Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
Libertarians in the western world are probably concerned at recent pronouncements by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Street crime is on the increase and the conservative government is looking at new ways to combat it.
In a statement which appears to have taken the police by surprise, Mr Johnson said that police powers to stop and search will be extended so as to encompass more fully the regulations of section 60 where police do not need to have anything other than reasonable suspicion to stop and search an individual.
The Prime Minister’s announcement will spell anxiety in the homes of many Black men as undoubtedly this will mean that many of them are more likely to be apprehended in the normal course of their daily lives.
In a rather strange effort to justify his policy Mr Johnson said that the process of stop and search is an act of ‘love and kindness’ and was a way of getting weapons off the streets.
Those young Black men who regularly undergo the indignity and humiliation of being stopped, shoved against a wall and searched merely on the whim of a tainted officer’s mind would probably say to the Prime Minister ‘tell that to the marines.’ The conservative government’s new policy is in direct contrast to that of a former Prime Minister and Home Secretary Theresa May, thought by many to be a hardliner, who suggested some years ago that the police should tone down their actions on stop and search. Mrs May’s directive was naturally music to the ears of many Black families across the land. Alas, I fear the opposite will be the result of the new directive by the government.
These are interesting times that are pregnant with many possibilities which could impact disastrously and riotously coupled with unemployment among Black youths and a cavalier execution of the new guidelines handed down to the police.
One is not saying that there could be trouble ahead, but one should always be mindful of the lessons of history. It is thought that high unemployment among Black youth and suspected police harassment were the reasons behind the inner-city riots of yesteryear. The authorities must not walk blindly down the alley way in pursuit of sensational headlines which are aimed at placating a baying and yet silent mob in the shires of the country.
Section 60 allows the police to stop and search without having firm evidence than an offence would be committed.
The SUS laws as it was known created unease in the Black community and the Criminal Justice Alliance said that section 60 searches had led to thousands of innocent people being unnecessarily stopped and searched every year.
As I have said, these are interesting times and if greater powers are given to the police to detain without grounded suspicion, then the whole matter of policing in the local districts could turn out to be a minefield.
The problems around stop and search cannot be solved by rhetoric alone. Home Office figures show that only 4% of detainees under section 60 resulted in arrests whereas 13% of those where reasonable grounds of suspicion were required resulted in arrests.
The overall effect among the Black community is disturbing as new research has indicated that under the new guidelines Black people are now 18 times more likely to be stopped and searched than their White peers. Stop and search incidents are on the increase, and one is bound to question why it is necessary to broaden the catchment area despite the pathetic arrest figures.
The watchdog organisation Stopwatch through its manager said there is also a huge racial disparity in stops between White and Black people which the government has tried to explain away as a life-saving measure for individuals living in high crime areas but evidence currently available shows that where section 60 stops and search are conducted (London) police are less likely to find a weapon on Black people than on White people.
Former Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, Liberal Democratic member of the House of Lords, Lord Paddick said:
“This is an outrageous move and flies in the face of the evidence. Research shows ramping up stop and search does not reduce violent crime.”
He added: “The restrictions on section 60 are there for good reason, not least because you are 13 times more likely to be stopped and searched, if police are allowed to stop and search at random.”
Of course, Black people in the UK acknowledge the need for the citizens’ right of protection for their children as well as themselves against mindless violence that may occur a street away from their home or at the local school gate.
However, there is not an easy solution and perhaps communities and extended families need to embrace the problems fully rather than leave it at the hands of police officers whose judgement might be blurred by the sheer nature of their environment.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and disapora.