There is a troubling racial disparity in the targeting and punishment of Black people for drug related offences. Despite being no more or even less likely to use drugs than white people, Black people are far more likely to be charged for possession rather than cautioned, to be taken to court, to be fined or imprisoned and to get a criminal record than their white counterparts. Black people are also nearly more than 10 times as likely to get stopped and searched for drugs than white people.
I am an inclusion manager and deputy safeguarding lead at a South London secondary school so that makes me a key worker.
On the 13th of May I was making my way to work and I stopped off at the local post office. As I was parked up, the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group van passed me, it was probably about five metres or so away from my vehicle. They came back a few minutes later, parked adjacent to me and demanded that I step out.
I showed them my key worker badge, stepped out of the car and made my way to the passenger side of my vehicle. They were aggressive, they snatched a mobile phone out of my hand and put me in handcuffs, saying I was being detained under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The detaining officer stated that I had cannabis flakes on the foot-well of my car and that this was an area known for drugs and crime. When I asked why I was in handcuffs, the officer said “I do this, I handcuff anybody that I like, I do this to all criminals.”
I was left completely bewildered as to what had just happened, I believe they stopped me because I was a Black man sitting in a vehicle in Lewisham and they thought that I was potentially up to no good, that I could have been waiting for a drug deal to take place.
It makes me feel angry, annoyed and a little bit aggrieved at the fact that we’re in 2020, the twenty-first century, and Black males, females and young people are still being stereotyped and victimised just based on the colour of their skin, without any real overstanding and empathy towards their lived experiences or what they might be going through in life, or even their achievements.
I know that my peers have experienced the same as me – we always have to look over our shoulder when we leave the house and it shouldn’t have to be that way. It leaves a resentment and an underlying fear that when you encounter police again it’s not going to be a positive experience. My white friends and white counterparts don’t have that level of nervousness when they leave their home or go into their place of work.
The police are meant to serve and protect us, and at this moment in time, especially during the Covid period, I don’t think that’s happened at all.
One of the main reasons given for stopping and searching Black people is for the possession or smell of drugs. For me, this isn’t a war on drugs, this is a war on Black people ultimately and stop and search is a tool of racist oppression. One of the ways we can stop this is to call for the legalisation of drugs within the UK. We need to move past the notion of criminalisation of drugs and get it to a point where we can legalise it and stop victimising young Black people for possession of cannabis and other drugs. It is something that’s been sitting on the fence for so long, we need to look at what other countries like Portugal are doing and how we can replicate that here, because, as we’ve seen, it works over there. We have to share practice.