‘They absolutely punched the crap out of me’: Impact investigates Stop and Search

Published by Impact Magazine. In print as lead cover story May 19, 2014 and online June 05, 2014.

Nottinghamshire Police came under fire last year after a report into BME Policing experiences found the force was perceived to be ‘institutionally racist’.  

The report, ‘Exploring and Improving BME Policing Experiences’, commissioned by Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping, found that there was differential policing treatment given to Black, Ethnic and Minority (BME) individuals.

UoN academic and co-author of the report, Professor Cecile Wright, told Impact: “The study identified that members of the BME community regardless of  gender, age and social class were disproportionately subjected to [stop and search].

“What is quite concerning is that the stop and search of young people, male and female, did not translate into them being prosecuted or charged. Young people were being stopped and searched for no justifiable reason.”

Almost a quarter of the respondents stated they had been stopped and searched “more than five times”.

One year on, Tipping told race equality think tank, Runnymede, that the Police force are “already making good progress in [the] pursuit of equality and fairness,” but added that “more needs to be done to fully reverse the injustices that many people within the BME community feel towards policing in the county and beyond”.

Nottingham community organiser and youth worker Janet* toldImpact: ‘‘I am truly sad that I have been in this field of work for about twenty three years and I have seen things get worse rather than better in terms of young people and relationships with the police.

“We are in hard times right now,” she warned. “Whenever that happens you have a risk of insurrection’’.

Professor Wright believes that this negative relationship between the police and young people has already resulted in a kind of uprising in the form of the riots of August 2011.

“In other parts of the country they attacked retail, commerce. The exception was Nottingham, where the attacks were on the neighbourhood police stations like Canning Circus. This was indicative of the relationship with the police. Part of that negative relationship is because of disaffection, injustice, and unfair racial profiling.”

“POWERS OF ARREST”: THE RULES

According to Nottinghamshire Police’s Corporate Communication department, current stop and search policies ‘mean that a member of the public may be stopped and searched to allow officers to allay or confirm suspicion about someone without the officer exercising their powers of arrest’.

If you are stopped and searched, the officer should explain the grounds for the search, tell you who they are and where they are based, and also provide you with a receipt which allows you to get hold of the police’s complete record of the incident for up to three months after you have been stopped.

Despite the Communication department’s statement that ‘all stops must be carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect for the person concerned’, some lawyers argue that the practice of stop and search violates Human Rights Law.

“If you speak in a certain manner and you haven’t done anything wrong they will probably arrest you”.

Rachel Taylor, a human rights lawyer from stop and search watchdog, Stopwatch, has stated that: ‘A stop and search will often be distressing and humiliating for the individual concerned…. Individuals often feel criminalised and tainted by the experience’.

She has also commented that an unlawful stop and search procedure will breach an individual’s human rights, given that it both undermines a person’s liberty, is a result of racial profiling and records personal information without justification.

The PCC report commissioned by Paddy Tipping attempted to address these concerns, but Dr Mohammed Aslam, Senior Partner at Vivitas Resourcing Limited, a consultancy organisation who worked with Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire Race Equality Council, told Impact that the report’s findings were “academically incomprehensible” and that it was in general a “lazy piece of research”.

He said that the focus on the number of black people who are stopped and searched ignores the resulting actions by the police, particularly regarding conviction rates.

“A young guy was made to stand in the street in his boxer shorts”.

According to Dr. Aslam, the report only confirmed pre-existing findings, and accused the Police and Crime Commissioner of “incompetence”, stating that the PCC has “serious problems understanding race relations in the city”.

Janet also told Impact that there was significant discrepancy between the published report and the original version, which she has had access to. She accused the published report of ignoring the severity of BME experiences.

“DISRESPECTED AND VIOLATED”: BME TARGETING

Impact spoke to young Nottingham residents who are members of a focus group created in conjunction with the PCC report. They have continued to work together following the report, in order to support other young people facing similar instances of discrimination.

One 17 year old member of the group told Impact: ‘‘[stop and search] is not done properly. People are stopped and searched but it’s not properly documented… they are not given proper reasons. The way in which they are searched is aggressive and it’s not nice”.

Police data reveals that on average, approximately 8.6 stop and searches occur per day across Nottinghamshire.

59.9% of respondents in the PCC report who stated they had been stopped and searched said that this had happened more than once. Almost a quarter of the respondents stated they had been stopped and searched “more than five times”.

“Your dad and your grandfather will tell you about when it happened to them, so why should you expect anything less?’’

40.6% of mixed ethnicity respondents stated they had been stopped and searched by the police. The corresponding figure for black respondents was 32% and for other ethnic groups and Asian respondents the corresponding figures were 31.2% and 21.9% respectively.

The report also found that 40.7% of respondents were not given reasons for being stopped and searched, despite this being a legal prerequisite. The report found that 91.4% of those stopped and searched were male, regardless of occupation or education level.

Members of the focus group felt that the disproportionate statistics reflect a “targeting” of members of black minority and ethnic (BME) groups by police. In addition, young BME Nottingham residents toldImpact that the police do not always treat them with courtesy and respect, or follow the correct stop and search procedures, such as providing receipts:

“[The way the police would stop us] was casual,” said James*, an Afro-Caribbean trainee youth worker in Nottingham. “They hardly ever gave us receipts.They would say what are you up to, lads, empty your pockets, alright on your way.”

