Close-up of a youth holding a 'butterfly' knife, London, 2006. (Photo by: PYMCA/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

An inconvenient truth

Certain crimes are dominated by certain people

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions so clearly we should regard the latest attempt to deter the police from carrying out so many stop and searches on black youngsters as well-motivated.

The story, an exclusive by the Independent’s Nadine White, is that two campaign groups — Liberty and StopWatch — have teamed up to sue the Home Office over “racially disproportionate new stop and search rules”.

Those who want to see fewer young people stabbed to death should back Ms Patel

Liberty, directed by the privately educated, Cambridge graduate Martha Spurrier, was formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties and is the leading organisation campaigning against excessive state power over the individual. Ms Spurrier is following in a long line of socially elevated activists in the group, with former Cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt and the Earl’s niece Harriet Harman having worked for it in their younger days, while more recently the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti was its director. To describe it as a finishing school for young leftist lawyers before they launch full-time political careers would be an exaggeration, but not much of one.

StopWatch is a younger campaign group made up by “a coalition of lawyers, civil society organisations and community stakeholders” that aims to act against “disproportionality and injustice”.

News of the legal action against the Home Office was a perfectly serviceable scoop for Ms White, the “UK’s first race correspondent”. Seeking out disproportionality in outcomes across ethnic groups and citing this as prima facie evidence of racism, whether of the personal or “institutional” kind, is no doubt her stock in trade.

The background to the furore is that Home Secretary Priti Patel is planning to make it easier for police to carry out stop and searches. Her main means of doing this is by scrapping rules brought in by Theresa May which stipulated that patrols must have specific grounds for suspicion before they can deploy the power unless given the go-ahead by a high-ranking officer because of “exceptional circumstances”.

Perhaps Ms Adamou’s solution sounded good when it was being workshopped by activists

Liberty lawyer Lana Adamou told Ms White: “Removing safeguards will see more young people of colour, including children, subject to further coercion and control.” She is undoubtedly right about that. But the key question is whether or not it is a good thing.

The first thing we should note is that after Mrs May put the mockers on the use of stop and search in 2014, there followed an upsurge in stabbings.

An even more significant blow to the idea that the state should seek to enforce “proportionality” in the use of the power across different ethnic groups came when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, hardly a right-wing Gene Hunt figure, appeared before the Home Affairs committee of MPs last year.

“Nationally you are four times more likely to be a victim of homicide if you are black and eight times more likely to be a perpetrator. The overlap with my key metric, which is knife injuries for under 25s… shows enormous disproportionality in the way it affects our young black men as victims and, I am sorry to say, as perpetrators,” she said.

Dame Cressida told the MPs that there was in fact strong support in the black community for more use of stop and search, paraphrasing black mothers telling her: “I do not care if my son gets stopped and searched ten times because I want him not to be carrying a knife. I want him not to be at risk.”

The inconvenient truth here is that certain sorts of crime are dominated by certain sorts of people. Football hooliganism is a crime predominantly of young white men, Islamist extremism of young men of Asian or African ancestry and street stabbings in our big cities of young black men. To expect the police to adhere to racial quotas based on the proportion of the local population formed by different ethnic groups when seeking to combat these crimes is ludicrous.

Last week London saw the 28th teen fatality on its streets in 2021, leaving it just one away from the all-time peak of teenage homicides of 29 that occurred in 2008. With another full month of the year to run, there can be little doubt that the grisly record will be broken. As in every other recent year, the vast majority of this year’s victims have died of stab wounds and the vast majority have been black.

If you want to foment feelings of race-based persecution, then root for Liberty and StopWatch

Liberty’s Ms Adamou told the Independent’s Ms White that instead of stop and search, the answer to street crime should be “community-led interventions through investment in health, education, housing and social welfare — and for those in power to work with communities to develop strategies for keeping all of us safe which have human rights at their heart”.

Perhaps that sounded good when being workshopped by activists at a seminar somewhere. But to many of us it sounds like so much pie in the sky. Those who want to see fewer young people stabbed to death should back Ms Patel and the police in upping the use of stop and search. Those who want to foment feelings of race-based persecution as part of a wider political agenda should meanwhile be rooting for Liberty and StopWatch and eagerly awaiting the next thrilling instalment about their activities from the pen of Ms White.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover