LONDON – As authorities and society at large condemn the rioters and looters who ran amok in cities throughout England over the last week, one theme jumps out at me — anger many here feel towards the police.
“The police have too much power and they’re using it,” a young man in London told reporters after violence broke out at a march in north London to protest the fatal shooting by police of father-of-four Mark Duggan. Another man said he couldn’t remember how many times he had been stopped by police but was sure it was more than 20.
These comments prompt ugly memories of my own.
I’m well-educated, I’m law abiding and have a full-time job. But as a black person, I’m also 26 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched by the police, according to Ministry of Justice’s own figures.
I’ve been stopped on at least three occasions by the police, and while most of the time they have been professional, one incident has stuck with me.
Despite it being the law, the policeman didn’t offer a reason for flagging down my car. He simply told me I looked “suspicious.”
Here’s a line from the Police Stop and Search guidelines:
“A police officer, or a community support officer must have a good reason for stopping or searching you and they are required to tell you what that reason.”
Then he went through my jacket and pockets. He wrestled my wallet out my hand as I tried to get out my driver’s license, which he’d asked me to give him.
Then he said the picture on my license didn’t look like me. So while my car was searched by two other officers, the first one disappeared into his van, I assume to authenticate my documents.
He returned a few minutes later, seemingly intent on humiliating me further. He asked me to stand against a wall and look straight at him to validate the photograph on my license. He stared hard at my eyes and nose even though his earlier checks had shown my license was real.
“I don’t want to say this again,” he screamed when I lost eye contact with him a couple of times. “I’m going to tell you for the last time, look at me!”
What made this worse is that this was happening outside a church right as the congregation was leaving. What must they think of me, I wondered?
I asked again why he was doing this.
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