In this guest blog, Rom, Young Advisor from Leaders Unlocked reflects on our recent publication on how racial bias pulls young Black people into an avoidable cycle of crisis and crime.
As a teen I have been stopped and searched many times but one instance that stands out is when I was stopped and searched at age 15 after midnight on my way home.
When I was around age 13, my front door was taken off by the police and my house was raided for a drug search. I was cuffed in my boxers and taken out of my home and out in a van, as my father and the whole community watched. My father’s house has always been communal and has many friends, family and people from the community coming and going. I was labelled a drug dealer at age 13 by the police, but I was not charged after my arrest or even cautioned, as they did not find anything incriminating. A few years later, I was arrested for “matching the description” of a person who committed a robbery, yet I was wearing a smart white shirt, smart trousers and smart shoes coming home from an under 16s club night.
At the start of the year before lockdown, I was with a group of friends (all young black males). We were in two vehicles parked next to each other and one or two people were outside the cars taking through the windows. All of a sudden a non uniformed CID jumped out of an unmarked white van and tried to storm us saying ‘police’. None of us reacted in the way they had wanted us to as we were just chilling and talking and had no reason to be fearful. We questioned the police as to what they were doing and why they approached us in that manner. Their explanation was that they were just coming over to talk to us and see if we were ok and that the area is generally safe. They had no answer as to why they stormed us as if they were about to make an arrest or to see if we would run or try and hide anything incriminating. They clearly tried to entrap us, but it ultimately failed, and they tried to play it off as a routine check up on civilians.
Where I grew up we don’t trust the police and have no relationship with them but it’s not through stubbornness, I have lots of friends who have never committed a crime and still get anxiety from the police because of the experience of their family and friends. Black young people are traumatised. My heart still races when I see police because I don’t know if I am going to be the one they chose to abuse their power with today.
I get anxious because my father was attacked and abused badly by around 5 white individuals and nothing was done about it despite it being on CCTV. Feeling anxious around the police is quite typical among my friends and family. Yes, we should feel comfortable calling the police because we haven’t done anything wrong. But we do not, because they refused to help us before. And this distrust makes it more likely for Black and ethnic minority young people to get dragged into the criminal justice system that breaks us and makes things worse.
I personally know someone that has a huge list of minor offences and I’ve seen the list grow and it all stems from his first minor offence and not being able to get employment because of it. This led him to commit more minor offences to generate money which is also perpetual.
I’ve been to prison and I’ve seen countless young people who are genuinely decent individuals who have committed a minor offence end up in prison and become corrupted and broken. Mental health worsens and being mixed with every kind of offender in a box is toxic for the easily influenced and vulnerable.
Our analysis of government data that shows Black young adults (18-24) are significantly more likely to be dragged into the criminal justice system for relatively low-level and non-violent offences, such as theft or minor drug offences. Rather than being given the support they need, they are swept away into our criminal justice system.