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life on the edge of cool

UK stop and search harms black boys..

FAMILIAR SCENE: A black man is stopped and searched

DARREN JAMES* is just 17-years-old. In the last four years, he has been stopped and searched four times. Although he was bothered by the fact that he had been stopped so many times, Darren had learned to accept it. But in March last year, the unthinkable happened.

The promising college student and some friends were pulled over by the police while in a friend’s new car, and were wrongly accused of theft.

“They said there were a lot of burglaries around this area. He [the friend] just got the car two weeks ago and everything was legit. But they thought that it wasn’t his car,” Darren, from Enfield in north London, told The Voice.

He said the police assumed the worst when they found radios in the back of the car, and ignored attempts by the boys to explain that the radios belonged to the car owner’s father.

“We were saying ‘just phone our parents and you can ask for yourself’, and they weren’t listening to us…”

Instead, Darren and his friends were hauled in by police, who took their DNA and fingerprints and locked them in separate jail cells for 14 hours before releasing them without charge.

“I thought, ‘why was I put in the cell?’… I was kind of upset. If we had done something wrong then we had a right to be here, but we didn’t,” said Darren, who is now worried that being arrested could damage his future career choices.

Darren said he now sees police officers as people “who don’t really listen (and) take things out of proportion. They just want to see how they can catch and get DNA off people.”

According to campaigners, there are thousands of young men like Darren in the UK. They say that behind statistics showing that black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and four times more likely to be arrested, are generations of black men who have been “emotionally traumatised” by stop and search and wrongful detention.

Some of these emotional scars date back to old 1980s ‘sus’ laws, but also include the effects of modern-day stop and searches covered under section 60 of the Public Order Act, or under the controversial section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was recently ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.

“I have spoken to men who still feel bitter and angry at being wrongfully convicted under the sus laws, which meant that they had to rethink and even lower their aspirations, which has a knock on effect on their children and grandchildren,” said Patrick Vernon, head of mental health organisation The Afriya Trust.

“What is required is a major review and for people who are now their 40s and 50s to be given the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.”

Vernon argues that since Windrush there have been at least three generations of various families who have either been “criminalised or traumatised” by stop and search.

“We still do not know the real impact in the short term and the generational impact. We all recognise that stop and search is important and is needed as a tool for the police to be effective in the war against gun crime and terrorism. However, there is a clear difference in strategically targeting known suspects and a carpet blanket approach to black young people who happen to fit in to a racial or religious benchmark profiling system,” Vernon said.


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