How it feels to be stopped and searched for being black
By Chris Roach
My name is Chris and I’m a third year university student in London. I use cannabis recreationally and I also happen to be black. In the eyes of the law, I’m a criminal and a menace to society.
After the London riots, tensions really seemed to rise between the black community and the people that are meant to serve and protect us. While it is fair to say black communities don’t experience nearly the same type of stereotyping as our counterparts in the US, there is still a feeling in our communities that we are treated unfairly especially when it comes to stop and searches. A report by Release found that in 2009/10 black people were stopped and searched for drugs at 6.3 times the rate of white people, even though black people are less likely to use drugs.
This creates a lot of issues for thousands of other black teenagers and adults around the UK who also smoke cannabis on a regular basis. We are scared to go out and take public transport in the fear that we will be randomly searched and then get fined or even arrested for having a small amount of cannabis on us. It amazes me we have people in Denver and Washington that are now able to freely admit to enjoying cannabis without worrying about what other people will think. Over there, it is just as normal as drinking alcohol, with the majority of people now believing it is safer than drinking. Even the president is joining in on the debate stating that he believed it was safer as well.
I sadly don’t have the luxury to grow along with a lot of other people my age who may either be in university housing or simply don’t want to get caught and get a criminal record before they start their professional life. So our only other choice is to go to a dealer of which there are plenty to be found. My theory is someone will always know someone who knows a dealer. On the way back from one of my many trips, I was pulled over at a petrol station and an undercover policeman asked if he could search my car, I obliged not to cause any problems. He found the cannabis and within 20 seconds of radioing in, there were three more undercover cars around me with a total of 8 policemen surrounding me. Obviously there was the typical smug policeman making comments about what he had found. ‘Oh, look we have here boys’, the typical phrase everyone who has been caught will have heard at least once. Did I mention it was only 1.5 grams? I was put in handcuffs and really felt like a criminal. They told me that they had followed me over 2 miles. While obviously I can’t blame this on being a minority, it did make me think – what if I was a middle aged white man driving a Mercedes? Would they have let me go, I think the probable answer would be yes. I wasn’t smoking a joint, I wasn’t high and I wasn’t singing Buffalo Soldier at the top of my lungs out my window.
When did we become a society that stereotypes every race so badly? When we were young were we not taught to not judge a book by its cover? You can see it happening everyday in British culture, we can’t act like people are not looking down on Romanians who are coming over to make a better living for themselves. It reminds me of how black people were treated in 60’s in America, as complete minorities. The worrying thing is our police stereotype more than anyone and in most cases I believe they don’t do it intentionally. One of my idols, Dr Carl Hart, is a black man and has dreadlocks. There is no doubt in my mind that if he was in the UK, he would have been stopped and searched many times because the police would have believed he would have had some weed on him. In actual fact they would have found out that he is a neuroscientist and a college professor at an Ivy League university.
It’s time for our politicians and police to stand up and accept the mistakes they have made in regards to searching minorities for a completely harmless crime. Police need to look to become accepted members of the community especially in areas like Brixton, Harlsden and Elephant and Castle. We need to feel safe and happy living in a country where we are treated fairly.