Stop and search: Defending the indefensible
Dear IRR News Subscriber,
Police forces across England and Wales will no doubt vigorously defend their tactics during the forthcoming Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) inquiry into possible racial discrimination in use of force and stop and search. Leaving aside the question of whether the long-criticised IOPC is the right organisation to lead such an inquiry, arguments already deployed by the Metropolitan Police to justify their tactics are deeply concerning. Metropolitan commissioner Cressida Dick has implied that racial profiling in working-class multicultural neighbourhoods is legitimate on the spurious ground that disproportional stop and search leads to similar levels of ‘positive outcomes’ as between different ethnic groups. The implication of her argument that black people are more frequently involved in crime than other ethnic groups is fallacious, as the Guardian, building on previous research, quite rightly pointed out in a hard-hitting editorial.
Metropolitan deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson, as well as police outriders (a former west London borough commander) and Trevor Phillips (whose data analytics firm Webber Phillips was built and marketed for the police) take the argument further. They imply that the black community demographic of homicide rates due to ‘black on black violence’ is such that stop and search and greater force on arrest may be necessary, to save lives, and keep black communities safe. It would appear that a quasi-pathological view of ‘black on black violence’ and knife crime has taken hold in police thinking. And right-wing opinion makers, who make much of denying structural racism, back them up by presenting the scenario of idealistic young officers, whose virtuous desire to protect young black men from their own violent communities is thwarted by a confrontational anti-racist lobby and the fear of being labelled racist.
This week the IRR makes a contribution to the emerging discussion around Black Lives Matter and ending structural racism in policing by publishing important research by Jessica Pandian on ‘Taser Trauma – an increasingly British phenomenon’. Analysing recent cases in Greater Manchester, London, the West Midlands and Bristol, Pandian shows that the overall use of Tasers is rapidly increasing (a 39 per cent increase in 2019 alone) leaving behind a long-term legacy of physical and psychological trauma on individuals and a collective trauma on BME communities.
The research also draws attention to several deaths in custody in the UK where the use of Tasers was a contributing factor: the deaths of Marc Cole, Jordan Begley and Andrew Pimlott. Sadly, deaths in custody are not just a US/UK phenomenon. The Deaths in Custody Campaign in Germany has documented 159 deaths at the hands of the police, in state ‘care’ facilities or due to negligence and misconduct, between 1990 and 2020. Tessa Qiu reports on one such disturbing German case, with the friends and family of Rooble Warsame still seeking answers as to how the asylum seeker from Somalia came to die in police custody in Bavaria in 2019, and explaining their disbelief in the police assertion that he committed suicide.
It is not only deaths in custody which traumatise communities. This week’s calendar of racism and resistance demonstrates clearly other manifestations of the racism that kills, with reports laying bare the links between racism, poverty, working conditions in sweatshops and packing sheds, and death from Covid-19.
IRR News team