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Avoiding the issue

The Met commissioner’s response to the Hainault sword attack overlooks real safety concerns of young Black Londoners

In what can only be described as further evidence of a broken police force, the Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley recently vowed to step up stop and search in London following the murder of 14-year-old Daniel Anjorin in a sword attack in north-east London.

Speaking on LBC radio on Wednesday 1 May, Rowley pledged to 'break the culture of people carrying knives' through a ramping up of stop and search, which he claimed would dissuade potential offenders due to the 'fear of being caught'.

However, as commentators including Alex Kayode-Kay, the BAFTA-award winning director and writer, noted, Rowley’s comments reveal his failure to engage seriously with safety of Black children in London, and the Met’s continued reliance on a discriminatory, and largely ineffective, policing tactic.

As Kayode-Kay argued, it is statistically unlikely that a routine stop and search would have prevented the attack from occurring, given that the attacker was a 36 year-old white man.

In the year ending March 2023, people identifying as Black or Black British were searched at a rate 4.1 times higher than those from a white ethnic group across England and Wales. Meanwhile, approximately two thirds (65%) of all stop and searches of persons in the year ending March 2023 were carried out on people aged between 10 and 29 years old.

Consequently, it is distinctly more probable that Daniel Anjorin would have been stopped and searched by police, rather than his white attacker.

Nonetheless, Rowley went on to identify stop and search as a solution to the safety concerns of young Black Londoners – a position as insulting as it is inaccurate. He added: 'Young black men growing up in London are 13 times more likely to be murdered than young white men, that’s horrific, we need to come together to solve that problem.'

Yet time and again, stop and search – and indeed the policing tactics of the Met more widely – have proven to function in stark opposition to the safety or wellbeing of young Black people.

Those targeted in stop and search operations have frequently described the experience as humiliating, anxiety-provoking, and even traumatising, particularly given the violent manner in which these interactions can unfold. 50% of children surveyed as part of a 2022 Crest Advisory report found the experience of stop and search traumatic, whilst 52% found it to be humiliating and embarrassing.

The following quotes from ‘No Respect’, a 2017 Criminal Justice Alliance report on the experience of young black, Asian and minority ethnic people with stop and search, further illustrate this reality:

'I got stopped and searched literally when I was about 16, and being thrown around by officers, and almost being goaded into a retaliation, I just remember bursting out crying, not knowing what to do, how to respond.' (Manchester, 26 years old)
'I call it “jump-out gang”. They just jump out on you. And it’s a gang of police and they’re jumping out on you, and they’re grabbing you up. Yeh, they’ll fling you about.' (Tottenham, 18 years old)
'It just makes you feel a bit like a victim basically.' (Lambeth, 23 years old)

Meanwhile, government research has found that Black boys were the target of 58% of all strip searches conducted by the Metropolitan police between 2018-2020 – rising to 75% for 2018 alone.

Even aside from the trauma inflicted on young Black people through stop and search, there is little evidence to suggest that the policing tactic reduces violent crime (see StopWatch’s recent article: ‘(Why) do Londoners back stop and search?’). Therefore, ramping up stop and search would not only have the effect of targeting young boys like Daniel, but the practice would likely fail to prevent similar tragedies like the one resulting in Daniel’s death.

Rowley’s response to the Hainault attack demonstrates that, as ever, the Met police are less concerned with the safety of young Black Londoners, than with relying on widely-criticised, ineffective, and racist forms of policing.

Rather than truly making the streets safer for children like Daniel, or supporting genuine solutions to issues like youth violence – for example, through moving away from policing as a response to social problems (see: Holding Our Own: A guide to non-policing solutions to serious youth violence’) – Rowley prefers to continue repeating the same tired lines on increasing stop and search.

And, when he’s not doing that, he’ll be coming up with new ways to avoid addressing the Met’s own problems with institutionalised racism.

All blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of StopWatch UK.

About the author

Ella Ticktin-Smith.

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