Blackmans Street Today, Men

Report: racist law enforcement rampant in London

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By Linn Washington Jr.

London, UK – A week after Noel Williams made a poignant plea to members of the British Parliament about the pain young blacks in London endure daily from racist policing in that city, he was subjected to two separate searches by police in London as he stood outside a subway station in a wealthy area waiting to meet with a news reporter from America.

Police told Williams they searched him on suspicion of him selling drugs at that station. However, that police claim is suspect because openly selling drugs at that location is highly unlikely.

Noel Williams, another victim of Britain's racist law enforcement. Photo by Linn Washington, Jr.
Noel Williams, another victim of Britain’s racist law enforcement. Photo by Linn Washington, Jr.

London’s pervasive CCTV (Closed-circuit television ) surveillance system constantly monitors that bustling subway station not far from the famous Kensington Palace. Even dumb drug dealers know about the surveillance system.

“I was the only black person standing there,” Williams, 25, recounted later, his anger still palpable from that encounter with police. “Even one of the transport workers at that station told police to leave me alone because I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

The British police practice of racially targeted stops-&-searches – known informally as ‘sus’ – is like the despised Stop-&-Frisk police in America utilize.

Studies constantly cite ‘sus’ as a trigger for tensions between police and non-whites in Britain.

For example, ire over ‘sus’ was a major complaint of participants in the August 2011 riots that rocked London and other cities following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man according an investigation conducted jointly by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper.

Political leaders and much of the press in Britain had distained riot participants as common criminals concerned solely with looting – positions contradicted by results of that LSE/Guardian investigation.

“Young people felt a profound sense of injustice,” said London School of Economics Professor Tim Newburn, a lead researcher on that 2011 investigation entitled “Reading the Riots.”

Newburn said the deep “politicized sense of injustice” among the young documented during that investigation surprised him.

Noel Williams made his remarks to members of Parliament during a public meeting inside Britain’s historic capitol building where researchers presented a new report detailing racially prejudiced policing and prosecutions in London and two other large cities.

“The key findings [indicate] the criminal justice system is more flawed than we might imagine,” stated the conclusion of that report entitled “Dangerous associations: joint enterprise gangs and racism” released by the Centre For Crime and Justice Studies of Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Centre’s report documented the inaccuracy of claims by British police that since young blacks dominate gang membership they are demonstrably the most violent thus deserving enhanced enforcement like ‘sus.’

Police and court data cited in the Centre’s report document that black youth were not those responsible for the most serious youth violence.

In London for example, police list blacks as 72 percent of that city’s gang members. But official data collected for this report found that non-blacks committed 73 percent of the serious youth violence in London.

Report co-authors: Becky Clarke (lt) and Patrick Williams (rt) along with rights activist Stafford Scott.
Report co-authors: Becky Clarke (lt) and Patrick Williams (rt) along with rights activist Stafford Scott.

The Centre report found that prosecutors during trials of youthful non-white suspects seize upon the gang label levied by police to create a sinister perception of criminality designed to push juries to convict.

That report leveled particular criticism at Britain’s despised Joint Enterprise Law, an enforcement mechanism that is literally guilt-by-association. Under the JE law imprisonment can occur for a crime that the person did not commit or even know about. While the report found disproportionate use of JE against blacks, there is often a class-based JE application with its use against low-income whites.

During the Parliament presentation of the Centre’s report both liberal and conservative members attending that meeting criticized JE.

Williams, an ex-gang leader turned university student, once faced a JE prosecution. Now an anti-gang worker for a government funded organization Williams said he avoided conviction due largely to a rare occurrence in Britain – a jury with a majority of non-whites who rejected prosecutor claims that Williams had JE responsibility for a crime he didn’t commit or know about.

Williams said he spoke out during that meeting at Parliament because the harsh conditions young blacks confront rarely improves in the wake of constantly increasing documentation about deep discrimination in Britain’s justice system.

“Who comes to me and asks for advice? I know gangs. I know how it feels to be shot and know how it feels to walk down the road feeling oppression,” Williams said.

“Meetings in Parliament are nice and polite but they don’t listen to us.”

 Washington is currently in London with a group of Temple University students.


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