If we get a criminal record, our lives will be over. Yet, when it comes to the police, two generations of young people are still caught up in the irrational breakdown of justice. The former government’s scrapping of the Identity and Passport Service identity cards, coupled with the drastic cutbacks to youth services, has put young people and their communities in a serious crisis. This last week in particular, new evidence of police mistreatment of black people was revealed, with long-held suspicions of police racism contributing to the toxic reality of police misconduct within London’s black communities.
The Guardian report shows evidence of wholesale racial profiling by police in UK streets, often by well-armed armed gang members. Children are routinely stopped, searched and harassed by law enforcement officers, with shockingly no prospect of prosecution. This must stop.
A recent justice and policing select committee report found that more than 70% of those who said they had suffered from racial discrimination in the UK were from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. The evidence about ongoing discrimination, homophobic attitudes, and a policing that has become mired in racial profiling and the promotion of policing as punitive and criminal, directly implicates not only police officers but the government as well.
Among those harms inflicted by discriminatory policing is the accumulation of criminal records that unfairly limit people’s future ability to obtain a job, rent an apartment, or access public transport. We believe that the “F” police ticket scheme is a powerful piece of evidence to support this case. This scheme, which has operated since 2008, was intended to tackle and end antisocial behaviour by ticketing young people who are seen on the streets with their hoods up or wearing “wrong clothing”. Yet with the removal of ID cards, the question is why the change? Why reduce a core tool to help policing reform?
Without this onerous burden of reporting, which not only drives police towards surveillance rather than a fair and effective policing strategy, but also disproportionately impacts black and minority ethnic young people – who make up half of the reported young people targeted by the scheme – it is a blueprint for police misconduct and perhaps the proof needed to secure our complaints against senior officers.
We demand the government to adopt rigorous criteria for deployment of this scheme, and to protect children from the abusive practice of placing them under draconian police controls, as well as examine the impartiality of police who issue the tickets. We also demand it calls in its new justice strategy the changes that are necessary to bring the police to account, ending the double standards that have contributed to the criminal records of black people: first, when an allegation of racial abuse is ignored, the proportion of people who receive a criminal record increases. Second, and more immediately, when a complaint is made, it appears that officials don’t seem to even read through the complaint, prompting unauthorised quotas in response.
If a young person or another youth is stopped and searched because of “wrong clothing”, we should not expect that the police are given the power to protect young people against unlawful racial profiling. A holistic approach to young people’s participation in community policing should be deployed in order to build the trust that is needed for collaboration with the police.
A taskforce was established in 1998 to outline solutions to tackle the unlawful pursuit of police targets, which set new standards. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act also resulted in a series of reforms to the way in which police and CPS investigate complaints, and provided opportunities for young people to speak out through the Youth Crime Redress Scheme.
Those reforms were introduced, however, in the face of continuing increase in convictions for those carrying offensive weapons, and robust police methods that had long been criticised by our partner organisations such as Faith Matters.
The government’s response to last week’s Guardian report has so far shown little political appetite to seriously tackle police malpractice, which is beginning to undermine the trust of young people and communities. After allowing enforcement of the 2005 youth crime initiative code of practice to lapse, only a small number of the codes that were introduced in April 2006 have been maintained and enforced. There are so many less conclusive pieces of evidence available of police engagement, so much less that one could enact genuinely independent leadership on the issue of police misconduct that the government should address it sooner rather than later.