1 August 2019

In response to Boris Johnson comments to increase stop and search

Stop and search is just another police tactic that will entrench already deep divisions between Black communities and the police

The election of Boris Johnson as the leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently the new prime minister of the United Kingdom was an unfortunate addition to a long line of disappointing events in recent British politics.

Boris Johnson has a history of vile racist remarks aimed at ethnic minority communities. One of the earliest being where he described Black people as ‘pickininnies with watermelon smiles’ in an article he wrote as a journalist. More recently, he was criticised for comparing Muslim women who wear the burka and niqab to post boxes. It may be useful to add that on no occasion has he been reprimanded or suspended for these statements. His constant dehumanisation and alienation of ethnic minority communities have been underpinned by his leadership as London Mayor.

During his terms as London mayor, Boris Johnson, with support of David Cameron, set up the Gangs Matrix (GM). The GM was designed to harbour the names of individuals believed to be in gangs and likely to commit violence. Once on this database, individuals are exposed to an increase of policing and can be excluded from statutory public services.

From the outset, the GM broke numerous data protection laws passing personal information on to third party organisations and not sufficiently protecting personal data. In addition to this, the composition of the Matrix led to numerous organisations questioning the impact and objectives of the GM. 80% are aged between 12-24, 78% of individuals are Black, 75% have been victims of violence themselves and the GM does not distinguish between perpetrators and victims – 35% have never committed a serious crime.

Recently, Boris Johnson explained that he is going to increase police powers around stop and search and ramp up the efforts to end gang violence. In my opinion this is a dangerous precedent for what is to come from our new prime minister. Stop and search disproportionality affects Black communities to which black men are up to four times more likely to be stopped. It can have dire consequences due to technological advances in policing, such as being placed on the Matrix.

The decision to increase stop and search already highlights the two-dimensional approach the newly-formed government is willing to take to tackle youth violence and how it will ignore the plethora of research highlighting the multifaceted issues that end with young people being victims and perpetrators of violence. Youth violence needs a holistic approach which covers the destruction of the welfare state that is failing to provide enough housing, public health facilities, suitable and supported education and legal services.

StopWatch, a charity that promotes fair and accountable policing, recently released The Colour of Injustice report, which highlighted the ineffective nature of stop and search, shedding light on how stop and search is ineffective to tackling knife crime and other forms of direct violence. David Lammy passionately and clearly stated in the foreword:

‘As for the use of weapons searches, the evidence is clear: increases in the use of stop and search do not lead to any discernible drop in violent crime. Used as an antibiotic to a resistant infection, stop and search is overly prescribed to the detriment of its own effectiveness, squandering police time and energy that could otherwise be expended on protecting the wider community. In fact, stop and search relieves us of the responsibility of engaging with the deeper problems that create the very criminals it intends, but systematically fails, to apprehend.’

Johnson’s comments to increase stop and search in an attempt to curb youth violence is testament to his previous actions to criminalise instead of offering support and it shows that the government have no intention of rehabilitation and care, but an ideological decision to alienate, remove and exclude.

Stop and search is just another police tactic that will entrench already deep divisions between Black communities and the police. I urge that Black communities in Britain prepare for the continuous upsurge of institutional racism that is to come because of BJ’s leadership.

Written by StopWatch UK volunteer on the Gangs Matrix, Andre Wallace (@king_che_w)