PLAYING THE RIGHT CARDS: (from left) Professor Robert Beckford, Karl George and Errol Robinson hold the new civil rights cards
IT’S NOT much bigger than a credit card. But a Birmingham-based lobbying group hope the launch of a new pocket-sized Civil Rights Card will help to guide people through the legal maze of being stopped, searched or arrested by the police.
The card, launched by United in Building Legacy (UBL), is the first of its kind and organisers hope it will help citizens to understand their rights while in a vulnerable position.
Speaking at the launch, veteran solicitor Errol Robinson of UBL’s law and criminal justice division said the card was a response to the African Caribbean community’s unhappiness at the disproportionate use of stop and search and stop and account which everyone saw as ‘a threat to justice.’
He referred to it as “not the elephant in the room, but the elephant loose on the streets.”
He said: “This affects everyone in our community – the affluent and the not so well-off – even the pastor and the minister.”
And he paid tribute to the vital early research on the project carried out by law student Ashleigh Sealey, who tragically passed away in April 2010 at the age of 23.
The card’s five-point aim is to empower citizens, increase familiarisation with the mechanisms for seeking redress, encourage police observance of the legal requirements of their powers, improve community relations with the police and decrease tension around stop and search. It will be placed at strategic centres and is available on request.
Bishop Dr Derek Webley, who chairs the West Midlands Police Authority, said that while he recognised police had rights, if they antagonised the community and alienated people, they could not expect to get the respect of that community or feel part of it.
Guest speaker, broadcaster and academic Professor Robert Beckford, said: “This card is an important step on the long, long road to comprehensive justice – but it is not a panacea.
“It will not solve the problem by itself. It will not instantaneously reduce racial profiling overnight, it will not end crime and neither will it root out the small group of officers who we are told give the force a bad name.
“I am sure that UBL is fully aware that a criminal justice system, as a recent Guardian article identified, that continues to sentence offenders with regard to race cannot be fixed overnight.
“But this card is a way of reassuring the community that the police are there to administer the law and are not the law. As such the card gives us hope.”
Ajit Singh, operations manager of the Handsworth-based Nishkam Centre, who was part of the panel of speakers, said: “This card gives a very strong message of social justice and it’s important that we wholeheartedly support this initiative.”
Camille Ade-John, of Community Vision, a community interest company, told the audience she was concerned at West Midlands’ Police decision to stop recording the ethnicity of people they approached in ‘stop and account’ operations.
She said: “Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world where our local police are like the Dixon of Dock Green character. If a young person is stopped five days running then on the sixth day they snap and accuse the police of harassment there is no recourse because nothing has been recorded.
“Police say they will set up a scrutiny committee into this. We need to have feedback on this through UBL.”
Maxie Hayles, who chairs the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit (BRAMU) voiced concerns that, according to research by the London School of Economics and the Open Society Justice Initiative, a black person was 29.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person. The figure was 26.6 the previous year.
He called it ‘a national disgrace’ and demanded a total overhaul of the stop and search system.
* United in Building Legacy, based at Community Cohesion Hub, 88 Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, B21 9PD, consists of seven divisions: law & criminal justice, education, youth and family, business & enterprise, regeneration, faith, health and politics and media.
For details about the card write to the above address or call 07929 049 111.