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11 Jan, 2012 06:37

Profile picture: London cops accused of racist stop-and-searches

Europe ruled it illegal, but police in Britain continue to stop and search people whenever and wherever they like, with little grounds for suspicion. The area of society which finds itself most often targeted believes there is only one reason for it.

The police are institutionally racist.Police in Britain have free rein to stop and search anyone they deem suspicious. This is supposed to prevent terrorism, but what constitutes the term “suspicious” is hugely controversial.Most often stopped are young black men. And police still cannot escape accusations of racism, even from inside parliament.“Police will argue that this is because the people they are typically looking for come from particular socio-economic backgrounds,” Julian Huppert from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights explained to RT. “That starts to look very much like racial profiling. And it is certainly true that these people are often massively disproportionately stopped.”All the boys at one of the youth clubs in north London that RT’s Ivor Bennett went to visit have been stopped and searched.Some on several occasions; all for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, they say, for having the wrong skin color.“We got stopped because we were in a certain type of car. So when we got stopped they explained it: 'this type of car's been used in recent robberies and gang attacks'. Things like that. That was their explanation for stopping the car,” college student Mark Oshodi shared with RT. But he then explained to Ivor that they were stopped because they were four black boys in a nice car.“I think it is mostly to do with stereotyping. They see me in tracksuits, or the skin color of the people I am with. Let's just stop these lads and see what they've got,” agrees another college student, Fuad Faid.Stabbings are frequent in this part of London – carte blanche for police to stop and search whoever they want.It can be in public, sometimes physical, poorly-explained and often humiliating.“It's embarrassing. It was in the middle of the street I found it highly embarrassing – everyone was looking as they went past in their cars and on the bus. It was embarrassing, I don't like that at all,” Mark says.When the law came into force in 2001, police did not even need a reason to stop and search.Europe finally ruled this illegal early last year, forcing concessions from the government.Since then, stop-and-searches have decreased by 90 per cent, but problems still exist.In theory, there are strict limitations to stop and search: the powers can only be used for 14 days in a specific area. It used to be 28. But in practice, all that means nothing. The powers can simply be renewed on expiry – which is why the whole of London has been a stop-and-search zone for the last 10 years.Police now do not even need to record the suspect’s name, any injury they suffer, or the outcome of a search.The government says it will reduce paperwork, but it leaves the door wide open for repeat targeting and physical abuse.Kyle Kidd runs the youth centre. He too has been stopped repeatedly.Suspects are entitled to a receipt. But few know this and Kyle says police are often reluctant to make any record.“Most stops and searches refuse to give you the actual slip. I've heard excuses like ‘We don't have note pads. We have to go to the station to get it.’ And if I still stand there and argue the case, someone can give me a form at the end of it. So I do think they target young people,” he told RT’s Ivor Bennett.Police used to have similar powers in the 1980s, but they were scrapped after racial targeting provoked massive riots.Some saw the August riots as history repeating itself.“One of the things that caused it was policing, the way the police talk to them, the overuse of stop and search, and a sense that the police are institutionally against young urban people and probably institutionally racist as well,” states Diane Abbott, MP from the Labour Party.Eighty-five per cent of rioters cited anger at police as their reason for violence in a recent study by The Guardian newspaper. It is a fact the government can no longer ignore.It has prompted Home Secretary Theresa May to launch a review of how stop and search powers are used.