Police prejudices may have been normal in the past, but certainly one would hope that we have moved on as a society to accept anyone and everyone on the basis of their actions, over and above the colour of their skin or ethnic background. Again, however, infallibility is a human trait and we cannot expect that police officers are any HSSC Constable Cut Off. If young black men are committing more street robberies than white men, then undoubtedly they will be targeted as potential suspects by the police and subject to more rigorous policing such as stop and search.
However, is it police racism, whether overt or otherwise, which explains the higher (and apparent disproportionate) number of black men stopped by the police? Is it reflective of a society that (as some might argue) discriminates against minorities in all aspects: poor educational facilities and fewer employment prospects so that criminality becomes more attractive and an easier option for ethnic minorities? Whilst there are some who climb the corporate ladder, becoming successful lawyers, even politicians, doctors or other white collar or blue collar workers, far more are excluded from certain posts. The Race Relations Act 1975 was supposed to remove discrimination from many aspects of society but particularly in relation to employment. As we have often seen with legislation, however, laws to combat society’s perception of ‘the other’ do not necessarily work and, on occasion, may eventually come back and bite those who it seeks to protect.
Are police officers stopping higher numbers of young black men because they are, like society, implicitly racist? The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), when it was produced, should have stopped, or at least reduced, the number of people stopped and searched for anything other than ‘reasonable suspicion’ (s.1). However, reasonable suspicion, whilst legislated to be objective, rarely is: police officers interpret ‘reasonable suspicion’ in many ways and it is easy to find justification where there may be none. Various laws allow police officers to search those they suspect of carrying illegal substances as well as for weapons, etc. Reasonable suspicion of certain individuals may seem obvious and thus stereotyping of many may seem an obvious requirement of police work but not all black men are out on the street seeking potential robbery victims; however, how many white old ladies are stopped and searched for drugs or weapons or items used in burglaries? It is not necessarily being put forward however that stereotypes should be ignored altogether by police officers when consideration is given to who should be targeted in stop and search procedures.