My police stop and search HELL.

Policeman in police car sees me in my car. I see policeman seeing me in my car. Policeman sees me seeing him seeing me in car. He tails me. We play mirror tennis.  He flashes his blue light. Predictably. He stops me roadside. I should in no way show nervousness or irritation.  Nervousness = suspicion. Irritation = suspicion.

I’ve been stopped by the police over fifty times between the ages of 20 and 40. An average of once every 134 days for 20 years. It is traumatic.     “Is there anything wrong officer?” Policeman reads my question as sarcasm or arrogance. He doesn’t answer. Policeman asks questions not the suspect. He is discriminatley polite. His inadequate equality training shows and he’s deliberately showing it. . It dawns that he may be wasting his own time,  I’ve complied him into submission. He’s gathering no evidence for a crime that hasn’t been committed.  It’s like a magic trick where I hide something that wasn’t there.  The perfect crime.

Now I’m in dangerous territory, stopped by an officer of the law whose raison d’etre is to find a law being broken. What was that on radio four I heard today “if you’ve nothing to hide you’ve nothing to fear”. Really?    White police officers don’t experience this state threat. Nothing to fear?  The reason he stopped me  is hidden inside his  childhood. All he has to do now is prove me wrong. But it’s too late for that.   It’s the part missed in his equality training.  Now you see it now you don’t.   Tadaaaa. There’s no rabbit in the hat.

For most people  in England,  and by “most people” I probably mean white people,  driving your first car is an exciting  rites of passage into adulthood.  A  black man in England  soon learns that his rites of passage comes with overtly racist conditioning  (there is nothing covert about being stopped regularly by the police).  The black man must fall in line with the way things are.  Ditto for catching taxi’s by the way and ditto for going out in clubs in Manchester by the way.  For the police not to know this, for them still to question the validity of the consistantly overwhelming evidence, is a double insult. Do some black people cause crime. Yes. Go figure. Must black men in England be so radically mistaken for someone else. No. Get the criminals you dunces. And leave me the f@@@  alone. Do you want more examples?  Ask Linford Christie. Ask any black male sportsman! It’s worse for them. The policeman recognises them but can’t place where from!!!!  He  makes the assumption that they MUST be suspect.  Incredible!

“Oy Oy!  What’s  your  registration number” were the words of a policeman leaning out of his van one  summers evening  by the traffic lights on the Edgeware road in North London. I relayed  my registration number “It’s your lucky day!”  he sneered and they sped off.  At the beginning of this year I had my computer stolen. Question?  Did I go to the police station  to report it?   Two weeks ago I was attacked in Cutty Sark train station. I deliberately didn’t blog about it but that’s another matter.  Question. Did I report it to the police?   If the police want their crime prevention figures to get better stop stopping innocent black men because then we’ll report the crimes we do see.  Crimes that happen TO US!

19 thoughts on “My police stop and search HELL.

  1. Oh and how we as a universal society love to perpetuate the myth of the visually identifiable good guy/ bad guy. Maybe you should start wearing a sign saying “I AM A POET” and perhaps people will stop you to demand you show them a rhyme.

  2. This is the difference in time and technology – it must have been an unsettling re-visit to the past,of what was just such a common occurrence. It still happens regularly but by writing about it in the way that you have you just brought the past back into the future. Can you imagine if we had this technology at our finger tips at the height of sus – it would have recorded the history that we experienced but had no effective way of broadcasting to the wider world.

      • What a truly shitty experience. I was nearly beaten up by an out-of-uniform cop in London once (while trying to find the location of a poetry workshop!). He’d thought I was casing his house. I can only imagine how it might have gone if I wasn’t white. But to be stopped constantly like that must be utterly dispiriting, and enraging. The wrong arm of the law. Bravo for dealing with it so sanely, and writing about it so well. Very best wishes. I’ll share this.

  3. This is so wrong. I lived in London for most of my years between 21 and 42 and was never stopped once by the police. Not when walking or driving. I mostly lived in Lewisham or Harringey and drove all the roads in between. I often carried a saxophone case big enough to hide a multitude of sins. I can only assume that my white skin was my ‘protection’. I now live in Devon, and was stopped once; apparently “it was the hat” (copper’s words – it’s a leather bush hat).

