Keith Jarrett, the outgoing president of the National Black Police Association, sparked outrage last weekend by suggesting that police should stop and search more young people.
Racism is at the heart of stop and search. Home office figures show that black people are six times as likely to be stopped and searched as white people, while Asian people are twice as likely.
Jarrett talked of increasing the measures across all communities.
But a brief look at the history of stop and search shows how it is used predominantly against young black men.
Jarrett’s comments have been seen as promoting a return to the hated “sus” laws of the 1970s and 1980s. The “sus” laws allowed police to stop those they saw as “suspect” – people “loitering” in a public place with intent to commit crime.
The effect was increased police harassment of black people. Some 44 percent of people arrested under the “sus” laws in the late 1970s were African-Caribbean.
The anger that this caused led to rioting across Britain, notably in Brixton, south London, in 1981. The effect of this resistance led to the Scarman Report and restrictions on stop and search.
But police still maintained the power to stop and search, and the tactic was criticised in the Macpherson Report in 1999, which talked of “institutional racism” in the police.
Jarrett’s comments have given right wingers an opportunity to air their views freely.
Melanie Phillips wrote in the Daily Mail that Jarrett “speaks no more than pure common sense”. She argued that the controversy had arisen because “it has been thought more important to avoid upsetting the sensibilities of minorities than to fight crime effectively”.
She went on to lament the possibility that future laws against homophobic discrimination could threaten “those who speak the truth about the harmful or anti-social consequences of gay lifestyles”.
Libby Purves called Jarrett “brave” for challenging the “lazy mantra” that the police are institutionally racist – and instead accepting that in terms of gun and knife crime “the attackers are teenagers, often black”.
Anti-terror legislation has had a similar effect, legitimating those who demonise Muslims.
It has let the police off the leash – with horrific consequences for Jean Charles de Menezes, who was killed by police, and botched operations such as the 2006 Forest Gate “anti-terror raid”.
Calling for increased stop and search assumes that increasing police power is the way to fight crime.
Keith Jarrett has cited the concerns of black parents about the safety of their children, and it is true that many people have genuine concerns about gun and knife crime.
But the Metropolitan Police figures on stop and search for July show that just 11.3 percent of those stopped and searched were arrested.
Stop and search will not prevent crime – instead it will further alienate black and Asian people, and cement racism within the police.