Stopped 60 times, never arrested

The police are eight times more likely to stop a black man than a white. Just ask Oluwa. By Sebastian Naidoo

HIS FIRST time was at the age of 15. By his late teens he'd lost track of how many prickly encounters he'd had. Ten years later he reckons it happens about once a month. And now he hardly breaks out in a sweat.

"There's never been a reason for me to run into the police," says 27- year-old Oluwa Kubweza from behind the wheel of his black Vitara jeep. "I've never been arrested or taken into custody. My cars have always been legal. I've got to the stage where I say as little as possible. I know the score. I give them my details, and ask for the producer," he says.

Mr Kubweza has been stopped more than 60 times over the past six years. He is a physics graduate and is currently working as a sales executive for a Surrey advertising company. He is also a regular at his local police station in Tottenham, north London, where he goes to "produce" his driving licence and insurance documents when asked.

"I try to rationalise their behaviour. I've asked several times whether they're stopping me because I'm black. They say they're just doing routine checks," he says. "Once when I asked, we ended up in verbal abuse. He swore at me, saying all blacks are muggers."

On another occasion, a gun was wielded over him by a plain-clothes officer who had pursued him along a London artery in a high-speed chase on his way home from a night-shift at work.

At times, Mr Kubweza threads through side streets to avoid patrolled areas. When security was tightened after bomb blasts in the City and Docklands areas of London, he was persistently stopped and searched at a string of checkpoints.

Black people are up to eight times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched, according to a recent analysis of Home Office data by Statewatch, an independent police monitor. The first detailed ethnic breakdown of police stops and searches across England and Wales showed over 100 stops and searches of black people per 1000 of the local black population in Cleveland, Dyfed Powys, Merseyside and the Met. There were less than 50 stops and searches of white people per 1,000 in the same areas.

A Home Office report published a few weeks ago shows that a disproportionate number of arrests of black people are dropped due to weak evidence. It explains: "The police sometimes view members of ethnic minority groups and black people in particular as `problematic'."

Maurice McLeod, a 29-year-old black journalist, kept a meticulous record of his stop and search encounters. They totalled 31 during the first three months of 1995, usually on the same west London route. He was never arrested.

Police officers can carry out a stop and search only if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion. They are obliged by law to fill out an incident form and tell a suspect of their right to a copy of the record.

"There is no legal reason for the stop and search of young black men in a majority of these cases," says human rights lawyer Sadiq Khan, who has dealt with about 50 cases of police misconduct stemming from stops and searches. "I have no doubt that this constitutes harassment." Mr Khan estimates that up to 80 per cent of his clients are young black men, vulnerable to wrongful arrests.

"We've plainly said we are stopping too many young black men for insufficiently good reasons," says former Lambeth Chief Inspector and borough liaison officer Alan O' Gormon. "If we can demonstrate... that we're working on it, public confidence will be greater, and [so will] the degree to which we police by consent."

Two routes are open to aggrieved people seeking a challenge against a police officer for what they believe to be abuse of power. Formal complaints - investigated by officers from a separate force under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) - offer the prospect of an officer being disciplined or criminally prosecuted. Of the 258 complaints for breaches of stop and search rules recorded by the PCA for the year until the end of last March: no officer was disciplined, 14 were "admonished".

It takes civil action for compensation against a police employer - usually a Chief Constable - to put stop and search records before a jury. Legal aid is available for the process, which can take as long as six years to complete. Court guidelines now limit damages to 50,000 pounds, awarded according to the severity of an abuse. An officer usually returns to work after a case is settled.

"What's the point of making a complaint? If I was lucky I'd get an insincere apology," says Mr Kubweza.

"Police officers freely interpret their code of conduct. I don't want a stop and search to depend on whether a particularly progressive officer is on duty," says Lee Jasper, who heads a black community group, the 1990 Trust. Making policy and practice match in this area is the job of a Home Office quango called the Specialist Support Unit, which has trained about 2,000 senior police officers in `equality objectives'.

"Our training starts from the premise that all police officers might have stereotyped perceptions that influence their behaviour [during a] stop and search," says the support unit's director and chief trainer Jerome Mack.

Trainees memorise 10 commandments guaranteed to prevent conflict during a stop and search. In particular, they learn to avoid telling suspects to shut up or stand absolutely still, calling the suspect names, showing disrespect and assuming that lack of eye contact indicates guilt.

Using role play and video to show reasonable grounds for a stop and search, the two-day cross-cultural course trains high-ranking officers how to identify suspicious behaviour in black communities. These officers are expected to pass on the skills.

But from next week, PCs on the beat in the south London borough of Lambeth will get a direct lesson from Mr Mack. They will soon be reciting the 10 commandments as part of a fresh bid by the local police community consultative group to crush "bad apples" in the station and stamp out bad attitude on the street.

Set in motion by Lord Scarman's recommendations following clashes in Brixton and Tottenham during the first half of the Eighties, and fuelled by concerns over zero tolerance tactics and the kind of policing for which the Notting Hill Carnival gained notoriety, the Lambeth consultative group has thrashed out its own peace plan.

The Community and Race Relations strategy puts local people on a committee to help steer key decisions about police recruitment, training and tackling institutionalised racism. It may become a model for other forces.

But not everyone is convinced. Mr Kubweza for one will need a bit more persuasion: "I grew up with the hassle. The longer it goes on, the more I just see the uniform. My only encounters have been negative. It's made me very anti-police. That's what experience has taught me. I can't see any way it's going to change."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker