Dominion of New York


March 25, 2012

In Europe, Blacks Also Confront Epic Levels of Racial Profiling

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Written by: Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi

of the American shorthand for the FBI to refer to English police officers indicative of the malevolent influence of rap and hip-hop.

But this seemingly random identification with America’s justice system is about more than just street slang; these young people identify with the raw, frustrated anger and distrust of authority they see expressed in their favorite American cultural exports – hip-hop videos, gangster rap, the Wire, etc. The streets of the most deprived parts of London are not as mean as the worst of America’s ghettos, but young Brits rapping about “feds” recognize a commonality; they too are at war with the police.

The war between British police and black youth is mostly psychological. The police aim to show the youth who is in control. Keith Donkor, 18 says it’s humiliating. “Everyone is walking past looking at you. What makes it worse is that I was in my uniform coming back from school. It was proper embarrassing. They [the police] were grabbing my stuff, and they’re not being polite about it. They are touching you as if you are a criminal.”

The racial profiling of black and other ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslims, is a not just a British phenomenon or an American one, but a European one too. In a 2007 report, the European Network Against Racism identified the main issues between Europe’s minority communities and police: “Institutional racism … racial profiling, over-policing; a lack of trust in the police force …  poor relations between the police and ethnic and religious minority groups (especially youth) …” These are problems that affect “nearly all countries in Europe,” the group says.  In France, where French citizens of African and Arab heritage are more likely to be stopped than whites, the Open Society Foundation has begun a legal challenge against “ethnic profiling.”

The racial profiling of black and other ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslims, is a not just a British phenomenon or an American one, but a European one too. 

However, Rachel Neild, a senior advisor at Open Society Justice Initiative, says the UK is far worse than its European counterparts. “We have done some studies that provide some comparisons, and they tend to show that the Met – like the NYPD – uses stop and search heavily, and this use has increased considerably in recent years,” she said. The latest research showing that black people are more than 30 times more likely to be stopped under specific powers is “the highest rate of disproportionality that we have evidence of anywhere in Europe.”

Are the Proposed Reforms Sufficient?

In December, the British Home Secretary Theresa May – one of the four most senior people in the British government — announced a nationwide review of the police’s stop and search powers. The following month, in January, the new head of London’s Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe promised to reform his agency’s section 60 powers, proposing a list of changes. In a series of tweets in February, Hogan-Howe explained his motivation: “I want us to have effective and intelligent use of stop and search which targets criminals. That means that we should be targeting gang members therefore stop and search should help us with our gang strategy. However, I do want to reduce the repeated number of stop searches of innocent people who have done nothing wrong.” But despite these promises of reform, there is little to indicate either official intends to reduce racial profiling.

Bernard Hogan-Howe the commissioner of London's police force has proposed reforms.

The police remain stoically committed to stop and search as a policing tool, despite widespread accusations of racism and unlawful discrimination. Metropolitan Police commander Tony Eastaugh, who will oversee the reforms says: “Stop and Search is an important policing tactic and a deterrent to crime. We know from public attitude surveys that communities support us when it is used fairly and professionally.

“We accept there are disparities in the use of stop and search. Whilst the causes of these disparities are complex, it is vital that we not only maintain but enhance local [police] accountability… in relation to our use of stop and search to combat violent crime.”

The reforms London police are considering would affect section 60 searches and section 1 searches Under the reforms, police would shift the focus of section 60 searches to catching weapons rather than drugs. Drug searches  would drop by 50% and weapons searches would increase to 20% of the total conducted. The reforms would also require police to provide more evidence that a section 60 search is warranted before being permitted to conduct one.. When section 60 is authorized in an area, police would still have the leeway to search that area broadly, stopping people without suspicion. But their requests to conduct such searches  would be denied more often. The reforms could also mean that section 60 would be used less on whole swathes of neighborhoods and more on individual violent gang activity.

Stops conducted under section 1 would also be held to a higher standard. Under the proposed reforms, London police would be required to raise their arrest rate under section 1 stops from the current 6 percent to20 percent. The theory is that this requirement would reduce police motivation to make wanton stops.

But many fear that Hogan-Howe’s call for a higher arrest rate will simply put more innocent young black men in jail, as police aim to reach their targets. To them, these reforms aren’t enough.

What has been set out so far fails to confront the breakdown of trust between young people and the police, or provide a remedy to rebuild community relations. In some parts of London, activists are trying to



Melissa Harris Perry. Photo courtesy of MSNBC.