FAMILIAR SCENE: A black man is stopped and searched
DARREN JAMES* is just 17-years-old. In the last four years, he has been stopped and searched four times. Although he was bothered by the fact that he had been stopped so many times, Darren had learned to accept it. But in March last year, the unthinkable happened.
The promising college student and some friends were pulled over by the police while in a friend’s new car, and were wrongly accused of theft.
“They said there were a lot of burglaries around this area. He [the friend] just got the car two weeks ago and everything was legit. But they thought that it wasn’t his car,” Darren, from Enfield in north London, told The Voice.
He said the police assumed the worst when they found radios in the back of the car, and ignored attempts by the boys to explain that the radios belonged to the car owner’s father.
“We were saying ‘just phone our parents and you can ask for yourself’, and they weren’t listening to us…”
Instead, Darren and his friends were hauled in by police, who took their DNA and fingerprints and locked them in separate jail cells for 14 hours before releasing them without charge.
“I thought, ‘why was I put in the cell?’... I was kind of upset. If we had done something wrong then we had a right to be here, but we didn’t,” said Darren, who is now worried that being arrested could damage his future career choices.
Darren said he now sees police officers as people “who don’t really listen (and) take things out of proportion. They just want to see how they can catch and get DNA off people.”
According to campaigners, there are thousands of young men like Darren in the UK. They say that behind statistics showing that black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and four times more likely to be arrested, are generations of black men who have been “emotionally traumatised” by stop and search and wrongful detention.
Some of these emotional scars date back to old 1980s ‘sus’ laws, but also include the effects of modern-day stop and searches covered under section 60 of the Public Order Act, or under the controversial section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was recently ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.
“I have spoken to men who still feel bitter and angry at being wrongfully convicted under the sus laws, which meant that they had to rethink and even lower their aspirations, which has a knock on effect on their children and grandchildren,” said Patrick Vernon, head of mental health organisation The Afriya Trust.
“What is required is a major review and for people who are now their 40s and 50s to be given the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.”
Vernon argues that since Windrush there have been at least three generations of various families who have either been “criminalised or traumatised” by stop and search.
“We still do not know the real impact in the short term and the generational impact. We all recognise that stop and search is important and is needed as a tool for the police to be effective in the war against gun crime and terrorism. However, there is a clear difference in strategically targeting known suspects and a carpet blanket approach to black young people who happen to fit in to a racial or religious benchmark profiling system,” Vernon said.
TRAUMATIC: Patrick Vernon
Despite anecdotal evidence of the damage done - with some campaigners referring to the mistrust between black communities and the police - there is no local research on the psychological impact on black people in the UK.
Vernon said it is time for this to change. Calling for research into the psychological impact on black men and youth, Vernon said there should be an “inquiry to explore the impact and consequences from the late 70s and early 1990s with the introduction of the sus laws to current DNA stop and search procedures.”
Race campaigner and Trident Independent Advisory group chair Claudia Webbe agrees. “If you are continually stopped and searched, you are marred by that,” says Webbe, who has been stopped more than 39 times for what she calls ‘driving while black.’
DEVASTATING: Claudia Webbe
She added: “It is a frightening experience… A lot of young people who are stopped and searched aren’t supported through that process and, therefore, can have feelings of animosity, fear of uniform and all sorts of things…
“When it repeatedly happens to you, it has a profound and devastating effect… on your mindset.”
Respected youth outreach worker Ken Hinds, and psychologist Dr Nicola Hammarling also agree.
“…Ironically, the high stop and search rates for black men is so well publicised, there is a potential that this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Hammarling said.
Hinds explained: “You are a double victim …you go out there and think ‘if they are going to stop and search me and lock me up for nothing then I’ll just go out there and do something’.
“The other… thought goes inwardly (so) when I see a policeman I am going to be scared and I am going to take avoiding action… I am going to turn around and walk backward to where I am coming from. But then the police might pick that up as suspicious and then lock me up for that too…” he added.
In 2009, Hinds received an apology and £22,000 in compensation from British Transport Police, after he was controversially arrested in May 2004 while observing cops stopping and searching a youth.
Hinds, who chairs the Haringey Stop and Search Monitoring Group, said the scars run deep for people who are wrongly arrested, forced to give their DNA and locked up for hours. It is even worse if they are stripped searched.
“It’s degrading. It’s like you are being raped,” Hinds says.
He said for many young men “the consequence of that is that you might not feel that you are able to lash out at the police, but could find some other victim that you can lash out on, usually someone from your own community.”
Hinds and others say there are alternatives to blanket stop and search. He said police should make more effort to work with influential community role models, leaders and youth workers.
“If you focus on people like myself, we will tell you where the hot spots are, what the issues are and who the likely culprits are. And, more importantly, what we need to do to turn them away from those dark thoughts that they are having,” he added.
“…The only people who can change their psyche are the people who are respectful in their own community.”
* Name has been changed