Green Assembly Member listens to Hackney Youth and challenges police stop and search 

Caroline Russell, one of the Green Party London Assembly Members, has challenged the police on their use of stop on search based solely on the smell of cannabis.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) recently said the police should not be doing this. The Metropolitan Police accepted this new guidance, but the Mayor of London was not able to say whether they had stopped these types of searches. "It’s worrying that the Mayor could not give a clear answer about whether this practice has stopped," Caroline Russell said. “More than half of the people stopped and searched in the last year were teenagers and young people, and it has a big impact on their lives and how they view the police,” she added. Caroline is also calling on the Mayor to respond to Hackney Account’s ‘Policing in Hackney: challenges from youth in 2020 report’, which is based on young people’s experiences.

Hackney Green Party member, Augusta Itua, discusses why we must challenge these powers.

Stop and search powers are nothing but a way to justify the criminalisation of Black children and young people as a rational response to the sensationalised threat that continues to grip Britain. Following the repeal of the so-called 'sus' law, new laws continue to secure police powers that continue to discriminate and criminalise Black children and young people. As the law shifted, projections of 'future delinquency' and ideas about how to prevent crime continued to develop. This is why we must continue to challenge the use of stop and search powers and understand the legacy and impact of these powers.

The 'sus' law refers to section four of the Vagrancy Act 1824, which allowed police to arrest and charge a person for looking or behaving suspiciously. The officers needed neither a victim nor a witness for a conviction. With the word of two police officers, a person charged under 'sus' could spend up to three months in prison for a first time offender. This old law was rehabilitated in the 1960s and 1970s and used to detrimental effect in Black communities.

In April 1981, the police in Brixton launched an operation called Swap 81. The name itself was an insult, and a reference to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's televised assertion that the UK 'might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.' Over six days, plain-clothes police swamped Brixton and searched 943 people with 'sus' as justification, which is believed to have contributed to the 1981 Brixton uprising. 'Sus' had enabled police and magistrates courts to criminalise and incarcerate huge numbers of Back young men.

In August 1981, following sustained community and political campaigning, the 'sus' law was repealed and the charge of being a 'suspected person' was scrapped. However, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 followed almost immediately. This law restored the police's stop and search powers, but suspicion had been upgraded to 'reasonable grounds'. Even if many consider this to be a legitimate power, it is clear from the available data that its use remains discriminatory and targeted towards the Black community.

Namely, there were 563,837 stop and searches in England and Wales between April 2019 and March 2020, a rate of 11 per 1,000 people. Of these, there were 6 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people. The 3 Black ethnic groups had the highest rates of stop and search out of all 18 individual ethnic groups. The Black Other group had the highest rate overall with 157 stop and searches per 1,000 people.

Extracts from War Inna Babylon: The Community's Struggle for Truths and Rights at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 7 July – 26 September 2021.