Stop And Think

stopsearch.jpgIf I were Keith Jarrett’s boss I would sack him immediately. Why? Because the comments he has made this week regarding the use of stop and search have shown that he is a senior police officer who has run out of intelligent and effective ideas, and solutions, for tackling crime.

We all know that stop and search, especially when used randomly, is an ineffective practise. It’s not only ineffective (with very low rates of arrests, and even lower rates of subsequent prosecutions), but is also racially discriminatory, disproportionately affecting black people. That is, it disproportionately affects innocent people who are perceived to be criminals on the basis of their race alone.

The idea that someone is a criminal, or is more likely to be a criminal, because of their skin tone is racist, bigoted and ignorant and is not even borne out by any kind of evidence, statistic or research. I find it incredibly offensive that I, or any other law abiding person, should be subject to stop and search by the police purely because I am black and because some other black people have committed crimes.

Random stop and search has not been proven to be a good policing tactic nor has it has not been shown to reduce crime. It has been shown, however, to inflame tensions between black people and the police. It has been shown to be a practised mired in prejudice. Mr Jarrett has called for its increase without explaining exactly how it will solve gun and knife crime.

In the past, the National Black Police Association – of which Mr Jarrett is President – has been vocal in denouncing stop and search for the reasons I have listed above. Mr Jarrett has yet to tell us why an increase in the practise today would not simply lead to a repeat of the problems that he himself has always been critical of. It seems to me that he has simply run out of things to say and no has no forward thinking ideas for solving this problem.

I would prefer that Jarrett encouraged the police to do their jobs properly i.e. to work harder and use intelligence in order to specifically identify and target those who are most likely to commit such crimes. ‘Those likely to commit such crimes’ does not mean any young person who has dark skin; it means specific gangs and criminal groups, those who spend time with them and those who have been identified as likely to spend time engaging in anti-social activity with them. I would be more than happy for the police to stop and search those on whom they have specific and concrete intelligence.

The majority of crime is not committed by the majority of people. Whether it’s gun or knife crime, robberies or murder it is a very small proportion of any population – black or white – who are involved. Why encourage the police to use their already limited resources to target people who will have had absolutely no involvement in crime whatsoever? It is a total nonsense.

Yes, there is crime being perpetrated by black people against other black people. That is a real shame. But that is not my fault, or the fault of the majority of black people who are just trying to lead peaceful lives. I care about what’s going on, but I absolutely refuse to be perceived, and treated, as a criminal because of the destructive actions of a small minority of misguided people.

I’m also somewhat perturbed by Mr Jarrett’s claims that his comments reflect the thoughts of the ‘black community’. Who is this ‘black community’ that he claims to speak for? I certainly am not one of them.

Let the police focus on those actually committing crimes: those they know to be committing crime. Let them not waste their precious time on making the rest of us into criminals.

After the controversy of this week, rather than going on about stop and search, I hope Mr Jarrett takes some time to stop and think.

Being Black…

Two hot topics in the media at the moment are so-called black-on-black crime, and black underachievement in schools.

I ask why the reference to ‘black-on-black’? Isn’t crime just crime? Why is the race of the victims or the perpetrators significant? Similarly if kids are underachieving in school, why the focus on their skin colour in the discussion?

I ask this question for the reason that on one hand, for example, we know that people of African and Caribbean descent have been and are disprotionately discriminated against – on the basis of their race – within Western society. It is now recognized that this type of discrimination is wrong because we know that race is nothing more than a social construct with no inherent meaning or value. Therefore to judge anyone on this basis is foolish.

But then why do we focus debates, conversations, or reports on these grounds too? If we know that any concepts of race are, in essence, meaningless why couch educational underachievement, crime or anything else in references to being black?

What is being ‘black’ anyway? How is it defined? Who defines it? ‘Black’ does not really exist apart from in our minds, yet the term is used – including by the government in their recent report – as if it’s an actual tangible aspect of a person (or a group of people) rather than a construction which is undoubtedly useless – which is, ironically, precisely the reason why prejudice and racism exists in the first place.

Crimes committed by African-Caribbean people are not different from crimes committed by any other racial group, and thus in my view do not deserve or merit any special attention on racial grounds. The crime and the problems which give rise to it should be the issue – the race of the perpetrators or victims does not add value to solving the real problem. Similarly, if kids are underachieving at school that is a cause of concern regardless of their race.

