Tom Antebi, Sessional Youth Worker at Dost, reflects on the stop and search reforms and the impact these powers have on young refugees and migrants.
Stop and search powers have been big on the agenda recently. And not without good reason. The powers are continually used far more on black and Asian than white communities and young men in particular are feeling the brunt of this.
The widespread negative public reaction to this, ranging from at best discomfort based on a principle of racial equality and at worst a visceral hatred of police, arguably demonstrates how far policing in the UK has shifted from the idea of ‘police by consent’.
Recently, trust in the police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police, has diminished considerably within a context of what the Institute of Race Relations calls a European-wide drive of targeting visible minorities by law and enforcement agencies (IRR 2012).
When I asked some of the young people who use the Dost Centre about their experiences, one regular said that “they search me in front of people, it’s embarrassing”, while another told me “every time they stop me, they think I’m some kind of bad-boy, like a drug dealer or I’m carrying a knife.”
It is a process in which an already marginalised status, due to being a refugee or asylum seeker or from a black or Asian background, is reinforced and experienced physically.
These experiences mirror those others I have heard when conducting Know Your Rights workshops with the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), a local community-based anti-racism organisation. As someone who did not grow up in Newham (or even London) I have been struck by just how normal and even expected police encounters are by young men of the black and Asian communities in Newham.
The Newham Monitoring Project has probably done about as much as anyone to challenge racially disproportionate policing, and has been running educational programmes about rights and challenging racism since it was founded in 1980. As a response to the recent reforms of stop and search powers announced by the Home Office, NMP succeeded in crowd-funding a project to fund a worker who can monitor the impact and effectiveness of the reforms. The project attracted the attention of the Newham Recorder, which ran a double-page feature piece.
I have been searched once, on my way home from a party one night while I was at university in Roehampton. It happened because, when a police car rolled up next to me while I was walking through the estate, I refused to tell them when they asked where I lived (which was well within my rights). I can only imagine how infuriating, frustrating and alienating it would be experiencing this on a regular basis, due to nothing except the colour of my skin.