Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Stop and Search and the Office of Constable: The Mass Criminalisation of Black Communities

Unless you happen to Black or Muslim.

May I apologise in advance dear reader this is rather long article. It seeks to deal with issues that a rarely covered elsewhere in any depth and so by its very nature has become a complex read. I hope nevertheless you will take the time to read it as I have laboured long in writing this for you. Get a cup of tea, relax and put your feet up.

You will no doubt not completely agree with all I have written here, but in prompting debate its important that there is compelling argument.

I didn’t submit a consultation response to the Governments snap 8 week summer consultation on the police power of stop and search. After 30 years of an almost relentless rise in rates of stop and search under Tory, Labour and now a Tory led Coalition Government and countless consultations I really didn't see much point.
There are number of other reasons why I chose not to formally submit a view, but primary among them was that I, along with many of Britain’s black communities, have zero confidence in the Government’s commitment to tackle racism either more broadly or within the criminal justice system in particular.

Is she serious about reform?
This Tory led Coalition government has engaged in an ideologically driven purge that seen the gradual elimination and eradication of all traces of anti-racism or multiculturalism in Government policy. As far as race is concerned the Prime Minister has adopted the French model I dealing with racism  and determined no special provision, no focus on difference, no special interest group’s agenda’s and has given the issue zero political priority.

This has seen the dismissal of all national Black and ethnic minority consultation forums, the proscription of single ethnic funding for disadvantaged groups and promoted the most disgraceful demonization of immigrant communities. In addition, they have enfeebled the Equalities Human Rights Commission removing Black and Asian Commissioner’s, slashed budgets and sacked workers. They have made a bonfire of legal aid cuts and left black people with no ability to easily or affordably access or enforce our rights to be protected from racism and unlawful discrimination.

The history of formal consultation with black and poor urban communities is a sorry one of raised hopes, dashed aspirations and failed delivery. If our democracy is eroding and it is, (one look at voter turnout rates tell us that) then the process of municipal or statutory ‘consultative abuse ‘as I call it, has played a large part in alienating communities from local authority forums and wider democratic engagement.

After decades of unethical and poorly organised consultation the experience left most poor communities feeling both used and abused.

Statutory consultations are viewed by most living in poorer communities as nothing more than PR exercises that usually take place after the real decisions have already been made, informally or otherwise. Government, Council or statutory consultations are seen as tick box exercises.

Driven by either a legal requirement or political expediency, the outcome for communities is invariably the same. They feel frustration, anger leaving them feeling disempowered, patronised, ignored used and abused.

Consultation now leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and has become a dirty word that is spat out with venom. For me, having witnessed both the good and the bad, the issue of poorly timed, badly executed, patronising, crap consultation is right up there with MP’s expenses, Clegg and tuition fees and Blair illegal invasion of Iraq.

Such consultation is disempowering and acts as a drain on community confidence in statutory process and ultimately, confidence in democracy itself.

Stop and Search Consultation.

I consider this particular effort by the Home Office a joke, an attempt to appear to be listening while kicking the proverbial political football into the long grass. Bear with me dear reader and I will tell you why. Before I do though, it is important to understand the nature of racism in policing. As one of Britain’s most experienced campaigners on this issue I offer you the following insight into the problem we now face.

As a direct consequence  of the misuse of Stop and Search powers Britain's black communities are being criminalised at a persistent and alarming rate. The consequences for democracy and our communities, are simply devastating. What we are witnessing is the return to the pre Macpherson levels of mass criminalisation of black communities by a predominantly white male police force (and I use that word deliberately for this is how they are now perceived).

In the last year, in addition to the myriad of issues arising in the aftermath of August riots of 2011 we have seen a plethora of stories on stop and search. In January we saw Stuart Lawrence brother of Stephen, complained of being consistently targeted by Met officers for no other reason than the colour of his skin. In March a Met police officer was recorded telling a black youth  'You’re problem is you’ll always be a n****r'. 

In July the Met admitted what black communities had known all along, that it fails to investigate race complaints. An Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation uncovered the case of six Met officers sending each other deeply offensive racist texts.

In May the IPCC revealed that it received over 50 race complaints since the 1st April and these are recorded complaint that are dwarfed by the mountain of unreported incidents that the community simply has no confidence in making.

The view of the influential Met Black Police Association officers is clear and uncompromising that the Met continues to be an institutional racist organisation and cannot be trusted by the public to investigate claims of racism. Then we had the simply devastating news that in the aftermath of Stephen Lawrence’s brutal racist murder, the Met had deployed undercover cops to spy upon and undermine the Lawrence family and their campaign supporters.

Increasingly viewed as an army of occupation by many communities, rather than upholders of the law, the Met have violently regressed on the issue of race, suffering a rampant relapse of institutional racism.

Racism as a social phenomena has endured for 500 years adapting, shape shifting, moving its focus from the crude unreconstructed racism of the 1950’s  to the smooth, barely detectable on the surface, sophisticated type of racism we see today. The impact of racism has morphed form the crude Teddy boy racist attacks and colour bars of the 1950's to school exclusions , job rejection, criminalisation and incarceration. Social mobility in all communities has declined and wealth inequality has increased for all  communities, but particularly, no let me rephrase that,  acutely so for the black community. Those colour bars remain even if the mode of oppression has changed

Whatever the changing face of racism, what is clear that  rates of racial inequality in Britain in the areas of education, housing health. wealth and criminal justice are rising and rising fast.

Racism remains one of Britain’s most contagious and virulent social viruses. Racism remains reactionary, evolutionary and resistant to change and in the current economic austerity climate, promoted by Tory politicians seeking to induce a climate of fear, it breeds a powerful sub culture.

In the institution of policing where racism is given the green light by affable politicians like Boris Johnson it becomes cancerous threat to communities that condemns thousands of black youths mass involvement with a racist criminal justice system.

Boris Johnson much like Mayor Bloomberg in New York, comes across as moderate, charming and affable. Black people In New York thought Bloomberg a moderate Republican and decent guy and yet he too resides over a force, the NYPD, whose deadly racism hides in plain sight. Most recently the NYPD Stop and Frisk policy have been deemed illegal after a federal judge deemed the policy violated constitutional rights of minorities in the City. Johnsons Met is no different in terms of stop and search from the NYPD.

Most Londoners will not be aware of the deep crisis in confidence experienced by black communities when it comes to the Met, but I can tell you things are really very bad indeed. A recent poll found that 38% of Black Londoners polled believe the Met remains institutionally racist and that’s an undercount.

One a lighter note though, the calamitous state of relations between the Metropolitan Police Service and London’s black communities has resulted with Met being renamed by inner London Black communities as the Metropolitan Discrimination Force (MDF). Joking aside, the breakdown in London’s police and black community relations, the sheer anger and outrage that many in our community, particularly young people feel towards the police remains unacknowledged by the mainstream press, media and political commentators.
Mayor Boris and his Policing and Crime Commissioner Mr Stephen Greenhalgh, have not only turned a blind eye to racial profiling within the Met but have demanded more of the same.

From the year the Mayor got elected in 2008 to 2011 he increased stop and search by the Met by a massive 200,000. The erosion of police accountability in London and the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority led to the complete dismantling, in line with Government policy, of all policy infrastructure that tackled institutional racism within the Met.

The clear signal sent to the Met by the Mayor was that race was off the agenda and the issue of race equality at the Met was placed on the policy back burner. In the most diverse city in the world that was a catastrophic political error that led indirectly to the riots of August 2011 and has led to a well of deep anger and frustration that has built up and will inevitably burst forth onto London streets. .
The Mayor to be fair had already declared that the Met was a post institutional racist organisation in his infamous Race & Faith report. However, like all resurgent infectious viruses that have failed to respond to an initial course of treatment, the culture of racism within the Met has become resurgent, more powerful than ever.

Such is its power and influence as the dominant organisational culture within the Met, that it literally eats police guidelines, policy and equality legislation for breakfast. It corrupts all before it and lays waste to the empty political rhetoric of equality.

This immense power is so culturally engrained, so deeply rooted in the Met’s DNA as to represent the most acute threat to democracy, levels of peace safety and security of the capital.

As I have stated previously but it bears repetition, I believe the disturbances of August 2011 will be occur again at some point probably before the general election in 2015 if not shortly after, but come they will, with a level of ferocity and venom that will shock and surprise many.

Constitutional discretion in policing drives racism in practice.

The driver of this culture of police racism is in my view directly related to the extraordinary level of officer discretion that in Britain is one of the highest levels of officer discretion anywhere in the western world.

The police service in England and Wales is almost unique in investing its lowest ranking officers with its greatest and most intrusive powers”

So said, none other than Tom Windsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and it is this Office of Constable that lies at the heart of untrammelled officer discretion, discrimination and disproportionality in modern policing.

Lord Denning, in his judgement in the case of R v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner ex parte Blackburn 1968 gave legal definition to the Office of Constable.;

“I hold it to be the duty of the Commissioner of Police, as it is of every chief constable, to enforce the law of the land. He must take steps so to post his men that crimes may be detected; and that honest citizens may go about their affairs in peace.

So every PC knows that he or she has the sole power to decide what is deemed ‘ suspicious’ and that determination is beyond question by anyone, by authority  given by the Crown.

Lord Denning went on to say,

“He must decide whether or not suspected persons are to be prosecuted; and, if need be, bring the prosecution or see that it is brought; but in all these things he is not the servant of anyone, save of the law itself.

No Minister of the Crown can tell him that he must, or must not, keep observation on this place or that; or that he must, or must not, prosecute this man or that one. Nor can any police authority tell him so. The responsibility for law enforcement lies on him. He is answerable to the law and to the law alone.”

What these means in effect, is that when it comes to the interpretation of the law of the land, the PC is sovereign.

To change the level of individual discretion that police officers enjoy and abuse, would require the reform of the 12th century ancient and now unfit for purpose, Office of Constable,  in order to ensure that police officer were personally and professionally accountable for their actions.

Want to lower the number of stops and searches? Amend the police regulations to remove officer discretion for reasonable suspicion and make the disproportionate targeting of black people by individual police officers a sackable offence.

No superior officers nor Ministers of the Crown can instruct officers to conduct less stop and searches and this absolute power forms an explicit part of the PC driven canteen culture of racial profiling that now threatens liberty and democracy. In the Met its the tail that wags the dog.

This mediaeval office is the root cause of disproportionality in the Met, not lack of training or more diversity courses, this archaic power gives rise to ancient prejudice and chronic injustice.

Such absolute power and discretion gives licence to racism and discrimination. The Office of Constable for me amounts to a codification of racism into the very heart of the institution of policing.  This the definition of institutional racism and it exists at the core, the very bedrock of British policing

In recent years Black British citizens are being subjected to the single most sustained and targeted campaign of police harassment ever seen in Britain. A quick look at the figures for Stop & Search shows the focus of police activity post the publication of the McPherson report rising from 100,000 per year in 1998 to a staggering 1.1 million in 2012. 

This despite persistent media reports at the time and subsequently that the police were reluctant to use the power as a result of the Stephen Lawrence report. The Met use of the power is abusive and unnecessary, they rely on this power more than any other force in the UK.  Within the lower ranks it’s seen as defining who runs the streets and in adopting that attitude the Met have become the biggest gang in London.

I urge you to read the excellent Release report on the Met’s use of Stop and Search and drug enforcement policy.

It makes devastating reading. What the reports details is the inescapable fact that the policing and prosecutions of drug possession offences in England and Wales is unduly focused on black and minority communities.

This report looks at racial disparity rates at stop and search, arrest, prosecution and sentencing and clearly demonstrates that the drug laws in the UK are a major driver of the disproportionality that exists in our criminal justice system in relation to the black community. 

Its findings provide the most conclusive and irrefutable, evidence that racism is driving the wholesale, mass criminalisation of black communities in Britain. I along with Release, will be announcing a tour of major black communities across the country to discuss this report and its implications.

If you’re interested in hosting such a meeting then do contact me.

 Race: The political football.

Tory Home Secretary Theresa May is not by nature a committed anti racists. What then, are we to make of her sudden conversion to driving down disproportionate rates of black people being searched by the boys in blue?

In politics, timing is everything as is the mercurial arts of distraction. The timing of the Home Secretary, in publically declaring her commitment to non-racist policing followed the Channel 4 story of an undercover policeman who admitted to spying on the Lawrence family and their supporters. I’ll leave you to join the dots, but for me the whole Government consultation on stop and search is an exercise in distraction, a form of political Aikido if you will.

This is a tactic developed into an art form by the Met. Huge public uproar and scandal, followed by contrition, acknowledgement and apology, followed by consultation and then some small concession. This tactic seeks to absorb the community rage and anger by seemingly taking criticisms on the chin and where there are no legal implications, admitting some level of responsibility and inviting critics in to Scotland Yard to help them get things right.

