Pick a number.
No, not seven days in the week. Seven times in a day. Seven times a policeman has stopped you in a 24 hour period.
Ask Andre Campbell.
Talk to countless other young people who are stopped and searched.
Now let’s just do the Maths: seven times in one day, seven days in one week, that works out as 49 times a week. There are four weeks in a month, so 49 x 4= 196, so potentially you could be stopped 196 times a month – if we wanted to go even further- in a year that would be 196 x 12 which gives us 2, 352 times.
But who’s counting?
Well, there’s currently a stop and search app available on Android and Blackberry smartphones (see HERE). The app enables users to log their experiences, allowing for data to be fed back and used to protect the rights of young people.
‘Stop and search’ was a key focus at the recent JusticeGap Rights and responsibilities discussion at London City Hall last Monday – see HERE for full report. The event highlighted the lack of representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the legal system, the on-going frustrations of stop and search and the use of joint enterprise to convict young people.
Andre, a youth ambassador for the legal charity Just for Kids Law, spoke of how he had been searched seven times in one day. He had felt ‘violated’ with ‘no say’ .The bitter irony being that when he was 14, he had wanted to be a police officer. For him as a child, they were the ‘heroes’.
The police prerogative to stop and search at random when they want, where they want and if they want even if they have no reason to suspect an individual, apart from a cultural bias against their wardrobe, is still a fiercely contentious issue – for a guide to police powers of stop and search and the situations in which they can be exercised see HERE. If a police officer deems it fit to search you in certain situations, you will be stopped and searched. Even if you’re a young teenager still trying to make sense of life and your place in it, looking for identity and acceptance by what you wear and how you act.
You will be stopped.
You will be searched.
This rite of passage marks the beginning of numerous run-ins with the police, regardless of criminal activity.
It’s hardly surprising if resentment forms in the minds of young people towards the police. If young individuals don’t co-operate with the police, they place themselves in further danger. But if stop and search is accepted as the norm it is almost akin to saying that you can’t be a law abiding citizen, young, and from an ethnic minority.
To put it another way, if you’re young, wearing baggy pants, and if you are wearing the most convenient piece of clothing in most young people’s wardrobe – a hoodie – you have the right to be searched.
As a young person from an ethnic minority background, would you be filling out your application to become a police officer? Perhaps you might, if you thought you could reach a position where you could genuinely make a difference, but if your confidence in the legal system has already been eroded, the chances would be pretty slim.
Britain’s entrenched class system was clearly visible in the recent attempt to break down the traditional three classes into seven social classes.
Where will the next generation of solicitors, barristers and judges come from?
Where will British ‘Obamas’ be found?
It’s not enough for us to keep citing figures from abroad who have achieved and reached pinnacles in their career. We heard at last week’s debate only one in 10 barristers comes from an ethnic minority background. We heard there was only one woman in the Supreme Court (Lady Brenda Hale).
Where are the ‘home grown’ legal professionals in the UK from ethnic minority backgrounds? Where are the solicitors, barristers and judges from ethnic minorities telling young people that they are individuals of worth, who play an important role in today’s and tomorrow’s society ?
Sandie Okoro is one of them, an ambassador for the Law Society’s diversity access scheme. Last week she spoke about the ‘cost of qualifying’ together with other ‘obstacles’ that needed to be ‘overcome’.
If young people see the law as being primarily set against them, their views of the legal system will be negative. Young people need positive views of the legal system. A system that is fair, just and accessible. A legal system, they can identify with and be a part of.
Author: Oluwatosin Oyeniyi
Born and raised in East London, Oluwatosin grew up in multicultural, diverse Newham. She went on to study Fine Art and Multimedia at Coventry University. Since then she has taught English (ESOL & EFL) and working with children.