Epidemic of Stop and Search Spreads Across UK

April 30, 2009

It’s official – the pandemic is on. Well, at least the panopticon is.

According to Reuters, “the number of people who were stopped and searched by police using counter-terrorism powers almost trebled last year.” And do we feel three times as safe? Have successful prosecution of real life terrorists trebled over the same period?

Have they ever. The increase is incredible. From 42,000 or so in 2006/2007, police used the Terrorist Act on 124,000 occasions in 2007/2008. The earlier figure was massive, and a clear abuse of the legislation, if it was ever supposed to be about dealing with terrorism.

I might be hopelessly naive, but I doubt there are 42,000 terrorists in our midst.

Equally incredibly, “almost 90 percent, occurred in the London area covered by the Metropolitan Police.” This information will add to the disgust that Londoners are feeling after the Metropolitan Police killed bystander Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests and brutalised thousands of protesters using “kettling” techniques that were bound to cause anger and confrontation.

The Met has been routinely using the Terrorism Act to harass people with the flimsiest sign of criminal intent. Of the 124,000 stopped, only 1,200 were arrested and of them only 73 were detained under suspicion of terrorism-related offences.

More broadly, police in the UK stopped and searched 1.2 million people in 2007/2008.

As the Guardian reports, this also included a surge in racially motivated searches. The paper’s Alan Travis reports that “Justice Ministry statistics showed that the number of black people being stopped and searched under counterterrorism laws rose by 322%, compared with 277% for Asian people and 185% for white people.” Black people are now 8 times more likely to be stopped than white people – a massive failure on the part of the police to live up to promises made after the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Yet this extreme, and racist, abuse of police powers is being defended by the force and by the government as necessary in response to supposed terrorist attacks in 2007.

The Justice (sic) Ministry said that the cause was “the robust response by the Metropolitan police to the threat of terror-related networks in London since the Haymarket bomb in 2007.”

It’s hard to see how stopping thousands of black people in London can have been related to genuine terror concerns. In fact, it’s an outrageous lie.

And still the police accrue more powers, despite having failed again and again to demonstrate that they are grown up enough to use the ones that they have. In Waltham Forest, this week has brought images of police manning scanning posts at the gates of the borough’s schools.

Apparently, with 12,000 kids already having passed through the randomly sited scanners, no weapons have been found. Nevertheless, the plan is for every school-child to be scanned as the scheme is properly rolled out.

This all seems to represent a significant and rapid step in the development of a total surveillance society, one that is inflected racially – with the massive over-victimization of ethnic minorities, and one in which police searches are a routine part of every child’s education.

Paranoia and dependence upon the state are becoming mundane, even as the police are being shamed by their brutality and incompetence. It’s a very strange situation.

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