  4. Lemn,
    I think that you try sitting in a wheelchair for a day; they make you invisible – don’t you know!

  5. Lemm

    I can see how being stopped frequently must be annoying and frustrating. But there is another side to this. Let me relate a my story of being stopped by the police. It was a few years ago. I was driving. It was in Camberwell and I was in a queue for the traffic lights. The queue was long and I wanted to turn right. So I drove down the bus lane. I knew it was wrong. Halfway to the lights a policeman steps into the bus lane an directs me on to the forecourt of an unused petrol station. There was me and half a dozen others all caught for the same thing. As one was ticketed and sent on their way, the policeman very quickly found another offender and duly directed them in.

    Almost all the offenders were white and most were men. There was a chap in a white van with a ladder on, a couple of lads in a hot hatch, a guy in a suit in nice Merc all getting their tickets. All accepting that it was a fair cop and they were in the wrong/just unlucky take your pick. But there was also a black woman complaining very loudly that the only reason she had been stopped was solely because she was black and the police were racist.

    Now I wouldn’t claim that the sighting of one swallow makes a summer but I do think that IF police officers are accused of racism when they clearly aren’t being racist (she was just the next offender abusing a bus lane) then there might be a problem of “crying wolf”. I am utterly sure that there are some police officers who are racist and get a kick out of using their authority to act out their prejudices. Just as I am absolutely sure that some particularly young black men otherwise innocent that go out of their way to attract police attention. And likewise I am convinced that some people legitimately stopped by the police when they have committed an offence use the cry of racism far too easily.

    It’s tricky to unpick what proportions is down to racist cops, how much is blame shifting by complaining criminals and how much is the lazy reaction and bad attitude of people legitimately stopped.

    I think you should have at least acknowledged that complexity.

    • And I have been stopped for driving misdemeanours such as the one you mentioned. It is fair enough that you think I should have at least mentioned them. Unfortunately the overwhelming evidence in my experience is of being wrongfully stopped. I once bought a car from an ex CID officer. I was stopped in it all the time. What can I say? I guess when I heard the black police man on radio four say that he had been stopped thirty times (similar age to me) and then a white police man say “If you’ve nothing to fear what’s the problem” I was spitting feathers.

      Complaining criminals should be busted. This is about class too. As black men grow in their means from working class to middle class what obstacles are put in their way to let them know they shouldn’t grow any further. Police men are representatives of the state and of its law. Prejudice must be identified and stamped out. I have nothing agaisnt stop and search but the overwhelming evidence is that it alerts the latent racism in white men in uniform. Don’t stop stop and search stop racism. And racism is not confined to the white community. Not at all.

      I am not against policing. I am not against the police. I find the idea of “community” to be questionable. But as a citizen I am identifying a problem which I KNOW is there. I am not a criminal so I am not up on crime or places of crime or people who do crime. But I am a citizen. I refuse not to acknwoledge that this happens.

      • Lemm

        It wasn’t the driving misdemeanours I wanted you to acknowledge. It was the fact that within the whole “Black men are always being stopped by the police.” issue, there are several things going on.

        1 Yes some racist police officers are picking on black people maybe in the hope that a bad reaction will take it from traffic issue to public order issue.

        but also

        2 Some black people legitimately stopped but innocent may assume that they were stopped by a white officer for racist reasons when in exactly the same circumstances a white person would not.

        2a Some black people legitimately stopped who are in the wrong or who have committed an offence still make accusations of racism rather than accept they wer bang to rights. That’s the one that I saw happen in Camberwell (see above).

        3 Criminals (all criminals) will try to find some grievance against the police if they. Anything will do. From speeding motorists claiming the police should be after “real criminals” or accusations of assault, rudeness, that property is missing all kinds of stuff. Ethnicity / race etc is just another accusation that can be thrown out.

        My point to reiterate is that all these categories of incident contribute to the “Black men are always being stopped by the police.” issue. Not just the first one.

        In addition figures that claim this is disproportionate by huge numbers doesn’t take account of the fact that white people being stopped and being annoyed by it can’t complain of racism (they can complain of harrassment or something else but racism won’t fly).

