As Lewis Hamilton has suggested police law doesn’t protect black people adequately.
Last week I promoted a video discussing why young black lawyers are being randomly stopped and searched in London. That video is here, but I wanted to take an opportunity to take the discussion further.
The black lives protests are difficult to understand and comprehend by those who have not been subject to repeated random stop and searches by the police. Hence all the jokes and ridicule surrounding the protests that proliferate are due to a lack of experience. This lack of experience inevitably dilutes our empathy with the protesters. Those that mock them off don’t have knowledge of why they are protesting. Something that is misunderstood or incomprehensible will always be exposed to jesting. Otherwise, us non-protesters, would probably protest too. Without asking why these protests are occurring we are at risk of skirting over or ignoring the lack of control processes that could be in place in policing that potentially affects all of us. This puts everyone at risk of being subject to a police state or excessive police power. The response, last week, to the police in Melbourne’s lockdown illustrates this. There the police supposedly rammed a man’s car and a video then emerged of them stamping on his head.
In the Italian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, who finished first, exposed a t-shirt asking for justice for undercover policemen who killed a certain “Breonna Taylor”. Taylor’s death appears to be a bi-product of an excessive power given to the policy in Kentucky without the thought of the obvious risks of civilians being captured in the cross-fire. It allows plain-clothed police officers to enter into a home without a warrant to search for illegal drugs. The problem of course is that when you knock down someone’s door and enter their house not dressed as a police officer then you may be seen as an intruder and be shot at by those with legal firearms.
It has been suggested that Taylor, an innocent, was killed in exchanged gun fire resulting from the use of such police powers. The problem here is not the police exercise of a power they have been given, but rather the process of designing the grant of such extraordinary powers. It should have been obvious to the legislators that such broad police powers were at risk of causing loss of human life. It has been a simplistic, perhaps too readily jumped at, formula applied across the world that the more extreme the crime the more extreme policing is needed. That seems to be a questionable proposition for a number of reasons. Predominantly because it confuses media driven symptoms of crime with the true causes of crime. Ordinarily: extreme crime is caused by a number of social and psychological factors that do not relate to the lack of extreme policing as the reason for their existence.
Then there is the different issue of the disproportionate stop and searches that occur, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, of black people. Black, or ethnically African or mixed race African people, are six times more likely to be stopped and search. This means that stop and search powers are exercised in relation to racial profiling, rather than whether there is a possibility that a crime has been committed. As the police are an arm of the state this causes a rift between the state, and those communities who otherwise look for inclusionary leadership from those in power.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission report on policing in the UK takes the well-known example of Ken Hinds a black community youth worker in London who just gets stopped five or six times a year for no reason. No reason means that the extraordinary powers of policing to interfere with any of us are just used for no reason or for fun.
To move on from the protests, we must actually try to reform the law to do something about this. In the United Kingdom, the main rule on stop and search was brought into force with the Codes of Practice that accompanied the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This is the rule that you should only stop someone if you have ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’. The randomness of the searches, since the enactment of the provision about 40 years ago, would suggest that the police cannot grasp the meaning of it- and this may be no fault of their own. This calls for reform of the language to be more simplistic.
I would go so far as to say that the rule of “reasonable grounds for suspicion” is not practiced at all in relation to black people, in particularly young males, in London showing the weakness of the law.
Ignoring the law by the police is so deeply routed and permeating policing that you would find young black lawyers, bankers, and doctors who will all say that they have been stopped and search randomly by the police in London in the last few years. This means that there simply has been a lack of a process for legislative reform that adequately engages with, and proposes solutions for, this issue. Therein lies the cause of the protests. For example, a criterion upon which not to exercise the stop and search power such as which to determine whether the search could appear to be random, has not yet been created or promoted. In the UK the 2014 guidance is too vague and detailed for police making decisions on the spot. (Though this is something as a firm that we are working on). There is guidance in the 2014 codes of practice but this is relies, perhaps unfairly, on police officers having the time to learn detailed semantics of the code: a task we feel is too onerous for them.
The simpler approach would be add a proviso to the statutory power to stop and search individuals in s.1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This proviso would be something along the lines of: ‘the power can only be exercised in exceptional circumstances where it is clear that there are reasonable grounds that an individual is involved in criminal activity, and there is evidence to suggest that the specific individual in question has been involved’. We call this specific individualisation of the police power. The specific requirement of the involvement of the individual would then do away with accidental, or deliberate, racial generalisation on the exercise of police powers. Other police powers can be amended similarly. In the context of the current heated and passionate debate around racial policing simple amendments to the law should not be overlooked that can be brought into force quickly. These are likely to make life easier for everyone and bring about harmony between communities and the police that is, presently, sorely missing.
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