A Stop and Search Account
When I turned 21, I remember going on a night out in central London with my mates, and on the way back I saw a Black man telling the police the only reason why they stopped him was because he was Black. This was not the only time I had witnessed this type of scenario, but it hit me very hard as it was something I was fully aware of from an early age.
My first encounter with the police occurred when I was much younger. Aged seven to be exact. Yes, you read correctly, seven years old. The police knocked down the door of our family home on a dawn raid looking for drugs. As they forced their way through our property with the loudest bang I could ever have imagined hearing, they proceeded to march madly around our home shouting, slamming cupboards and tearing things apart. The fearless child I was back then told them the only drugs they would find were paracetamol and Vitamin C. The officers didn’t know how to respond when they heard that, after all they didn’t find anything. They violated us and walked away leaving the trauma and the pieces to pick up. My family and friends wrote to the Police asking for an answer or compensation, and the only answer that came of it was that they “entered the wrong address”. Oh, and they sent cheap sweets as a way of an apology. I will never get an explanation. This was the same year the Stephen Lawrence murder enquiry took place, an event that still lives in my memory so vividly. From this experience and many others, I simply could not and still to this day do not have a good relationship with the police. My experiences speak for themselves and especially this one.
It was my first day behind the wheel of my new car since passing my driving exam. I went to get some shopping as you do on the weekend. I parked up, bought what I wanted and set off. As I began my journey back home, I noticed that there was a police van following behind me. I decided to think nothing of it and continued driving. The journey from the supermarket was rammed with road works and there were a few diversions. I continued along following the diverted routes and after 20 minutes of driving, the police van was still there behind me. The route to the supermarket from my home has different speed zones. 20, 30, etc. It is also a residential area with many bus routes so naturally you drive with caution. After 30 minutes driving, I finally reached my street and then the sirens went off. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt perhaps subconsciously trying to convince myself I wasn’t about to be stopped, so I indicated to let them pass. Sadly, they did not pass, so I continued to drive towards my usual parking spot. Before I could pull over to park, the officer jumped out of the car and said “Don’t touch anything! Step out the car!” Then I replied “for what?” to which she replied “don’t turn the ignition off, I will!”
In that moment I realised that it was just an excuse to look into my vehicle and see what was in my car. I do wish now I had used my phone to record it. I stepped out of the car and the first questions I received was,
Police Officer: “Have you been taking drugs?”
Me: “Of course not”
Police Officer: “Have you been drinking?”
They asked those two questions so many times I lost count. Then they asked if I would be willing to take a breather test. I replied that I would but that I didn’t see why it was necessary as I hadn’t been drinking. Finally, the officers went on to say I had been driving “too slowly” and that it was “unusual”. I remember thinking to myself that with all the road works, traffic was slow anyway. I explained to them that the area from where they started to follow me from was a 20/30 zone full of buses which they saw me avoid whilst they were behind me.
Police Officer: “What do you do for a living?”
Me: “I work in Financial Crime Prevention”
They looked puzzled.
Police Officer: “How long have you lived in the area?”
Me: “A number of years.”
They asked where I got the car from and I said it was previously my Dad’s. Up to this point I was so furious but could tell they were looking for an excuse of some kind to antagonise and wind me up. I decided to not let them win and tried to relax and stay calm. The mobile tablet they used to check my license and registration wouldn’t work and they had to call the station for help. I was listening and they could not even get assistance via the radio to check my details. The sheer incompetence. I wasn’t prepared at all for this encounter although I knew it would happen sooner or later.
Police Officer: “Have you been stopped before by the police?”
Both officers burst out laughing.
I couldn’t believe it, then I laughed out of shock and said “why is that funny?”
Was it funny that he stopped a young Black man for driving too slow in a 20 zone avoiding multiple buses? Was it funny a young Black man with a Mercedes has never been stopped by the police? Was it funny that a young Black man worked as an anti-financial crime officer? While these officers waited to get some assistance on their radio a young Black man went by on a moped. The female officer quickly took notes of his registration after being told to do so by the other officer. In my head I was thinking, are they simply looking for anyone Black to stop and arrest?
After all this they decided to let me go. After not even being able to check my details or finding any drugs. Not much has changed since I was seven.
After the incident I spoke to friends and colleagues of different races and none of them were able to recount such experiences with the police. Many were shocked and sympathetic. Some have never been stopped after years of driving to this day. This was my first day of driving this car.
A few days later I reported this to the police complaints commission and after a year of dithering they finally decided to not take further action as their footage showed that I was seen to be conversing well with the officers. Do I need to be yelling and be seen to be distraught and give in to someone trying to wind me up for them to take action? By law, the police can stop anyone driving on the road and don’t need to have a reason. However there is no data on how many vehicle searches have actually been conducted in the UK. The government website reports the following:
“Between April 2018 and March 2019, there were 375,588 stop and searches in England and Wales (excluding vehicle searches)”
For all my fellow Black drivers, I would highly recommend recording any interactions you may have with the police on your phone as they will use their own footage against you if you make a complaint. I am someone who has had to face many forms of discrimination socially, personally and professionally but with all this, I insist on being given the right to a normal life in this country and beyond. Being able to achieve and enjoy the good things in life that come, like my white counterparts are so lucky to. Why can’t I have something nice? Why don’t I have the same right to a good life? Without being accused, policed and criminalised.
I have learnt a lot from this, and it is to live my life and to enjoy my successes whether people like it or not.
I chose not to use my name in this piece, but this is who I am.
I am the son and grandson of those who came from West Africa and beyond, and made this little island their home from home. Home with all the obstacles and adversity they faced, home as if this is the only land they knew. I was raised in such a way that I was unaware of the vast disadvantages I faced compared with my peers at a young age. They never let me see it. They raised a son who is immensely proud of his family heritage and background. I was born in South East London and even if England chooses to police me, this is my home.