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Is there racial bias in the UK police force?

Mike McCartney

25th April 2022

The use of "stop and search" continues to create controversy

Quite remarkable headline caught my attention, and raises question again about policing in the UK:

"Police stop and search black boy 60 times in two years."

Over 20 years since the publication of the Macpherson report, there are lingering questions about policing and minority ethnic communities.

This is a topic not directly covered by the current iterations of A Level Politics specifications. This is unfortunate. I used to teach the UK Political Issues option on the old Edexcel paper, and I found that the questions it raised always engaged students more than looking at, say, UK political institutions. I think it would be great if Politics departments could find time to incorporate discussions on these kinds of topics. That’s why as a Politics teacher, I have set up and led a Politics Society at different schools I have taught at, with these being led by students and meeting during the school day. And I also encourage a student team to produce and edit a current affairs magazine, much in the style of The Economist, in order to broaden and deepen Politics subject knowledge.

So, according to the story in the Guardian, earlier this week:

"Police abuse of their stop and search powers is so serious that black people need “protecting” from stereotyping and racial biases, the police watchdog said, as it revealed allegations one child was stopped 60 times.

The Guardian understands the force concerned was the Metropolitan police which is alleged to have stopped the teenager so often he was left traumatised. He was sometimes searched multiple times in the same day over two years, starting in 2018 when he was aged 14."

See the full story here.

As I say above, this news comes over twenty years after the Macpherson Inquiry. What was it?

See a background here from the Guardian:

Concerns about policing and the black community were also addressed by a parliamentary report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (i.e. made up by members of both houses). I quote here from the section on "Failures to secure Black people’s human rights":

“Over-policing of the Black community is another related and longstanding problem. In England and Wales between April 2018 and March 2019 there were four stop and searches for every 1,000 white person, compared with 38 for every 1,000 Black person. Stop and search powers can engage Article 8 ECHR (the right to respect for private and family life) as well as Article 5 ECHR (right to liberty and security). In general, stop and search powers as currently formulated are capable of being compatible with the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 ECHR), however, if they are used disproportionately against certain groups this could engage the right to non-discrimination (Article 14 ECHR) as read with Article 8 ECHR. If a stop and search goes beyond the normal cursory stop and search, it could meet the criteria for engaging Article 5 ECHR (right to liberty). Moreover, if a stop results in an arrest that will engage Article 5 ECHR. Whilst these powers can be used in a way that is compliant with one of the limbs of Article 5, if they are consistently being used in a way that impacts a particular community (in a way that is not justified or proportionate) then this could engage Article 14 as read with Article 5 ECHR. At the heart of this issue is the stereotyping of Black people, especially Black men. In their evidence the United Friends and Families Campaign, a group comprising the families and friends of those who have died in police, prison and psychiatric custody, told us:

“Black men are systematically labelled as dangerous, hostile and threatening, leading to the legitimation of violence against them - violence which, for our loved ones, was lethal. Again and again, we have seen officers justify brutal unprovoked attacks on Black and Asian men with comments about how ‘threatened’ they feel, most recently in the Sheku Bayoh case. For the police, it seems, the mere claim that they ‘felt threatened’ is an instant get- out clause. It means they are allowed to kill us.””

This is the link to the full report: https://committees.parliament....

Here are some video resources below

Stephen Lawrence what went wrong?
Democracy and Justice from BBC Teach
What's happened since Stephen Lawrence
Channel 4: racial inequalities in the police
Stop and search: The controversial police power (Documentary)

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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