Yes, we can say that a greater number of African and Caribbean kids are doing less well in schools. However, any discussion into that issue should focus not on the fact that they are ‘black’, but on tangible, deeper issues such as economics, housing, or the education system itself. Underachievement is not a ‘black’ problem – it’s a societal problem.

The majority of crime in this country is not committed by people of colour, yet we do not talk about ‘white’ crime and point at the issues within the ‘white’ community. The focus is on the individuals and the circumstances which give rise to their criminal behaviour (as it should be). There is a big body of evidence which shows that English working class kids are also underachieving in school – but those conversations are never focussed on race.

The more we have debates about ‘black’ people and ‘black’ problems, the more stereotyping we will have because in reality there are so many variations of individuals and unique circumstances and situations that fall under the banner of ‘black’ that you can only ever be stereotyping and generalizing when using the term.

Discussions which use race as an indicator of a problem necessarily avoid looking at the actual issues, because they suggest that there is something in a particular racial group that gives rise to that problem. A talk about gun crime cannot ever get to the heart of the matter for as long as ‘black’ is attached to it – how it is possible to have a sensible debate or come up with solutions on the basis of something (race) which does not actually exist?

So what’s the solution? The solution is that everyone drops references to race or ethnicity and simply tackles the issues. Educational underachievement is a problem. Gun crime is a problem. Adding ‘black’ to that does not give us any insight into, or understanding of, the problem or how to tackle it. It does nothing more than enable people to continue to talk in generalizations and stereotypes about individuals of colour – something which we know is very dangerous.

What’s Going On?

news.jpg30 years ago, Marvin Gaye wrote ‘What’s Going On?’….30 years later his words couldn’t be more relevant than they are today. He sang:

“Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today”

Last week a 17 year old girl was killed in Croydon, South London. Stabbed to death with a kitchen knife in a surburban street. I often park on that road when I’m going to the cinema.

Over the weekend, 5 murders of young people took place in London. Young people whose lives were cut short while they were in their prime.

This year, there has been huge media coverage of other murders of young people – by young people – in and around London. Goodness knows what’s happening in other inner cities.

WHAT IS GOING ON?! I know I’m not the only one asking this question and I’m certainly not full of answers. I know that there are some young people who are so far down the line, so steeped in a life of crime and violence, that they are already lost. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. Maybe these people need not to be the focus for making changes, although I do believe redemption is possible for all at any stage.

While time is spent trying to get people out of gangs, how many more are on their way in? Maybe the politicians, educators, social workers and other people who work closely with young people need to focus on those who are growing up now. Those who are the ripe ages for getting into gangs… Or maybe those even younger. Instead of focussing on what is going on within gangs, maybe the focus needs to be on what it is that creates the conditions that encourage people to want to get into gangs. Maybe we need to really get to grips with understanding what a gang or that kind of lifestyle is providing for the young person that is not being provided elsewhere – and then bleeding well get around to providing it ASAP.

The problem is complex. No criminologist has yet been able to give one reason for why or how people get into crime and violence. It involves family, education, work, money, peer groups and a number of other factors. However, there is one thing that I think is majorly missing from the discussion. It’s emotional intelligence. It’s about how people deal with themselves and their feelings.

Schools don’t teach it. Many families don’t teach it well enough. Who is teaching it? Who is teaching kids that when someone pisses you off, the answer is not to reach for a gun or a knife?

I would really like to see the education system changed to reflect what we now know: that what’s going on inside a person, our attitudes and beliefs are crucial in our experiences of life. We know that emotional intelligence is a key part of a succesful life. Right now, education is not providing people with the necessary skills that will help them to build characteristics and values and become better people. I couldn’t care less about Physics when kids of 13, 14 and 15 are going around killing each other because someone offended them and they are trying to show how tough they are.

It’s not just about education though. It is time for our society to become more responsible. I’ve already blogged about the banning of Manhunt 2. We need more of this. There needs to be a global shift of consciousness towards promotion of what’s good, what’s wholesome, what is uplifting and beneficial for people – especially young, vulnerable, impressionable people. With so much emphasis on violence, crime, war, hatred and fear in every aspect of our lives – in papers, TV, films, music, computer games, politics (!) etc – is it any wonder that this kind of thing is going on.

Usually I will say ‘it’s all about the family – it’s down to the family’ and yes it is, but not everyone has a good family. Not everyone comes from a family that knows how to steer their child on the right path. Therefore it is up to society to be a family. The education system has to be a family. Society at large has to be a family. Isn’t there a famous African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”? All should be working for the betterment of everyone else. 

Maybe if that ever happens we’ll no longer need to ask what’s going on.