communities would be further adversely impacted by the police rollout of mobile fingerprinting devices linked to the Home Office immigration database.
Whilst we mobilised a wide range of organisers, individuals and organisations with multiple skills and expertise through a number of public meetings, questions on the legality of the device and its use surfaced repeatedly. “How will police contain the risk of innocent citizens having fingerprints taken? What level of offence merits such an invasion of citizen privacy and potential consequences?“
It was here we recognised a gap in our legal knowledge.
Fast forward to 2020.
The global pandemic, national lockdown, and #BlackLivesMatter protests meant that we needed to respond to a variety of issues experienced by Black, Brown, minoritised ethnic and migrant communities. Seeing how marginalised communities adapted and supported one another during this time to navigate and cope with the unfamilars of life in a pandemic, we realised they already had solutions to a lot of the social problems experienced. But, often, they were barred from entering spaces where they could share their knowledge and lived experience. Even when they could, they were not listened to.
“The #TakeAction Legal Action training workshops by EQUAL and Liberty came at a time where we needed to deepen our understanding around the legality of the stop and scan process. The training provided a unique and valuable opportunity to fill the gaps in our knowledge and upskill our team of organisers and community members. This was incredibly important to us as we recognised the opportunities to equip our communities with knowledge of their rights, were few and far between.”
Carys Coleman, StoptheSCAN organiser and volunteer
“I started my academic career wanting to be a lawyer. So I am familiar with aspects of the law, especially criminal law. But I had always felt its understanding was inaccessible to the common person. Despite laws being there to serve and protect our common needs, they in de facto present an exclusive set of languages and rules not always easy for that common person to make sense of and use, especially those in marginalised communities who face additional barriers to access. This has meant that communities are not always able to utilise the law’s full capacity and vast potential for seeking social change.”
Sharon Anyiam, Project Officer
The workshops broke down a lot of these barriers in understanding, and showed how the law can be wielded to bring legal challenges against a wide range of injustices.
From the outset of the training, the legal facilitators from Liberty recognised and acknowledged their positionality. This was very impactful. It allowed them to proactively listen to the injustices experienced by the communities we worked with. As a result, the facilitators were able to recognise the solutions that exist within the community and thus provide a learning environment that enabled us to think strategically and collaboratively about these solutions.
To all those from EQUAL and Liberty who helped set up and facilitate these workshops, and to all those who participated and contributed, thank you!
Guest author: Carys Coleman and Sharon Anyiam, The Racial Justice Network (Take Action participants July 2021)