20 June 2020

‘I was accused of drug dealing as I waited at the post office’

The story of Dwayne Francis's distressing and unnecessary police stop, told in full

When Dwayne Francis parked outside his local post office at 9.30am on 13 April, he was annoyed to see it was closed. 

The 32-year-old had hoped to beat the increasingly long queues at the Lewisham branch by dropping a parcel off en route to his job as a pastoral support worker at a nearby school. But unpredictable business hours, courtesy of COVID-19, meant he’d have to wait. Dwayne killed his car engine and settled down with his headphones in, idly checking his email inbox. 

When the Met Police Territorial Support Group van drove past the first time, Dwayne didn’t pay it much notice, although he clocked them glance in his direction. Fifteen minutes later though, he saw the van had looped back and was turning into the road he was currently parked on. Pulling up beside Dwayne, an officer stuck his head out the window. 

‘It was an instant “Get out the car”’, Dwayne recalls. In a second, four officers had surrounded his vehicle, with a further three remaining by the van. 

Dwayne wound down his window and showed them his work badge. 

‘I said “Listen, I’m a key worker, I’m just waiting at the post office before going to work,” but they demanded again that I get out of the car,’ he says. 

Despite Dwayne asking them on what grounds he was being stopped, the officers didn’t answer; just motioned once more for him to climb out of his vehicle. 

‘It was getting tedious and I had nothing to hide,’ Dwayne says. ‘So I did’. 

Once Dwayne was stood on the pavement, an officer roughly handcuffed him, announcing he was being detained under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Dwayne was nonplussed. ‘I asked them how on earth they’d determined that,’ he says. 

An officer reeled off a list of supposedly ‘suspicious’ aspects of Dwayne’s behaviour; apparently the way he had been sitting in his car led to the presumption that he had been about to conduct a drug deal.

‘I said “What kind of racial profiling is this?”’ Dwayne recounts, incredulity colouring his voice. 

The officers didn’t answer. Instead they announced they had ‘identified weed droplets’ on the floor of Dwayne’s car.

‘How can they determine that?’ Dwayne asks. ‘I haven’t cleaned my car for four months; all the car washes are closed. They’ve done no forensic testing to check if it’s stones and wood chippings, just said it was weed.

‘For them to even say that tells me they’ve got no idea what weed looks like. They were just presuming based on the area I was in and how I appeared at the time’. 

Eventually, the officers admitted there was nothing either in the car or on Dwayne and prepared to leave. One told Dwayne to clean his car to prevent further incidents.

‘I said “Listen, are you going to come and clean my car for me? Do you have £12 a month for cleaning my car? Do not say that”’. 

Dwayne says he asked the officers for their badge numbers and a record of the stop, both of which he was legally entitled to. Instead, he was directed to Lewisham Police Station for documentation of the encounter and only one officer gave him their identification details.

‘She was a couple of metres away and I had to reiterate her name and badge number numerous times,’ Dwayne said. ‘Even as I said “How is that spelt?” she continued to walk into her van without engaging. And I had to write down the vehicle registration myself’. 

Dwayne has now filed an official complaint with the Independent Office for Police Conduct, who have acknowledged receipt of his experience. 

While his job means he was aware of his rights during the encounter – and exactly when they were being flouted – Dwayne is fearful for others who might be similarly targeted for fitting a racial profile. 

With a 42% increase in Met Police stop and searches of black people since April 2019, seemingly due to more aggressive policing during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dwayne says he’s particularly concerned that young black boys will feel the brunt of the policy when they return to school. 

‘What if I was an adolescent who didn’t understand the situation I was in?,’ he remarks.

‘I’m a 32-year-old man and I felt irate at first, but I quickly realised I had to harness my emotions and respond maturely. But it could go left so quickly if I wasn’t.

‘As an adult, [being racially profiled] is dehumanising and degrading. It does knock you. You’re subjected to that treatment and thinking “Why?”. I can only speak for myself in that I’m able to understand why it’s happening, why people of colour are victimised and then [channel that frustration] into something positive’. 

‘But for a young person, you can experience that trauma and their cognitive understanding of what’s happening may be different to mine and their dealings in society will be different. They may go away from how they’ve been treated [by police] and it will have an adverse effect on them’.

Dwayne says that overpolicing of marginalised communities may push youngsters further down concerning paths.

‘It may lead to a road of crime or jail or drugs or whatever it may be because they can’t handle that they’re being treated in this manner’.

If there’s one takeaway people can draw from Dwayne’s experience, he wants it to be education. 

‘I want everyone to educate themselves on their rights,’ he says. ‘We live in a multicultural society but it’s not an equal one.

‘We need those victimised to keep speaking out. Don’t be afraid. Collectively, as a people, we are stronger together. One person can’t make a change; it needs to be a collective effort’.

Written by Moya Lothian-Mclean, a freelance journalist published in gal-dem, The Independent, BBC, Stylist Magazine, VICE, i-D, THE FACE, and more. Twitter: @mlothianmclean

Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash