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Sick of being stopped—young black people in London speak out

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Issue 2411
police stop and search a young man
police stop and search a young man (Pic: Guy Smallman)

To be young and black in London is to experience daily police harassment and racism.

“As a young black woman, I am so typical to them,” Yanor Browne from north London told Socialist Worker. “They’re just waiting for me to breathe too loudly and then boom, that’s it.”

In the last five years in England and Wales police have stopped and searched more than a million young people under the age of 18.

Overall the Metropolitan Police uses it more than any other force. From 2011-12 alone it carried out over half a million stop and searches in total. Nearly half were of black or Asian people.

In London’s Haringey borough two thirds of all stop and searches are carried out on under-25s.

Yanor said, “When I was about 16 I was just riding my bike when the police spotted me. They started chasing me. And I was riding away fast, thinking, ‘Why are they chasing me?’

“I got to the end of the street when they caught up with me and stopped and searched me.” 

Now aged 22, Yanor’s experience of the cops has only got worse. She said, “Just walking down the streets and police say homophobic things to me because I’m gay.

“I’ve had my head smashed off walls by police. And when I’ve held up my hand to say ‘hang on a second’ then boom, that’s aggression and they’re restraining me.

“It’s the little things they do, the small spiteful things. The sly pinch, the comments. I’ve had my arm twisted so hard behind my back that it felt like it was going to break.”

Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. And in the West Midlands the figure rockets to 29 times.


“This comes as no surprise,” said Jonathan, who has suffered police harassment in Edmonton and nearby Haringey.

“The feeling of us on the road is that the police are there to protect society from black people.

“The police have an attitude of passive aggression. It’s their stance and they way they talk to you. They have the feeling of power behind the badge.”

All of this has caused deep anger. On the streets young people may be subdued at the moment. But inequality and daily state repression means the growing rage won’t be contained forever.

Yanor said, “They want to make you feel small, and they do. I hate it, it’s disgusting.

“It’s time to step up and make a change, and I mean real change. Police set people up for failure—we need justice.”

Tasered for seeking help

Joe Leeds from Finchley, north London was just 17 when he was tasered by police after becoming unwell while out earlier this year.

He told Socialist Worker, “I felt like I was dying. I saw some police officers in the street and I went up to them and said, ‘Help me I need some water’.

“Next thing they put me on the floor and they were sitting on me. I was freaking out, I didn’t know what was happening.

“They said I had threatening behaviour but I needed help—not to be jumped on and attacked.

“They then tasered me and then threw me in the back of a police van, where I was taken to hospital.”

The encounter was a serious escalation from Joe’s usual experience with police.

“I’ve been stopped and searched many times,” he said. “After a while you get to know how to hide and avoid them. 

“But this has left me terrified. Every time I hear a police siren, my heart sinks. I’ve got electrical scars on my wrists from the taser. They’re not going away.

“It shows that the police force are not a friend of society, they are not there to do good.”

40 years of racist laws

The scale of police harassment doesn’t shock Ken Hinds, chair of Haringey Independent Stop and Search Monitoring Group.

Ken was awarded £22,000 from the British Transport Police. They had handcuffed and held him for four hours after witnessing a teenager being detained at a train station.

He told Socialist Worker, “Out of all those stopped under Section 60, only about 6 percent end in an arrest. This is leading to young people becoming pissed off with being inconvenienced.

“Stop and search comes from over 40 years of racist laws, going back to the ‘sus’ laws. 

“We call it ‘stopped and scarred’ when you have three or four generations of black people experiencing this sort of treatment.

“The biggest myth is that it’s to stop gang, drugs or knife crime. What about the well to do’s that can afford all the cocaine and heroin at their dinner parties?

“Police try to get away with a lot because people don’t know their rights.

“They just rush you, when they’re meant to give you the officers name, the warrant card.”

Cops repeat harassment

 Many searches are carried out under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

This allows cops to target a specific area for a period of time. They can harass the same young people multiple times.

They can search people without any reason to suspect that those searched are carrying a weapon.

Searches up as arrests go down

There has been a 60 percent rise in stop and searches in the last decade, according to Ministry of Justice and Home Office figures.

Yet arrests as a result of stop and searches dropped by 30 percent.

Only 3.5 percent lead to an arrest for drugs, 2.4 percent for stolen property and just over 1 percent for possession of an offensive weapon. 

More than 90 percent of stop and searches result in no arrest.

Black people stopped more

Black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched and Asian people twice as likely than white people.

Yet the number of arrests is roughly even across all ethnic groups.

If white people were stopped at the same rate as black people there would be 4.4 million more searches.

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