important factor in their decision to take to the streets. They were also 22 times more likely than their peers to have been stopped and searched in the 12 months leading up to the riots.
In addition, young black people who did not take part in riots and are not gang members are speaking out about police harassment. Their protests show that the Metropolitan police has alienated a generation of young black people, guilty until proven innocent each time they cross paths with police.
Now, Britain’s police force is under intense public scrutiny and contemplating a host of reforms. In particular, the fraught relationship between the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force, and black neighborhoods is up for public debate. The government’s own figures show that black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. The vast majority of the time, they aren’t guilty of anything. The racial disparities in London are the worst in Europe and rival those in New York, where, in 2011, blacks were 9 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
The British police force derives the power to stop individuals and search their person for evidence of wrongdoing or criminal intent from a variety of laws, some requiring the police to hold a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and others not.
Two laws in particular — Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 — cause the most ire for black people. Under section 1, before stopping a person, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that he or she has stolen something, is carrying violent weapons or plans to steal. Under Section 60, however, the police can authorize the stop and search of anyone — even without suspicion — in a particular area for up to 24 hours. Section 60 is applied to an area where a violent crime has taken place or where the police think such an incident will take place. This means police can stop and search any individual in that area. It was originally envisioned to deal with soccer hooliganism and illegal raves, but is increasingly being used to police black communities.
New research from the London School of Economics and the Open Society Foundation shows that racial profiling under section 60 has increased over the past few years; in 2011 a black person was 30 times more likely to be stopped by the police under section 60 than a white person. This compared to 27 times more the year before, and 11 times more in 2009. Only 2 percent of these stops in 2009 and 10 resulted in an arrest and charge, and less than 0.5 percent of the arrests were due to the possession of a dangerous weapon, according to the report. The Metropolitan Police’s own figures concur: between October 2010 and October 2011, police found that the arrest rate under section 60 was 2.3 percent.
Though there are no national statistics indicating the gender and age of those stopped, anecdotal evidence suggests it is predominantly young men. And some empirical research supports that: the Haringey Stop and Search Monitoring Group’s unofficial report on a particular that part of London found that in August 2011 27 percent of those stopped were age 10 to 17, 41 percent age 18 to 24, 32 percent age 25 to 44 and 5 percent were age 45 to 64.
London’s Operation Trident teams investigating black gun crime are particularly keen on section 60, which they use in the hope of catching gang members with weapons or engaging in criminal activity. But critics say the areas where section 60 is applied are too wide, in some cases taking in hundreds of thousands of people, increasingly turning them into the collateral damage of the war against gangs. This has at least three devastating consequences.
First, it desensitizes black youth to arrest. A disproportionate number of young black school children experience the first of many encounters with the Metropolitan police in their early teens. By the time they reach adulthood, some become conditioned to their place in society as suspects; they expect the police to stop them.
Second, the misuse of section 60 leads to false arrests – which themselves have collateral consequences – such as loss of employment. Victims who respond angrily to taunts and rough treatment can also find themselves earning actual convictions.
The third consequence of the misuse of section 60 is the erosion of trust between the police and the community, inhibiting crime reports and increasing tension. In their review of the use of stop and search in Britain, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an independent government body, explains: