Theresa May is reviewing the controversial police tactic of stop and search. Four readers give their own experiences of being targeted by officers
I’ve lost count of the times my brother and I have been stopped and searched. We are young black professionals and have never committed a crime in our lives.
By far the worst run-in was when we were recently accused of a mobile phone theft that never happened. A group of undercover cops, who’d been stalking us and a friend, jumped out by our doorstep, in Wood Green, north London. They didn’t identify themselves but began to search us – we complied, but things got nasty. An officer grabbed my hand as I reached into my pockets to show that my phone was not stolen, and my brother was pushed to the ground and punched in the face repeatedly. Then the police got out the pepper spray on me as I walked over to try and help. Our mum was watching from the doorstep, screaming that the spray would affect my asthma. They piled on top of me and sprayed me again. I was gasping for breath, my eyes streaming as my brother was handcuffed and put in the van. We were both carted off to the police station, and later convicted for assault on a police officer – a verdict we are appealing against. They never took any action over the phone – we were innocent, so they should have never stopped us in the first place.
We still have no idea why it happened, other than the fact that we’re black. Our demands for the home secretary’s review are simple: my brother and I would like to be able to walk down the street and not get stopped. We’re not a gang, we’re brothers.
Tony Schumacher aka Shoey000
I’ve stood at either end of a stop-and-search pad. I’ve been the bobby, looking for his “tick” with the sarge, filling in the spaces with a dodgy biro in the rain while the “subject” mumbles his middle name. I know there is much criticism of it and it is a miserable procedure to perform, but occasionally it struck gold. A warrant or a weapon would lead to an arrest and even if it didn’t, it would send out a message that I was there, doing my job.
Not long back I was working as a researcher on the Guardian’s Reading the Riots project, in Toxteth. I took to walking around Lodge Lane and speaking to young people. One day I was stopped and searched in the area. The officer said they’d stopped me because a shopkeeper had said I looked suspicious, and that he’d seen me talking to gangs of scallys. I told him what I was doing: as I spoke I realised I was going red, not with anger, but embarrassment. Four coppers stood around me, the door of the van was opened and I was asked to “tip my pockets”.
Heads turned in passing cars. My mouth was dry as I told them: “I used to be ‘Job’ mate.” He just shrugged a reply and looked at my Dictaphone and then at me. He didn’t care.
It struck me as I was driving away that I’d already be forgotten about in that van – once a search was completed and a notebook compiled most subjects were forgotten. But now it was different: I was the subject, and I didn’t forget. Even now I’m still angry. I wonder what I’d be like if it happened every day?
Justin Baidoo-Hackman aka JustinBaidoo
From the age of 14 Gus, my younger brother, started to be stopped and searched on a routine basis. He was small and underweight, and didn’t cut a particularly intimidating figure. His first experience happened when out with his friends; he found the police abrasive and aggravating. Once he was on a bus and spotted by a familiar member of Wimbledon’s finest; the officer stopped the bus, and marched him off to search him in the street.
Non-uniformed police even searched my brother on his way to and from school. Gus was once arrested for causing an “affray”, but the charges were thrown out of court when the magistrates saw the evidence amounted to “kids fighting outside the school gates in their uniform”. Things came to a head when our house was raided in a search for a police officer’s chequebook my brother had allegedly stolen. He became fearful of going out alone, and developed a hatred for police. Our family went from viewing the force as an impartial public service to fight crime, to seeing them as a despotic and vindicative gang of bullies.
According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2010 nine out of 10 stop-and-searches under the Pace Act 1984 did not result in an arrest. Not one of the 100,000 stop-and-searches under the Terrorism Act, used almost exclusively on young Asian and black men, resulted in terror-related arrest. This is legalised harassment and a pernicious power which doesn’t act as a deterrent. Theresa May should scrap “sus” laws in all forms.
Peter Todd aka petertodd
In the early 80s my brothers and I were subjected to stops, searches, harassment and aggression on many occasions for no other reason than that we were black. The impact can be destructive on any individual’s attitude towards the police.
To single a person out on the basis of skin colour and assume that they must be associated with criminality cuts much deeper than any general stereotype. In all these frightening situations I had little opportunity to explain to any officer that we were just young black British men going about our day to day business, working hard and from solid, caring family homes. In fact I hold a masters, and have run my own professional business for 15 years. My siblings are all well qualified adults.
In the last three to four years my son and nephews have been repeatedly stopped, searched, handcuffed, abused and humiliated at the hands of the police – so no change there. We have complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a long laborious process that almost always culminates in nothing.
Stop-and-search can be an effective tool for crime prevention and detection if used properly. But it has never in my opinion been used effectively: 90% of black people stopped are law-abiding citizens and never charged with any offence. When will we see improvements in this area? Has anyone got the will to drill down into the issues, and reform and really change the culture of the police?
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