24 March 2014

The Shared Ordeal of Stop and Search

Kayela Damaze's avatar

When StopWatch Youth member Kayela attended a conference on young people and diversity in the outskirts of Paris, the stories she heard about racial profiling from the students who live there sounded familiar.

Paris is the city of speeding motorbikes, fine cuisine and, of course, high fashion. But I never imagined that it would also be a city of harsh policing and discrimination towards young people.

I was invited to Paris to attend a Young People and Diversity conference organised by the Franco-British Council in January. During my short stay in the capital, I met with many young people and community groups campaigning active against racial profiling in Paris and also attended a reception at the British Embassy. There I met people who had come from all different types of backgrounds and job descriptions, who were guest speakers like myself at the conference, held at a school the following day. Together we were invited to share our experiences and strengthen the relationship between French and British organisations.

It crushed me to know that stop and search was being handled poorly in other parts of Europe too, I spoke to many young people who are clueless about the relating laws, especially young females who were coming into contact with police for little to no reason. Moreover, I heard police in France do not record the ethnicity of those whom they stop and search, so it is extremely hard to prove and calculate the extent of discrimination. We met up with inspiring youth activists and organisations such as Le Collectif contre le Contrôle au Faciès, a coalition of groups fighting racial profiling in France. It was nice to know that there are engaged young people who are attempting to resolve improper stop and searches, and are motivating others to do so by creating an app to inform young people about their rights, upload their recorded communications with the police, and working with local rappers to promote their cause.

I was shocked to find that a number of young female students had already had distressing experiences and caused by the state. One girl started to speak about being stopped and searched and how it affected her, but then the tearful young woman failed to continue as it was too emotional. Another expressed hurt at the way her grandfather had been treated by the British government, being denied citizenship despite the fact that he fought in the British army during the war. The very passionate young lady was frustrated that being a citizen was decided by whether you were born in the country, rather than risking your life for that same country. At this point I was brought to tears myself as I sat there watching these ladies express their pain. I couldn’t understand why the state has such a negative attitude towards the very people who help contribute to the country and its needs.

My fellow speakers were very understanding about how these students felt when responding, but it would have been nice to hear more from the young people, as this event was about them and their experiences. At times the older participants commented on the issues raised but their responses didn’t really address the problems. Instead of asking the young people present for their ideas on how to improve their grades, for example, they spoke at length about the work of their own organisations. Young people were clearly frustrated about many things; the lack of transparency in employment, a flawed education system, the poor relationship between the police and the public, but we did not hear enough from them. Even though I am sure the experts and professionals had the students’ best intentions at heart, it was like there was an invisible barrier between the two groups.    

Overall, my trip was eye opening and vivid. Paris is a breathtakingly beautiful place to be, but in terms of discrimination, opportunities and the problems faced by young people, it has just as many problems as London. I am excited to see the Stop Controle Au Facies web app launch, and I wish all of the organisations and individuals we met the best of luck for the future.