So the jury reached its conclusion: Mark Duggan was lawfully killed. Amidst a series of assaults and accusations made at the Police and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the question that remains is, why is there such a divide between many communities and public institutions? And why is it that young people, particularly those with the extra complication of ethnicity, are still not treated as individuals deserving of equal status to that of the average middle age, white citizen?
In discussing the Duggan case, very recently Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy recollected his own run-in with the police. In 2005, whilst making his way home from a constituency event, he and his brother were stopped in their tracks – 2 Black men driving an Audi – and accosted by a group of heavily armed police officers. Following a simple explanation of the MP’s identity, the police changed their tack and apologised for the inconvenience caused. The question is, what would have happened if that same person was lacking in status – would his race have overwhelmed his claim of innocence and what if he were 20 years younger?
The riots which followed Duggan’s death were a shocking reminder of the widening divide between the police services and the younger generation, particularly groups who are often excluded from mainstream society. Some claim this gulf has been exacerbated by an acute lack of trust felt by those young people who are the main targets of ‘Police powers of stop and search’. Of late, stop and search powers have taken on a notorious significance. They have been blamed for a disproportionate number of young Black men being held by the police who use “extra” powers against those they suspect are “up to no good”.
According to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission a few years back, Black people were 28 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterpoints. Despite these increased powers being used, only 1 in 10 stops lead to an arrest, thus indicating little evidence for justifying these actions. This disproportionality in Black individuals being stopped is not only a hefty figure which suggests a bias in applying the law, but is sabotaging positive relations between targeted communities and public authorities.
In response our organisation IARS, a UK-based think tank and our youth-led project, the 99% Campaign responded to these concerns by participating in a Home Office public consultation into ‘Police powers of stop and search. Following the findings obtained from a focus group with young Londoners, aged 16-25 years, this consultation highlighted some key issues. Among the key recommendations, the response claimed:
“The erosion of trust between communities and the police will only be exacerbated if police powers of stop and search do not take into account the need for police to explain their actions to the individuals they interact with.”
Duggan’s verdict has enraged many; it has left those with a feeling of despair and confusion over the role of the police service – to protect or to keep at arm’s length? Conversations have to be held about the role of these public institutions, and the policing commission must take a lead in demonstrating its value to the community. So let these conversations begin…