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Metropolitan Police

Metropolitan Police. Photo: Philius / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0, license linked at bottom of article

The Metropolitan Police is now openly admitting its disproportionate use of stop and search against black people and that it has no intention to stop, writes Yonas Makoni

Anyone still in doubt about the institutionally racist nature of British policing need look no further. According to Met Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House, the police have no intention of putting an end to the disproportionate use of stop and search on of black and Asian people, arguing that “young black men are dying on the streets of London and are being stabbed on the streets of London and, candidly, are also stabbing on the streets of London.”

Sir Stephen presumably felt obliged to stand up for the Service after newly released figures have shown that only six Met officers have faced disciplinary action over breaches of stop and search legislation, despite 4,917 complaints and 748 recorded breaches. Other recent figures have shown that black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

House dismissed any claim that stop and search unfairly targets racial minorities, however, on the basis that ‘only’ one third of BAME people, who are stopped by police, regard their treatment as disrespectful. With apologists like the Deputy Commissioner, the Met hardly needs critics.

House bases his defence of stop and search on the fact that BAME people, victims of myriad social inequalities, are more likely to live in crime-ridden areas and to be the victims and (“candidly”) perpetrators of violent crimes. By his logic, it is therefore perfectly natural that police should stop and search them at higher rates.

“I’m trying to decriminalise the word disproportionate. It’s focused. People pay us to be professionals and use our brains and focus our activity where the problem lies and we know that young black men are far more likely to be victims of knife crime and violence and homicide than their white counterparts. We are constantly reviewing our training with our officers to get it as professional as possible but we will be using stop and search because it’s a crime fighting tool and it saves lives.”

Overlooking the strange assertion that young black men should be disproportionately targeted because they are more likely to be the victims of violence, House’s statement is in direct contradiction with the available evidence, which shows that there is, at best, only a negligible relation between stop and search and crime rates. A 2018 study by the British Journal of Criminology found that a 10% increase of stop and search leads to a 0.38% monthly reduction in overall crime; when only violent crime (non-domestic) is analysed this figure falls to 0.01%.

In spite of this fact, the Met stands firm on its position that “stop and search is a vital tool in preventing crime”. Would public resources not be better spent elsewhere?

The defence of disproportionately targeting black people with stop and search is especially absurd following Sadiq Khan’s review into the Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Matrix, and the removal of 1,000 young black men who were found to pose little to no risk of committing violence. Those who are listed on the matrix are more likely to be stopped and searched, yet as it’s now been found, many of them shouldn’t have been on there in the first place.

There is clearly something deeply wrong with this paradigm, endemic in the police force and British state in general, which dictates that social issues such as gang violence, drug use and immigration are dealt with primarily by means of coercive control.

This paradigm is not new and not likely to disappear anytime soon. As long as the state continues to prioritise the command of capital over the needs of working-class communities, the police will continue to relate to them as an occupying force. And it will continue to justify this on the basis of the inherent inferiority and barbarity of working-class people. The racist ideology, reinforced by House, that black people are simply more violent and criminal, and therefore deserve to be harassed, is just another example of this.

House’s statement will certainly ring hollow for BAME people, who are well aware of the extent of the state’s harassment of their communities. But as the Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated again and again, black, Asian and working-class people have the power to make their voices heard. Only this collective power can bring down police repression and the racist ideology that sustains it.

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