Increasing stop and search is not good for young, black men
Melanie Phillips takes to her trusty Times column today to launch a full-throated defence of stop-and-search, a practice so structurally racist that even Theresa May says it’s ‘an affront to justice’.
As home secretary, May significantly reduced the use of stop and search because of the damage it was doing to community relations. Phillips is calling for it to ratchet back up, arguing that those who believe that young, black men shouldn’t be randomly intercepted by police officers are — wait for it — the real racists.
According to Phillips, ‘reducing the use of this power means black boys become disproportionately targeted as the victims of violent crime’. Strangely, however, she acknowledges in the column that there is no evidence for her claim that increased use of stop and search will bring down violent crime.
“Research evidence on this apparent connection has been inconclusive. Last year, a Home Office study reported that in ten London boroughs a threefold increase in stop and search in 2008-09 had produced no discernible effect on crime rates.”
But as ever, Phillips believes that what seems reasonable to her mind must then be borne out in fact.
It’s ‘surely likely’ that general application of stop and search will have a deterrent effect, she writes, because ‘if young men know there’s a distinct possibility that an officer will stop them to search their pockets they’ll be less likely to carry a knife or a gun.’
“There’s anecdotal evidence that in rough neighbourhoods young men think carrying a knife is essential for personal protection. So with such young men becoming routinely armed, it stands to reason that the offensive use of such weapons will increase exponentially.”
This is a hallmark of regressive commentary — find a version of the truth that seems plausible and stick with it, irrespective of what the evidence shows or what the communities affected say.
Phillips believes that if white communities were disproportionately impacted by knife crime that the government response would be very different. And she’s probably right. If the levels of deprivation and violence facing black communities in the UK affected white communities, a much more comprehensive response would have been formulated long ago.
It would not rely on excessive police powers, but would recognise that ‘rough’ neighbourhoods need not always be rough, that young men need social supports more than police interventions, and that investment is more likely to save lives than interrogation.
The real racist here is still Phillips, with her hackneyed assumption that young, black men are inherently violent and that blunt deterrents are needed to stop them killing each other.
May was right to roll back stop and search. The last thing black communities need is more intrusive policing.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.