Bob Marley was the master of lyrics that would stay lodged in the memory for generations. One of his classic lines was “who feels it knows it”. Stop and search, and particularly the dichotomy between the conventional wisdoms that dominate our national discourse around crime and punishment, leads us to the` natural’ assumption that more stop and searches of target groups (e.g. young black boys), will reduce serious violence, epitomising the point Marley makes.
There is an opposing view to this narrative which unfortunately gets very little airtime in the conventional spaces within the mainstream media where these debates play out. This of course is largely due to the demographic of those groups and communities on the receiving end of stop and search and the huge inequalities and power in-balances in our society this exposes.
The less seldom heard counter narrative on this issue is that stop and search is ineffective and is contributing to the deterioration in police and community relationships that can protect our society (and the most vulnerable groups, particularly children) from serious youth violence.
Our specific concern is around the experiences of children and particularly black and minority ethnic children in relation to their encounters of policing. Back in 2017, BTEG with the Children Rights Alliance England, wrote to Sir Tom Winsor the then HM Chief Inspector of Constabularies requesting he launch a review into the treatment and experiences of black and minority children in the area of policing.
Met Police statistics on stop and search
Stop and search – although use has fallen overall, the tactic is used disproportionately on BAME children in London with over half (54%) of all stop and searches on children in 2016 being of BAME children (with the disparity starkest in relation to Black boys and young men who accounted for 37% of all stops and searches).
In 2016 at least 540 children in London were subjected to `more thorough’ or `strip searches’ with BAME children accounting for 71% of these intrusive searches.
In 2016, 8275 children were detained overnight in MPS custody. Nearly two thirds of these children were from BAME backgrounds (with Black children accounting for 41% of all children detained overnight).
In 2008 after Tasers were introduced, MPS officers used them on children 9 times. Yet in the first 9 months of 2016 alone Tasers were used 118 times (including being fired 5 times.) Nearly 70% of these uses in 2016 were on BAME children
From December 2016 to July 2017, the Metropolitan Police Service conducted an initial pilot of the use of spit hoods in five custody suites. Since then, trial of the devices was rolled out to all custody suites in London. By the end of September 2017 there had been at least 7 uses of spit hoods on children (the youngest child being 15 years old.) Of these, four uses were on BAME children.
In the intervening years it has only gotten worse. In response to 2020’s pandemic, the UK government introduced unprecedented police powers under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations and the Coronavirus Act.
Reflecting historical patterns, the policing of the pandemic has had the greatest impact on racially minoritised communities, with new police powers adding to and exacerbating pre-existing forms of racist policing. Campaigners have expressed concern that the widespread misinterpretation and misuse of Schedule 21 has so far had a disproportionate impact on Black and ethnic minority individuals.
Despite the drop in crime rates as the first lockdown came into effect, stop and search practices ‘surged’, with stop and search rates more than doubling in May 2021 compared with the previous year, and a staggering 21,950 searches of young Black men taking place in London alone during the first period of lockdown.
Black people in London were ‘up to over 11 times’ more likely to be stopped than white people, and the disparity is even higher elsewhere.
But of course, statistics only show part of the problem. They don’t unwrap the very human experiences of the children affected by early negative contact with the police. A report from Stopwatch (a coalition of academics and community organisations campaigning for the reform of stop and search powers) on the Metropolitan Police Service gangs matrix delved deep into the traumatising experiences of children and young people routinely subjected from a young age to this model of policing.
So back to Bob Marley’s lyrics – I would suggest that if the model for policing that is being applied to black and minority ethnic children in areas such as London were applied across the country, the response of our politicians would be very different. Falling into the failed comfort zone of more and more punitive measures may play to the majority audience but it will not address serious youth violence and downplays the serious risks and long-term damage to community cohesion.
David Lammy MP in a newspaper article shared his own experiences of being stopped and searched as a child in Tottenham.