Public meeting about stop and searchTagged as: anti-racism law pcs police repression stop_and_search unions
On Friday evening, the PCS union's regional Black Members Network organised a meeting about the use of police stop and search powers in Nottingham's Irish Centre. Around 50 people attended with contributions from as far afield as London and Birmingham.
The first speakers was a criminal solicitor from Thompsons (who do a lot of work for trade unions). He gave a talk about the law on stop and search, ostensibly so that people knew what their rights were. However, he only discussed section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), which is just one of the search powers available to police officers. He also clearly had little or no practical experience of how stop and search powers are used on the street. At one point he even suggested that if police did not follow the correct procedure and give you a reason for the search you had the option of simply walking away.
Anybody wanting to understand their rights and learn how to deal with the police during searches would have found the guidance given the following day by Green and Black Cross at the legal observer training at the Sumac far more useful.
The second speaker was more practical. A woman from London she talked about the use of section 60 "stop and account" laws against her local community. Unlike the powers set out in PACE, section 60 of the Public Order Act 1986 doesn't require that the police have "reasonable suspicion" that they person they are searching has committed or is about to commit an offence. Originally intended for use against football hooligans it can be used against anybody within a defined area.
She encouraged people not to simply walk past when they saw somebody being hassled by the police. It is important that people know they have support and that the police know they are being watched.
At this point the floor was opened for speakers. One member of the audience said that they were hoping to run for Police and Crime Commissioner in November and wondered how people thought this role could be used to hold the police to account. The response of the audience made it clear that people had little interest in working with the police, something they no longer believe is of any value. The anger of many contributors was palatable.
A third speaker had come from the Birmingham Racial Attack Monitoring Unit (BRAMU) and talked about the myth of a post-racist society. Pointing to research which shows that there have been 96 racially motivated murders since the death of Stephen Lawrence. He stressed the importance of stop and search which precipitated the execution of Mark Duggan and last summer's riots. He suggested that the issue was so serious that a "state of emergency" be declared.
The final speakers were the parents of a Nottingham family who had been harassed by Notts Police, culminating in two of their sons being stopped and searched outside their home. Surrounded by armed police, police dogs and assorted other officers, the two were forced to strip to their underwear, while neighbours who came out to see what was going on were told to go back inside by the police. One neighbour had managed to capture the event on a mobile phone and although it was difficult to make out what was going on, the sheer scale of the police operation was clear.
There was an extended discussion about what needs to be done with people keen that the event not simply become a "talking shop." Lots of ideas were suggested, but despite assurances this would be the first of many meetings, the only concrete action was the collection of people's email addresses to set-up a network. This seems a small thing, but I realise that it is difficult to move straight from a meeting to an organisation and there did seem to be a commitment to ensure this was a beginning rather than the end.
Whatever the outcome, I think it was important to bring people together about this important issue and reassure the victims that they are not alone. I was particularly impressed to see that this was organised by the PCS, demonstrating that unions are capable of organising around issues beyond the immediate workplace concerns. Hopefully this can be built on within (and beyond) other unions.