There an escalating menu of options for defensive political Aikido depending on the specific gravity of the issue. However the general format is the same for all statutory agencies in crisis. Consultants are hired, terms of reference are drawn up, scoping report is produced and a year has passed. Critics are patronised as experts and given a place on the committee.

The current consultation is no different. The Government announces an urgent consultation, Minister’s huff and puff publically on the issue, guidelines are produced, and the healing balm of ingratiating bureaucratic co-option to working groups or sub committees serves both to impress and dissipate communities’ anger until the next time. Communities and campaigning organisation wait three years to find out the guidelines are not working, the recommendations not implemented and the whole process starts again. It’s a political process perfected in Government that perpetuates a cycle of reinvention. How many reports are there on stop and search have been written in the last 30 years, thousands and I mean that, literally thousands.

Scotland Yard and Government must have an aircraft hangar somewhere in Buckinghamshire stuffed to the rafters with reports and consultation feedback all dutifully ignored and left to collect dust, occasionally being cited as evidence of progress.

This stop and search consultation represents, in political terms nothing more than a small diversionary bush fire. The Home Secretary’s more urgent task is one of wholesale police reform and breaking the link in the public’s minds about police officer numbers and the level of crime.

No doubt she will have been advised I’m sure, that Association of Chief Police Officers, MPF and other Police Services are no pushover and she has one of the most thankless tasks in Cabinet. The received wisdom inside Government is that Home Secretary’s job is a hospital pass in rugby terms. There is even a legend “The path to reform of the Police is littered with the white bones of previous Home Secretaries who have tried before.”

The number of political scalps they have claimed in the past is testimony to that. At a time when the Government is committed to ‘reforming’ the police, which in essence means attacking their pay and pensions, any stick to beat the police will do.

The whole thing smacks of political opportunism of the highest order and as black communities we had a gutful of such political posturing at our expense.  So no I didn’t respond to the consultation having no faith whatsoever that anything other will emerge from Government than some new or amended guidelines. These will be dutifully ignored by the majority of street based PC’s and Stop and search disproportionality may dip monetarily but continue on its remorseless rise. There is simply too much money to be made by all in criminal justice system in the mass   criminalisation of black youth snared by Stop and Search in the war against drugs which is ostensibly a proxy for a war against black people.

It is my view that regardless of the outcome of the Government nothing much will change for the majority of black youth. What I suggest is radical civil disobedience to expose the moral hypocrisy of the law in relation to stop and search to force Government to change the law so as to racism in the execution of stop and search.

This is my 24th September Stop and Search Declaration so named to reflect the end of the cosmetic consultation of the Home Office and the beginning of a serious political discussion on how we, as committed black people and anti-racists, finally achieve change.

The article is meant to promote community discussion and offer a way forward out the continual process of history repeating itself leading to yet more oppression and injustice. Information is power and the findings of the Release report are incredibly important we are keen to work with you to disseminate its findings in local communities and develop a peaceful civil disobedience campaign. Here are the suggested proposals. First I think its important to have a declarative statement of intent, followed by some real action on the ground.
24th September Stop and Search Declaration.

We oppose the arbitrary and discriminatory use of stop and search powers by British police services. We note the disproportionate and illegal targeting of black and ethnic minority communities by some police officers. We commit to challenging the discriminatory and damaging use of Police stop and search powers and the subsequent criminalising of black communities. This is vital if we are to retain the important principle of policing with consent.

We believe that all people should be treated fairly and professionally and without prejudice.

We uphold the right of all people resident in the UK regardless of ethnicity or faith to be treated as equals by British police officers in accordance with British human rights standards. We commit to working with others whose objective is to peacefully confront and expose the racist policing of our communities.

Stop & Search Agenda for Change.

1.    To consider a campaign of civil disobedience. If everyone who was subject to the power initially refused to provide their details the police would be forced to take you to a police station. Once there you can provide your details and no offence would have been committed and you would be released. Such action would fill up police cells overnight causing huge difficulties in police stations across the country.

2.    To mass peacefully in selected symbolic Police Station receptions all over the country. This would have a similar effect as above and again would cause huge disruption.

      3.    To organise mass rallies outside selected police stations.

4.    To organise groups of people to follow street foot police patrols to record and publish their activities
5.    To establish, where they don’t exist local Stop & Search Monitoring Groups to co-ordinate local activities.
  If  you would like to host a local meeting on Stop & Search based on the findings of the  Release report or would like to comment further contact me