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David Lammy MP backs call to break ‘us and them’ divide between youth and police

David Lammy MP backs call to break ‘us and them’ divide between youth and police

The Rt Hon David Lammy MP, head of the recently released Inquiry into Racial Disproportionality and the Criminal Justice System, was among leading speakers at the ‘Ubuntu* Police and Youth Engagement Symposium,’ hosted by the Tutu Foundation UK at the House of Lords on Tuesday 10th October.

The event reviewed the interim findings of an external evaluation of the ‘Ubuntu* Police Youth Roundtable Project,’ an initiative aiming to diffuse tensions in high crime areas by encouraging positive dialogue between the police and young people across 10 London Boroughs.

Speaking on the challenges for policing and racial inequality in the UK, Mr. Lammy said that “anything which serves to break down a culture of ‘us and them’ is to be encouraged.”

He continued: “As a 46 year-old black man in Britain I too have been stopped and searched.

“Young men of any ethnicity can be easily led astray by their peers. However, it is not young people who traffic large amounts of cocaine across borders, or get hold of guns. We need more discussion about the adults behind young people and police resources that focus on real intelligence work.

“Some people say ‘isn’t it obvious – black and ethnic minority (BAME) people commit more crime?’ This is an intellectually incoherent argument.

“If a white, middle class student was smoking a spliff at a Russell Group university, the chances are a passing professor might join them. By comparison, if this happened to a young black person in Tottenham, they are going to get arrested.

“Once they have a criminal record, 50% of employers won’t give them a job, meaning both they and society are in real trouble.

“I want to applaud the Roundtable Project, but I also want to ask that we look up from young people to the adults. I want to move to a system like that in New Zealand, where everything possible is done to avoid giving a BAME child a criminal record.”

Jointly funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and Sir John Cass’s Foundation, The Roundtable Symposium was subtitled ‘The need for a new approach,’ something which is already underway courtesy of the Roundtables partnership between the Tutu Foundation UK and Youth Futures, an initiative founded by Joseph Duncan and a team of young leaders, youth workers and supporters.

One young participant, beneficiary and now Roundtable project facilitator, is 21 year-old Blair Adderley. Speaking at the event alongside a group of his peers, Blair said:

“I was with Mark Murray (young person and Round Table founder) on the night when we were going to McDonalds and suddenly got pulled up on by around 15 police officers.

“One officer said we were being stopped and searched for a robbery, one said it was for weapons, and another said it was drugs. They were very rough, ripped our clothing and pushed us around. We felt helpless.

“Three days later we wanted to meet for the first Roundtable. I moved to this country when I was nine years old, and I was 11 when I was first stopped and searched because the police told me ‘my bike looked too expensive.’

“I’ve been stabbed three times and didn’t call police once because I was fearful of being incriminated. Being a facilitator in the Roundtables has helped me see police officers as people, not uniforms. This is an essential part of breaking down barriers.”

The concept of dialogue and transformation was echoed by other event speakers, with comments including:

Dr. Angela Herbert MBE, Vice Chair of the Knife and Violent Crime Prevention Group:

“Youth need to have a voice. We have to listen and take responsibility for what happens. When you have been rejected from education or the economic system it is traumatic. When the media portray you in a negative light, you have to be able to put a positive message across. It’s the system that has to be addressed, but often no wants to challenge it. They just want to collect their pensions and get on.”

Sir Hugh Orde OBE QPM, Former Head of ACPO and former Chief Constable of Northern Ireland

“The Roundtables project offers an opportunity for young people to talk with cops about day-to-day challenges on both sides. Its simplicity is its greatest strength. Community policing is probably the most important job in policing, and it should be seen as a specialism. My worry is around its continuity and somehow we need to get further funding for this. Whatever a serious breakout of disorder costs, being able to pick up the phone and sort things out means this is an valuable investment.”

The Rt. Hon. Tim Loughton MP, Chair All Party Parliamentary Group on Children

Our findings indicate that stop and search has a disproportionate focus on children who have been in the care system. We have taken a lot of evidence from young people on the wrong end of dealings with police, and police officers themselves. Everyone under 18 should be treated as a child. Society is increasingly intolerant of children in open spaces, and over one million stop and searches have on carried out on children, often without reasonable grounds. Just regulating the problem doesn’t work, what’s needed is a change of mindset.”

Patrick Williams, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

“I’m concerned with the range of documents and reports which highlight a connection between offending behaviour and BAME people, when many cases indicate they are less likely to offend than their white counterparts. One young person said to me ‘they [the police] think they know who you are.’ Stop and search is not a random or chance encounter.”

Dr Bankole Cole Reader in Criminology, Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University

“As evaluator of this project, I have been much impressed by the enthusiasm of these young people and the commitment of the police. There is potential for this project to make a change in the police-youth relationship and address crime and youth problems in communities. However, there is a lot of room for development which can only take place if further funding is provided so that the project is embedded in communities. The Ubuntu Roundtable is the beginning of a journey.”

Clive Conway, Chair of the Tutu Foundation UK

“We are delighted that the Tutu Foundation UK and its partners have been able to help develop the Ubuntu* Police Youth Roundtable Project, and facilitate vital debate around the divisions and common ground between young people and the police.

“I would like to thank Lord McNally for chairing today’s conversation, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s granddaughter, Mungi Ngomane, Youth Patron for TFUK, for attending our Symposium, and all of our partners for their continued support, work and investment in this important issue.”