Yesterday, the Labour MP Dawn Butler was stopped by the police whilst in the passenger seat of a car, her black male friend was in the driver seat and the car being driven was a BMW. In the video that she posted onto social media when she asked why her and her friend were being stopped, the officers told her that they were supposedly carrying out stops for ‘cars not registered to the area as the car was registered to North Yorkshire’. It sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?
Since the video went viral, the Metropolitan Police have claimed that the stop was a ‘mistake caused by an officer incorrectly entering the car’s registration number’. In my opinion, this comes across as a damage limitation tactic which has failed terribly. The police are yet to explain why the car registration was even entered into their system in the first place, but I doubt they will explain because that would mean admitting their suspicions were aroused simply because they saw black people driving in a ‘nice car’. Although the Metropolitan Police have admitted they made a ‘mistake’, have acknowledged that the car was registered to the driver and apologised, the underlying issues regarding stop and search being biased need to be tackled.
Current data shows that from August 2019 to July 2020 there were 101 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people in London, compared to 23.2 for every 1,000 white people and 28.7 per 1,000 Asian people.
I’ve been considering writing about this topic for quite some time now, especially after the incident with the GB athlete Bianca Williams last month. After the incident with Dawn Butler yesterday, I knew this topic couldn’t be avoided any longer. Last month, Bianca was in the car with her partner and three month old baby when she was stopped by the police for supposedly being on the wrong side of the road (which she has categorically denied). As soon as I heard what car she was in (a Mercedes), the story made sense to me and I knew it was more than likely that the police’s reason of stopping her for being on the wrong side of the road was an outright fabrication. She was stopped for daring to drive in a Mercedes as a black individual in an ‘upmarket’ area of London, simply put she was stopped for driving whilst black.
After the incident went viral on social media, the Metropolitan Police issued an apology to Bianca. The Metropolitan Police also referred itself to the police watchdog, the ‘Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)’.
Around this time I also saw an absurd video where another black individual was stopped for ‘having Vaseline in his car as the Vaseline could be used to smuggle drugs‘. What the police failed to answer and explain is how they managed to see a 20 gram tin of Vaseline when they decided to stop the black driver? As far as I know, the police officers weren’t armed with telescopes so it’s more than fair to conclude they didn’t see the Vaseline and that wasn’t the true cause for the stop and search.
I carry Vaseline with me everywhere I go and the ridiculousness of this ‘reason’ for stopping an individual makes this almost laughable. But it’s not laughable because these stops and searches ultimately do have a detrimental effect on us as a community. It increases our senses of fear, paranoia and mistrust. It makes us feel wary, defeated and exhausted by the constant undertones within society that our movements and actions are suspicious by default.
There are arguments that these types of statistics are justified as ‘crime and murder rates have gone down’. However, police guidelines in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 suggest that stop and search is primarily intended to be used as a tool to investigate crime, rather than to stop it in the first place. This makes measuring its ‘success’ difficult and data suggests that stop and search is not particularly effective at reducing crime by deterring potential criminals. Furthermore, across England and Wales in 2017/18 only roughly 30% of stops and searches actually led to arrests, warnings and fines.
So what exactly are the solutions going forward? I’m honestly scratching my head and don’t have many answers. In my opinion the onus is not on us, we shouldn’t respond to this by trying to look ‘less suspicious’ or by not carrying tins of Vaseline whilst driving. There will always be bogus reasons used for why we’ve been stopped, so if it’s not the Vaseline it will be something else. Unfortunately, the onus to resolve this issue lies with the police force, they need to stop carrying out searches disproportionally against black citizens based on their biases and stereotypes.