        In other words Lemm. It’s a bit more complicated than you originally make out and I understand the point was to make a point but this complexity is what you should have acknowledged.

  6. I find this article truly depressing. I am a police officer, I am white. I hold liberal left-leaning views. ( I appreciate that the idea of liberal police officer seems like an oxymoron to some people). I find it depressing because I am truly horrified at the way policing has changed in this country and share your outrage at getting stopped so many times but I don’t agree with some of the conclusions that you make.

    I work for the Police Service of Scotland so it’s a little different up here, for one there is not a very large black population up here, and secondly the style of policing is very different; I would like to think that the in-your-face aggressive style policing is more of a Met thing, but our Chief is ex-Met so things are going down that road.

    I can hold my hand on my heart and say that I have only stopped one black person driving a vehicle in 11 years’ with the force and have stopped many hundreds of white people. The man in question was quite hostile and claimed I was picking on him due to his race. I hated the feeling that he thought I was racist, as I honestly do care about what people think. I was deliberately very polite to him and actually shook his hand when I was finished checking his insurance e.t.c.

    I remember thinking at the time that maybe he was racist against me as he wrongly assumed that I was racist because I was a white officer who stopped a black man. ( I know that your blood will boil at the thought).

    I didn’t realise it at the time, but maybe, like you, the guy gets stopped all the time by the police and was hostile to me for a very good reason.

    You talk of stop search alerting the latent racism in white police officers. I know that I am not racist, but I am not naive to think that others aren’t

    The police have the power to stop any person driving a vehicle on a road and do not need to have reasonable cause to do so (in fact we have a duty to stop vehicles to establish if they are properly insured e.t.c). So if you are stopped by the police and have done nothing wrong then it does not follow that you were wrongly stopped. It also does not follow that you were stopped because you are black and the white police officer who stopped you is racist. (trite I know).

    • Fact is that much of Britain’s wealth was created through Imperialism and that by it’s very nature is based upon racist attitudes, (and yes people of color can be and are racist too) nonetheless, historically the U.K’s wealth building was founded on exploiting the resources and peoples of this land and then overseas by establishing & ruthlessly maintaining colonies.

      To oppress people you have to control them, make them feel your authority, and every country has it’s pecking order. Undoubtedly an attitude pervades amongst the police that has imperialist overtones, whereby a lot of black/colored men (and it is usually men) are seen as being potentially hostile and or criminal, and this has historical basis, people who’ve been oppressed find ways to fight back, or beat the system, they are suspect by their very color, it is fear and guilt projection at work on the part of those in uniform, and the sicker a state is the more paranoid it is, and yes many young black men are lost, as are whites, but the historical bias for blacks is different.

      And what does our current foreign policy tell us about our state’s regard for the “other”? Imperialist practices continue through ravenous market economics and wars, as a nation we get away with mass murder, (Iraq) so the idea that Britain is not institutionally racist is I think highly questionable to say the least. Let’s stop pulling the wool over our eyes.

      • Rhiannon, with the greatest of respect your analysis of the police culture being an Imperial one is somewhat top-down and reductionist in nature.

        I doubt very much that the minority of racist police officers are aware of the historical context of their views, as they are more likely to be racist due to ignorance rather than being part of some kind of imperialist conspiracy that you postulate. Just as Marxists interpret everything in terms of class and evolutionary biologists interpret everything in terms of Social Darwinism, they miss the point.

        There is no imperialist conspiracy, just a collection of individuals in the one organisation with different viewpoints.

        • And with the greatest respect to yourself also, let me say that I did not suggest there was a ”conspiracy” on the part of such racist policeman, I was simply suggesting that racism like sexism does have a historical basis, and it is not an insignificant fact that the U.K accrued a great deal of wealth through the Slave trade and Colonialism.

          Therefore ignorant bastards who perpetuate racist attitudes do so knowing there is plenty of ballast behind them. Racism like sexism stems from ignorance, yes of course, and if you are in the Police Force then you are in a position of power which you can then abuse as many do, and I believe they get away with it because they are representatives of the state (which was founded on elitist, racist and patriarchal attitudes), was and still is.

          The Police and the Army get away with murder, fact.

          But perhaps you prefer the notion of ”there is no such thing as society” just individuals and families, no historical perspective needed.

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