James told Impact about the stop and searches that he and his friends have experienced: ‘‘About five or six years ago I used to get stopped and searched all the time. I can’t count how many times. That was when Nottingham was at its highest with gang crime and drugs’’.

James’ experience is one shared by many others in Nottingham. The PCC report revealed that respondents who had experienced stop and search policing felt “disrespected” and “violated”.

“Since 9/11 we have seen a sea change in open hostility from the police and other authorities aimed primarily at Muslims across Britain”.

‘‘(The police) have their own perception of stopping you because of the way you dress and the way you walk… if you speak in a certain manner and you haven’t done anything wrong they will probably arrest you,” explained one British Asian-Pakistani male in the report.

James also emphasised that fear of the police is now at an all-time high because of an increase in man-power.

‘‘Nowadays we are very scared of the police and of them bringing 20 or 30 guys to come down to an incident. If they do that you know you’ve messed up, because if they bring all those guys down, you know they are going to deal with you really badly’’.

Dr. Aslam, who has published a report about racist and racial abuse against international students in the East Midlands, told Impact that Muslims are also disproportionately targeted by the police.

“With regards to the general pattern of stop and search we have, in my view, moved on leaps since we discussed stop and searches which affected African and Caribbean young people,” he toldImpact.

“[But] since 9/11 we have seen a sea change in open hostility from the police and other authorities aimed primarily at Muslims across Britain. Muslim communities are subject to increased scrutiny from the police, and stop and search is very often under reported, so such matters remain unchallenged,” he continued.

“COME ON YOU LITTLE BLACK SHIT”: THE NATURE OF HARASSMENT

Testimonials in the focus groups and interviews that contributed to the report highlighted instances of members of the police force breaching their code of conduct. These included aggressive and sexual stop and searches.

Describing one stop and search incident around the time of the Nottingham riots in 2011, James said he was “pinned down on the floor” by four police officers.

“They absolutely punched the crap out of me to get to my arms. Then they chucked me in the back of the car. I didn’t know where I was going, my eyes were watering, I couldn’t even talk.

“It was a really frightening situation,” James told Impact.

“The guys were saying to me, ‘come on you little black shit, you black bastard’, when they were trying to get my arms. They never used the ‘N’ word, but they always called me a ‘black shit’, and ‘black bastard’”.

“They chucked me in the back of the car. I didn’t know where I was going, my eyes were watering, I couldn’t even talk”.

Both Janet and James also referred to instances they were aware of where boys as young as fifteen had been stripped of their clothes and searched in the street. The police code of practice prohibits the removal of clothes in public places.

“We had one instance where a young guy was made to stand in the street in his boxer shorts”, said Janet. James confirmed this kind of incident happens often in Nottingham.

James believes that stereotyping plays a crucial part in the police’s stop and search profiling.  He told Impact the reason he no longer gets stopped and searched is because he has actively tried to escape these stereotypes in the way that he dresses and behaves.

“[I have changed] my whole demeanour, my whole attitude. The way I dress and present myself is different: I don’t go out in tracksuits and trainers or I don’t go out in all black. Instead I go out in nice colours and make myself look a bit presentable. That’s because I want to be perceived differently.’’

“IT’S GENERATIONAL”: INHERENT MISTRUST 

One girl from the focus group told Impact about the “fear, suspicion and anger” that young people from BME communities have towards the police.

‘‘I’m aware that injustices are carried out because young people don’t know how to conduct themselves,” she admitted, “but also the police take advantage’’.

A government-commissioned report from 2013 warned that the misuse of stop and search can be “a serious challenge to police authority and legitimacy”.

“The police take advantage”.

The PCC report states: ‘When policing by consent breaks down, especially because of perceived police injustices or discrimination towards BME groups, there are dangers for all of us. For policing to be at its most effective, co-operation and trust are needed between all parties – BME communities, the police, and wider publics’.

Another member of the focus group confirmed that otherwise ‘‘it becomes an abuse of authority, belittling someone”. She toldImpact that the consequences of just one bad experience with stop and search can continue to have effects for years.

“The individual is going to hold that resentment for a very, very long time. Their opinion of the police is also going to rub off on everyone that they’re around, so it becomes a continuous thing”.

“Stop and Search can be “a serious challenge to police authority and legitimacy”.

This problem appears to be a product of hostility dating back several generations. As one member of the focus group toldImpact: “Younger guys have seen this happen to older guys and that’s just going to be all that they know. That’s going to be the only way they know how to react with the police, that’s the only relationship they are going to understand.’’

Respondents in the report, and those speaking to Impact, mentioned disputes between their fathers or grandfathers and the police. The intergenerational nature of these hostilities have contributed to what one member of the focus group said was “a lack of respect, anger and fear” towards the police force in Nottingham.

He continued: ‘‘It’s always felt like that, it’s generational… These are the stories that we grow up hearing. Your dad and your grandfather will tell you about when it happened to them.

“So why should you expect anything less?’’

*Names have been changed

 

Ella Funge     

Research: Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu

 

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