Students need to understand stop and search laws

A few weeks ago a school leader told me about an incident where several students from their school were stopped and searched. It wasn’t just a gentle stop and search, the students, who were 16 and 17 years of age, were forced to the ground and handcuffed. For obvious reasons I can’t go into any details, suffice to say that a complaint was lodged against the police officers who undertook the search due to the unnecessary force that was used and the fact that the search was not carried out correctly. It’s worth noting the boys had done absolutely nothing wrong. They were simply black boys in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is just one of many stories which I’m sure black males up and down the country could relay.

Early this year footballer Jermaine Jenas filmed an emotional documentary for Channel 4 called The Truth About Police Stop & Search.  The film examined the controversial police tactic of stop and search, with video recordings of several black males interacting with police.

As part of the documentary 40 black males were interviewed about their experiences of police and stop and search, all of them had been stopped and searched at some point in their lives and out of the 40 men, 38 said they no longer trusted the police.

It’s worth saying at this point that I am well aware that the police have a job to do. The issue I have is with the way in which some police officers do their jobs. The law clearly states that the police can stop and question you at any time – they can search you depending on the situation. However, it is well documented that black males are disproportionally stopped and searched in comparison to their white counterparts.

It is for this reason that I believe it’s imperative for schools to educate young people, especially black boys, on their rights when it comes to stop and search. This may seem extreme, but when you are stopped in the street and a police officer gives you an instruction, you need to know what your response should be in order to ensure you don’t become the victim of an unlawful stop and search. To some it may seem like common sense, you just do what you’re asked. But there are countless, heart-breaking stories of young black men who have  done just that, yet still been treated disgracefully at the hands of some officers. Young people need to be able to recognise when this is the case.

We educate young people on the dangers of unprotected sex and deepen their awareness of what sexual consent means. We ensure they know the harm that drugs can do and provide lessons on being upstanding members of the society. Why then would we not also educate them on matters of the law that will affect them directly at some point in their lives. They must be educated on what to do in the event of them being stopped and searched.

As humans, we don’t like being accused of something we haven’t done. I recall a time when this happened to me and although it didn’t involve the police, the level of offence I felt was unreal. I knew I was innocent and yet here was someone accusing me of something I did not do. I was insulted, I was upset, and I was angry. But because I was a fully grown adult, I was able to control my emotional response. However, even now, almost 10 years after the event, it still gets to me.

Imagine now a young person being stopped in the street and accused of a crime they know they’re innocent of. Imagine them being told to turn around whilst they are handcuffed and then searched. Imagine the fear and confusion that must go through that young person’s mind. As they are searched they recall the videos they’ve seen on social media where this has happened to similar young black males and it ended badly. Or they recall stories that family members have shared based on their experiences of being stopped and searched, multiple times. This isn’t an exaggeration, this is real life.

When you go back to school, ask your black students if they or anyone they know has been stopped and searched and then ask them about the experience. Bear in mind that they may seem very blasé about it but it’s not because they don’t care, it’s probably because it’s almost as if it’s experience to be expected. You’re black, you’re male ergo, you may well be stopped and searched at some point. It’s almost a case of not if, but when. But at the same time, the event may well have been traumatic for them because after all, they are still children.

I know black parents educate their children on what to do when they are stopped and searched, because they fear for their children. When my friends son started in Year 7 they sat him down and talked to him about how to behave when he was out and about. Not because he was likely to get himself into trouble, no. Their son is the nicest boy you’ll ever meet. But he’s black and sadly this puts him in a position where one day he could be stopped by the police on his way to or from school and he needs to know what to do and how to act in order to give himself the best possible chance of being treated fairly.

But it shouldn’t just be down to parents to educate their children, schools should take the lead on this as well….and not just during Black History Month!

Make sure your students know the law – see below. Make sure you tell them to stay calm, don’t talk back and comply with the officers’ requests. Make sure you tell them to speak politely, not use sarcasm or resist. Sadly, in some cases it may make no difference whatsoever, but at least the student knows they will be above reproach and the police body cam will show that they were complying every step of the way.

Make sure they know that according to the Met Police guidance members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel. As such they can film a stop and search and police officers do not have the power to delete digital images or destroy film at any point during a search. Deletion or destruction may only take place following seizure if there is a lawful power (such as a court order) that permits such deletion or destruction.

This information is important for students to know as it will help them to help themselves. It’s the type of information that should be given to students every year as a reminder of their rights and to ensure they have some level of safety.

As a black woman, this is something I’ve grown up with and despite the many reports that seem to surface every few years, highlighting the fact that there’s a disproportionate number of black males being stopped and searched, nothing has changed and this deeply saddens me.

We need to make sure that our young people are able to trust those who have been called to serve and protect by reminding them that in most cases the police are just doing their jobs. But at the same time, we need to ensure that our young people are able to safeguard themselves against those who may feel they have the right to abuse the powers that have been given to them.

As I said before, this is not an exaggeration; this is real life.

The following is from

Before you’re searched

Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you:

  • their name and police station
  • what they expect to find, for example drugs
  • the reason they want to search you, for example if it looks like you’re hiding something
  • why they are legally allowed to search you
  • that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy

Removing clothing: police powers

A police officer can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves.

The police might ask you to take off other clothes and anything you’re wearing for religious reasons – for example a veil or turban. If they do, they must take you somewhere out of public view.

If the officer wants to remove more than a jacket and gloves they must be the same sex as you.

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