Events such as the Notting Hill Carnival have historically been known to cough up a lot of surprises, least among which has not been the case of violence. As is to be expected therefore, the police do everything in their power to ensure that those who attend such events are protected from attacks. One way of doing this is through ‘Stop and Search’.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives police officers in England and Wales the powers to stop and search anyone if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect the person is carrying:
- illegal drugs
- a weapon
- stolen property
- something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar
A person can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if the police have grounds to suspect that:
- serious violence was likely to take place
- the person is carrying a weapon or have used one
- the person is a specific location or area
Despite these powers being in place, there are many instances where the police have been accused of using them to target specific persons based on their age and racial background. One would have thought that in the 21st Century, such segregation will not exist. How wrong would they be?
As images and videos flooded social mediasphere at the peak of the Notting Hill Carnival, it came with little surprise when Anti-War and Human Rights Activist, Maya Evans posted images of Police engaged in Stop and Search. It would have been a routine exercise but for the fact that the targets were mainly young men, aged 25 or below, of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. Maya goes on to explain that upon speaking to some of the young people, it appeared they even wondered if this was a legal act.
While Maya’s images portray a very responsive group of young persons, the situation is different in a video posted by Justice or Else UK, a Human Rights group campaigning against police brutality and deaths in custody. In this video, it would appear that a young man had resisted being searched, and was being forcefully arrested by the officers. The videographer, who also happens to have been an eyewitness, can be heard asking the police what ‘probable cause’ they had for stopping the young man.
As earlier indicated, the police have a right to stop and search anyone if there were reasonable grounds to suspect them of committing or intending to commit a crime. Also, what is often not told, is the fact that the person has the right to refuse being searched, unless the police can provide justification to indicate that there was reason to believe the person constituted a threat to the public. As stop and search is officially not an arrest, it is therefore wrong for the police to have forcefully grabbed the young man, without providing reason to justify their actions. In the instance where the police had grounds to suspect them of committing or intending to commit a crime, they could be arrested, but only after their rights had been read to them and they had been told of what they were being arrested for.
It is therefore sad that even in the most colourful of events, the person of African origin is always a target from the very institutions that are supposed to make them feel safe. it is even sadder that nothing is being done to stop the institutional profiling of young people of colour in the UK, who disproportionately suffer from police brutality.
It is understandable, especially given the number of persons that were injured this year at the carnival as reported by the Guardian, that measures ought to be taken to protect the public. However, when such measures target a specific demographic, it loses its legitimacy.