Police in London are using a tragic recent spike in knife attacks as an excuse to demand more funding and an increase in racist stop and search powers.
Gun and knife crime rose by 20 percent in the year to March. People’s lives have been torn apart.
But the police’s response is no solution. The demand for more stop and search powers is based on a perception of knife crime racially profiling young black men—giving cops more opportunity to harass them.
Steve, from Croydon, is a young black man who’s faced police harassment. He told Socialist Worker, “Growing up black in this country you can’t help having these experiences. Black and Asian boys have to grow up with this like it’s a rite of passage—it’s disgusting.
“I’ve been stopped myself and have never done anything requiring the police’s attention. It scars you in terms of wanting to help the police with anything in the future.”
A look at the Metropolitan Police’s statistics shows how stop and search is used in a racist way, particularly when it comes to “weapons sweeps”.
Black people are four times more likely than white people to be subject to the humiliating searches.
The reasons given for stop and searches differ from borough to borough in London. Suspicion of possession of drugs is the most common reason given across the city.
But where there are more black people the number of people searched on suspicion of possession of knives is also higher (see fact check, below).
Dave, who works with young people in London, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve heard horrific stories from the young people I work with about police racially abusing and harassing people.
“When you’re faced with that from people who you’re told to respect then it’s understandable people look outside the law.”
The reasons behind why people commit violent crime or carry knives are complex, and can’t be explained through decreased police resources.
Yet Met police commissioner Cressida Dick is actively encouraging her police to carry out more stop and searches.
“I am very much in favour of stop and search. And I’ve said that to my officers and I want them to feel confident to use it,” she said recently.
Dick argues that stop and search is no longer used to target black people—a claim that simply isn’t true.
Her justification for the searches is that one in three results “in something being found”.
But there’s no evidence that stop and search has any effect on preventing violent crime.
After the 2011 riots a decision was made to back off from using stop and search so frequently. Violent crime levels remained almost unchanged.
If what Cressida Dick is saying was true, and the recent spike was due to the decrease in stop and search, then there should be more of a long term correlation. There isn’t.
The Stop Now police monitoring organisation uses the Met police’s own statistics to show there is no link between stop and search levels and levels of violent crime (see graph below).
Even Theresa May, speaking to the National Black Police Association in 2015 that evidence surrounding stop and search “shows no link whatsoever with violent crime”.
The complex reasons for the rise in knife crime can’t be addressed by the cops. If funding has to go anywhere it should be to services that can help address the poverty and wider social problems that fuel violent crime in certain areas.
Steve said, “They’ve closed all the after school places for kids, they’ve taken away funding for mental health services in my area. If funding has been cut for services then why should we be surprised by the result?
“When a kid decides to leave the house with a knife you need to look at all the factors that play into that,” said Steve. “What are you doing to understand the situation he’s going through?
“These are the questions that the police and the government don’t really want to answer.”
Fact check: Institutional racism at work in London
Cops seem to assume that people in areas with larger black populations are more likely to be involved in violent crime or carry weapons.
For example, 30 percent of Lambeth’s population is black—the figure for London is 17 percent, and the national figure is 3 percent.
In the period August 2016 to June 2017 the amount of stop and searches on suspicion of possession of knives in Lambeth amounted to 12.7 percent of the borough’s total.
In Southwark, which has a significantly smaller black population—3.4 percent according to the 2011 census—6.4 percent of total stop and searches are on suspicion of knife possession.
Notting Hill Carnival—a yearly target for cops’ crackdown
Politicians and cops have seized on violent crime statistics as a way to justify either closing down Notting Hill Carnival or moving it to another area.
A report released by the Commission claims that violent crime at carnival rose 86 percent last year compared to 2010.
But as west London resident Ruby told Socialist Worker, “Every year they’re coming up with a fresh excuse to shut down carnival. In my experience it’s the police that start violence.
“In 2007 at carnival I was with a group of friends near Ladbroke Grove Tube station. No one was doing anything.
“The police were dressed in riot gear and they started beating their batons on their shields, then they charged us and hit people.”
Police traditionally raid people and increase stop and searches in the run up to carnival. The yearly crackdown takes on particular importance this year with the Grenfell Tower fire still fresh in people’s minds.
Tensions in the area are already, justifiably, running high. The police aren’t running their usual nakedly repressive operation on the streets.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a crackdown going on. “The authorities even tried to use Grenfell as an excuse to call off carnival ‘out of respect’ for the victims of Grenfell,” said Ruby.
“But people need that time—not to forget, but just to have a release where everyone can come together.”
Police have also announced plans to use facial recognition software at this year’s carnival, a system they trialled last year. Civil rights campaigners have warned that the move has no legal basis.
Cops claim that they will check people’s images against a database of wanted people and that other images won’t be kept.
But why should anyone trust them? They have kept people’s DNA on file despite them being released without charge. This was only reversed with the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the cops can still apply for special permission to retain DNA even if someone hasn’t been convicted.
Other new measures at carnival include strict controls on steel bands, with ID checks, lorry searches and restrictions on entry and exit of the area for band members.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council website says road closures are also going to be, “supplemented by road barriers at key entry points to the route”.
Crowd control measures like shutting off roads increase the density of crowds and therefore the likelihood of crushing. Cops have warned of a potentially “catastrophic public safety incident” but still block off roads.
The institutional racism at the heart of the police force conditions the way it treats different events and those with a high proportion of black attendees are treated with suspicion.
Cops used the 2011 riots as an excuse to police the event more heavily, and to begin shutting it down at 7pm.
With each year the calls to shut down the carnival or to move it somewhere else grow louder.
And some local residents think that the yearly police crackdown and other measures are designed to provoke people—providing authorities an excuse to shut the carnival down.
“They try and say they’re making things safer by blocking off roads and creating a one-way system, but it just pisses people off,” said Ruby. “They want to increase the tension.
“At the end of the day they always prevent people from leaving via certain routes. They should just let people leave. They just want an excuse to shut the thing down.”